The biggest difference between Games 1 and 2 was the energy the Nets had on defense. They made things much tougher on the Pacers, pressuring the ball, helping and rotating much better than they did Sunday afternoon. In Game 1, the Pacers shot 30-64 (.469) from the field, and they were held to just 28-79 (.354) in Game 2.
"Our guys battled their tails off for 48 minutes," coach Lawrence Frank said. "We did a good job of protecting the paint. We were fortunate they missed some shots, but our defensive intent was very good ... When we play at a high-level, it starts on the defensive end."
"We set the tone from the start of the game that we were going to play hard and make it tough on them," Clifford Robinson told us. "We were able to force them out of a lot of stuff that they were running comfortably in the first game."
Maybe the Nets were a little sluggish in Game 1 after some extra time off. Maybe the prospect of going to Indiana down two games lit a fire under them. Either way, if New Jersey can continue that defensive effort, the Pacers are going to have a hard time getting open looks.
JOSH SMITH'S ANALYSIS
Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith was on hand Tuesday as a special playoff correspondent for NBA TV. He gave us his thoughts on Game 2 and where the series goes from here.
The Nets attacked the basket. They had 24 points in the paint to Indiana's 10 at halftime. They just came out early and pushed themselves to win this game so they wouldn't have to go to Indiana down two.
They were tough on the defensive end as well. They did a real good job of stopping Jermaine O'Neal, as well as taking it to him on the offensive end to try to get him in foul trouble. It was another game where he struggled through the first three quarters.
The shots Vince Carter took in Game 1 were good shots. A shooter doesn't stop shooting just because he has a bad night. A shooter is going to have slumps like that. All of his shots were going in and out on Sunday and he had a great night tonight. He was in a much better rhythm, getting to the basket and knocking down the midrange jumper. He was relaxed and took his time.
I think these teams match up real well. I think it's going to be a dogfight in the third game to see who can take the series lead. It's going to be hard for the Nets to get a win at Conseco.
Vince Carter took a lot of flack from the media after his Game 1, 12-33 shooting performance. His coach and his teammates came to his defense, saying that they had no problem with his shot selection. The shots just weren't falling.
Tuesday, Carter came out with a fire in his eye and didn't hesitate one bit, shooting 12-20 from the field, including three baskets down the stretch that sealed the game for the Nets.
"I was getting the same looks," Carter told NBA TV. "It was a rough night last game. I just wanted to come out, be aggressive and if it happened again, it happened again. But I didn't want to let my team down by not being as aggressive as I was the last game."
As good as the Nets defense was at the start of the game, it got an extra boost at the end of the first quarter when Jacque Vaughn checked in. Vaughn was relentless with his pressure on the Pacer point guards, picking Jamaal Tinsley's pocket early in the second and forcing an out-of-control Anthony Johnson into a travel later in the quarter.
"He's a bulldog," Carter said after the game. "He's one of the unsung heroes. Nobody talks about the intangible things that he brings on the floor. He's an unbelievable teammate and he's just hard-nosed."
Not only does Vaughn's ball pressure make the jobs of the other Nets defenders a little bit easier, that kind of energy and attitude rubs off on his teammates.
"It makes you want to do the same things that he's doing," Robinson told us. "You feed off of that."
It has not been a fun two games for Jermaine O'Neal. On Sunday, he was in foul trouble and was quiet for much of the first three quarters. He finished strong though, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the fourth.
On Tuesday, it was more of the same, as O'Neal picked up his third foul early in the second quarter and his fourth early in the third. Missing Peja Stojakovic already and with Stephen Jackson in foul trouble as well, Rick Carlisle was forced to keep O'Neal in the game for much of the third quarter, despite the four fouls.
He didn't pick up his fifth until midway through the fourth, but he could never really get anything going offensively, thanks to the tough defense off Jason Collins and Clifford Robinson. For the game, O'Neal shot just 3-of-12 from the field, but he's looking forward to regrouping and coming out strong in Game 3 on Thursday.
"We gotta be ready to come out and be extremely aggressive," he said. "We gotta be able to make that next chess move that's going to have them on their heels. And that's what's really going to decide this series."
Collins and Robinson will do their part to make it as tough as possible for O'Neal to get back into a groove.
"I'm not just going to let him walk me where he wants to position himself," Robinson said. "I'm not going to let him beat me with his best stuff. He's going to have to make some counter moves and do something to keep me off-balance, because I'm going to fight him."
With five minutes to go in the second quarter, Jason Kidd took Jamaal Tinsley into the lane, stopped on a dime, and then spun 180 degrees in the opposite direction as he threw a scoop up towards the basket. It hit off glass and Kidd tipped it back in. It wasn't exactly a move we're used to seeing Kidd make.
"I thought I was Vince for a second," Kidd said.
The series is tied in more ways than one. On Sunday, Sarunas Jasikevicius received three stitches over his eye after bumping heads with Vaughn in the second quarter. Tuesday night, Jason Collins cut his chin in the first quarter and needed three stitches of his own.
We're only two games in and it has already been a very physical series.