BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets play the most important home game of the season Friday night and the mere mention of that dreaded word, ‘Elimination,’ sends even the most diehard fan into a panic.
Stay calm and carry on, Nets fans. Stay calm.
What’s happened thus far in this gripping series with the Toronto Raptors comes as no shock to the Nets.
These teams have played nine games with eight having been decided by eight or less points and six having been decided by five or less points.
It’s no shock that the series stands at 3-2, although considering the Nets playoff experience, it is surprising Toronto has the edge.
The Nets' experience could be the factor that enables them to be the first team in the series to win two straight, which is exactly what they believe will happen, beginning Friday night (7:00pm, My9) in Barclays Center.
A Nets' win would force the Raptors into unchartered territory – a decisive Game 7. We’ll take dinosaurs over Raptors in that one.
“Without a doubt [we can win the next two games],” Paul Pierce said in Toronto Wednesday night after a 115-113 loss. “We have to play better Friday at home. And we’ll see the Raptors here next week.”
Ah yes, that 115-113 loss in Toronto. It was as riveting a playoff game as we’ve seen.
The Nets trailed by 26 late in the third quarter, but with 1:23 left it was tied at 106-106. Yep, the Nets erased a 26-point deficit in less than 16 minutes.
The Raptors prevailed, making Friday night’s game in the basketball cathedral on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues the place you must be. It’s the place where the Nets won 15 straight this season, the place where they believe their 44-point, fourth quarter eruption in Game 5 will carry over to Game 6.
“We have to build on that fourth quarter,’’ said coach Jason Kidd. “We did a lot of good things offensively, but also defensively - some good things where we got stops and were able to attack. We got to start the game off that way. We got to be in attack mode for 48 minutes.’’
The Nets should have some jump for Game 6. Kidd did not play Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett in that fourth quarter rally.
He was criticized for that decision but Kidd stayed in character. Throughout the season he has stuck with the unit that is making plays – regardless of its composition.
“This was about the Brooklyn Nets,’’ said Kidd, “not about two guys.’’
There is a misconception that by not playing Pierce and Garnett, Kidd nullified the team’s greatest strength – experience. Consider the frantic five that brought the Nets back:
Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson wiped out an 85-59 deficit, tying the game twice in the final four minutes.
Williams was competing in his
56th playoff game. Johnson was making his 74th playoff appearance. Blatche was in his 20th playoff game.
Anderson was making his fifth NBA playoff game appearance but he has played in numerous international championship games in his nine-year pro career, including the 2011 Copa del Rey.
“Fans were throwing locks and lighters and all,’’ he said.
And Teletovic, 28, playing in his sixth NBA playoff game, grew up in worn torn Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“First you start seeing that there’s no food, then grenades come down, the whole city is shaking, and you hear people screaming,’’ he once said of his childhood.
Now, do you really think some boisterous Raptors’ fans are going to rattle these guys?
That’s the beauty of this Nets team and that remains the single greatest reason to believe they can win two straight. The combination of experience and depth is unmatched in the NBA.
It doesn’t have to be Pierce and Garnett.
And let’s not forget Kidd. He was coaching in just his fifth playoff game but he played in 158.
On Thursday he showed his playoff experience. Kidd wondered on a conference call with reporters why Johnson, who scored a team-high 30 points on 23 shots, was awarded just one free throw attempt.
“Joe is a strong individual,’’ Kidd said. “Unfortunately, he doesn't flop. If flopping is the way to go, maybe we should play that game."
Consider this bellyaching if you want. We consider it experienced gamesmanship.
Every edge counts in a series in which the Raptors have outscored the Nets by a mere four points (487-483).
Johnson, the Nets’ 6-7, post-up small forward has attempted just 20 free throws (making 18), whereas Toronto’s perimeter guard, DeMar DeRozan, has attempted 61 freebies (making 54). Hmmm.
Kidd has planted the seed. The Nets planted the seed for Friday night with their fourth quarter surge in Game 5.
And the two future Hall of Famers – Garnett and Pierce - had no complaints with who was on the court in the final 12 minutes.
“I thought that group in there was going,” said Garnett. “I think it’s the best team and best group to play. They had the best momentum.’’
The Raptors have the edge in the series but the Nets just might have the momentum. We know they have the experience – regardless of who is on the court. So don’t panic. The Nets aren’t.