The Brooklyn Nets held on to their home court advantage on Friday as they defeated the Toronto Raptors 102-98 to take a 2-1 edge in the series. With one more game remaining in Brooklyn before heading back to Toronto in game five, what are the secrets to success for the three and six seeds in the NBA’s Eastern Conference?
For the Raptors, a few things need to be cleaned up if they want to avoid a 3-1 series deficit heading back home. The same message has been echoed to the Raptors for the first three games of the postseason, turnovers. The magic number for the Raptors is 59.
Through their first three games in the series, the Raptors have committed 59 turnovers. In playoff basketball, every possession counts. So the fact that the Raptors have given away 59 offensive possessions and managed to win one of the three games is an impressive feat in itself.
While DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas have been two of the strongest players for the Raptors so far in this series, they have also been two of the main contributors to that magic number. DeRozan has committed 12 turnovers in three games, while Valanciunas has committed 13. The Raptors will need to handle the ball better if they want to head back home with the series tied at two.
Another aspect of their game that the Raptors will need to improve to earn a road victory in game four is their ball movement. During the regular season, Toronto had some of the best ball movement in the league. In the playoffs, the team’s mentality seems to have changed.
The ball has been stuck more in the playoffs for the Raptors, whether in the hands of DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. The Raptors need to get back to playing as a team, and moving the ball around the perimeter. Not only will this break up the Nets defense and open up driving lanes to the rim for the likes of DeRozan and Lowry, but it will also create open looks for struggling shooters like Terrence Ross.
The Raptors need to find the team identity that earned them the third seed in the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors want to extend this opening round series, they need to focus on defense and ball movement.
For the Brooklyn Nets, they have executed their game plan exactly how they wanted for the majority of this series. The Nets guards and perimeter players have dictated the pace of play in game and Joe Johnson in particular has been exactly what the Nets need him to be.
In game three, Johnson lit up the Raptors for 29 points on an extremely efficient 11 of 17 from the field. One of the main reason’s the Nets have been able to dictate the pace of the play throughout this series again relates to the Raptors magic number of 59. While the Raptors have committed 59 turnovers in the series, the Nets have committed just 31.
Brooklyn has been able to force Toronto into so many turnovers by crowding the passing lanes and making them drive through multiple defenders in the paint. If Brooklyn’s defense holds up and they continue to take control of the ball on the offensive end, they have a good chance of taking a commanding 3-1 series lead heading into Toronto for game five.
The only area of concern for Jason Kidd and the Nets after game three is that they nearly blew a 15 point lead in the fourth quarter. If the Raptors had knocked down a few more of their free throws, game three may have ended very differently.
It doesn’t matter how the win comes in the playoffs, as long as it’s a win.
Game four will played on Sunday at 7:00PM EST, in what is sure to be another close Eastern Conference battle. Despite a 15 point Nets lead in the fourth quarter, game three continued the series trend of games coming down to the final few minutes. With the way this series has played out, why expect game four to be any different.
Commentary By Eric Kummel