5 Key Thoughts on a Near-Collapse Victory

Kevin Garnett; Tyler Hansbrough
Kevin Garnett & the Brooklyn Nets picked up a W in Toronto. (AP)
Kevin Garnett; Tyler Hansbrough
Kevin Garnett & the Brooklyn Nets picked up a W in Toronto. (AP)

The journey back to .500 comes one game at a time, and the Nets took their first steps Tuesday night, barely surviving a late push by the Toronto Raptors and surviving with a 102-100 victory.

The advanced box score for your perusal.

Five final thoughts:

  • A Brooklyn Nets game these days never really starts until the third quarter; heading into Tuesday they’d been outscored handily in each of their last four games in the third frame, leading to four straight losses. Joe Johnson called it a psychological hurdle for the team, even suggesting that the team go silent about the third quarter at the halftime break. Jason Kidd joked that the team should just stay out on the floor. I joked that they should take a different strategy:

    Whatever they talked about at halftime, they shined in the third. The Nets ended up outscoring a team in the third quarter for just the fourth time all season. The ball movement looked more crisp — the Nets finished the frame with eight assists on ten field goals — and they even had a couple of runs. Sure, it was only by one point, but the Nets only ended up winning the game by two. “We ain’t say nothing about the third quarter,” Joe Johnson said flatly in the locker room after the game. “We just went over the gameplan, and went back out there.” Smart.

  • Unfortunately, turning the third quarter into the second quarter meant that the fourth quarter was… the third quarter. The Nets didn’t nearly give this one away, they nearly put it on a baking sheet, set the oven to 350 degrees, and served it medium-rare on a platter to the ravenous Raptors mascot. The timing couldn’t have been more clear: with 3:13 remaining and the bench leading a 14-point rout, Kidd replaced Tyshawn Taylor, Alan Anderson, and Mirza Teletovic with Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. Including two free throws at the time of the substitution, the Nets were then outscored 13-1 to end the game, nearly throwing away what had been one of their best performances.

    Kidd questioned the decision after the game, saying “I should’ve just probably stayed with the group that was going,” but I see the rationale with the switch. The Nets wanted to bring their best players back in to close the deal, and they were three careless turnovers (two by Shaun Livingston) away from cruising to the victory. Outside of switching out Taylor for Livingston — Taylor had outplayed him handily throughout the game — Kidd trusted in his best players down the stretch. Though they struggled, it’s the right call to close with your closers.

  • The Nets were also bailed out by a terrible decision by Raptors forward Rudy Gay in crunch time. Gay drove to the basket with a shot to tie the game but decided to pass to an open Amir Johnson for a corner three-pointer, which would be a good shot if it were literally anyone on the floor but Amir Johnson. Johnson has averaged five three-point attempts per season in his career, and though he’s shot more this season, he’s still just 5-19 from beyond the arc after that miss.

    The irony: Gay, who’s been lambasted in the past for hijacking offenses with poor shot selection, made the right basketball play. He created an open look for a teammate in the absolute best position to win the game — as Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said, the corner 3 is “the easiest shot from the three-point line. Analytical or whatever.”

    If only that teammate wasn’t Amir Johnson. Gay may never pass in crunch time again.

  • Some statistical benchmarks: the Nets shot over 50 percent for just the second time this season, over 90 percent from the line for the third time, outrebounded an opponent for the fifth time, recorded a season-high 25 assists, and extended their funniest statistical oddity yet.

  • Kevin Garnett’s thoughts on the defense: “I think it was the most aggressive we’ve been in a while. Actively talking, communication was often. We played through all types of mistakes and continued to have confidence in what we’ve been working on.” He also added that the team made adjustments in practice that carried over to Tuesday night’s game, a welcome sign.

    My takeaway: Andray Blatche didn’t look completely lost in pick-and-roll defense, ICEing effectively and not allowing rampant drives to the rim. Toronto was only able to get one look for the “roll man” in the pick-and-roll all game, a contested (and missed) hook shot by Amir Johnson with Blatche not on the floor. World-class, no. But it’s something for a team that’s struggled all season on that end of the floor.