When depth is cooler than superstardom

When depth is cooler than superstardom

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — I knew who Mirza Teletovic was before it was cool.

Back in Miami, Brooklyn Nets All-Star guard Joe Johnson told the media that the Nets were a more talented team than the Miami Heat, as long as you removed LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from the equation.

Putting aside the conceptual silliness — sure, and Kim Kardashian is Neil DeGrasse Tyson, if you discount the intelligence and eloquence — Johnson’s broader point was that his team’s depth gave them a chance to win against a star-laden team like the Heat, who rely heavily on their team’s best players to give them a boost.

Sure enough, Joe Jesus looked prophetic Saturday night: the Nets finally cracked the Heat’s playoff code, and all it took was going deep.

Eight Nets scored at least eight points, and Brooklyn’s bench outscored Miami’s 40-25 overall in a dominant 104-90 Game 3 win, holding off a combined 60 points from Miami’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, snapping a perfect 6-0 Heat 2014 playoff record and closing the best-of-seven series gap to 2-1. The win sets up a crucial Game 4 for Brooklyn at home, one that gives them the opportunity to knot the series up at two games apiece before heading back to Miami.

It wasn’t just depth, but deep. Six different players contributed to a Nets franchise playoff record 15 three-pointers, led by Johnson with five and Teletovic with four:

Johnson led the way with 19 points, Deron Williams added 11 assists, and Williams hit his first shot within 30 seconds of the opening tip after shooting an 0-9 dud in Game 2. But this wasn’t All-Stars checking All-Stars: guys on minimums trumped multi-millions, more David vs. Goliath than Truth vs. King.

“We trust everybody,” Jason Kidd said after the game.

As has been their style almost all season, things have gone best for Brooklyn this season when things get weird and hipster-y: the guy most casual fans may not know is the guy making the biggest difference. In the playoffs, teams rely more on their stars, tightening their rotation to ensure they get their top options on the floor as much as possible.

But the Nets aren’t most teams, and sure enough, two players you won’t see in marquee lights or splashed across Barclays Center’s front windows arguably made the biggest difference.

In the first half, the enigmatic Andray Blatche twisted, tipped, and turned his way into a dominating performance, overpowering Miami’s smaller frontline. Blatche’s free-wheeling repertoire is a staple of his production, and often ends poorly (if not entertainingly), but Blatche drew three shooting fouls and scored a team-high nine points in the first quarter en route to a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in under 20 minutes of play:

“He carried us in the first half, got us going,” Williams said of Blatche. “Just his energy. He played well on both ends.”

After Blatche came Teletovic, who donned rimmed glasses and a striped polo shirt off-court that made him look like he belongs at a Williamsburg tap house instead of in an NBA locker room. But fashion deceives: the 6’9″ forward/occasional center buried three threes in the third quarter and four overall to lead the charge in the second half.

“That’s what he does,” Kidd, always the underseller, said of Teletovic’s shooting. “That’s a weapon he brings to the table. He stretches it at the four. we might even have him play the five. He stretches the defense. He doesn’t lack confidence and that’s what makes him a great player.”

Riding high after the victory, the unwavering Johnson doubled down on his confidence in the team’s top-to-bottom game, reliant upon many and any. “I think it’s huge for us,” Johnson said at the podium when asked about his team’s depth. “That means we got a great collective team effort, and you can’t gameplan for that. When you’ve got guys coming in off the bench and playing with a lot of energy and effort, it helps us out as a team and it gives us that extra boost. When our bench is playing great, we’re playing great as a team.”

Given their disadvantage in the series, the Nets have to hope things get weird again in Game 4. Against an unconventional team like Miami, it’s their best shot.