In crunch time in the fourth quarter, it looked like Paul Pierce was set to take over again.
After missing his first seven shots, Pierce finally knocked down a short jumper with 3:48 left in the fourth quarter, drawing a foul and hitting a free throw to tie the game at 83.
Kyle Lowry returned fire by driving into the lane for a layup, to which Kevin Garnett put down his fifth and final field goal, a layup off a Deron Williams feed. DeMar DeRozan then hit two back-to-back shots, the second a tough fallaway 18-footer to put the Raptors up 89-85, forcing Jason Kidd to call a time-out with 2:10 left.
After another Raptors layup and free throws on both sides, Pierce fired back with a three-point play on a drive to the basket, cutting a five-point lead to just two with just under a minute left. But that turned out to be Pierce’s last points of the game, as he just missed two three-pointers with huge implications — the first would have given the Nets a 93-92 lead with 24 seconds left, the second to cut a 96-92 lead to one with 13 seconds on the clock.
Missed shots aside, Pierce’s late-game play has taught us two things: the Nets can run effective plays in crunch time, and that the Nets aren’t relying solely on Joe Johnson in crunch time anymore.
The play to get Pierce the first three-pointer was a beauty: after Joe Johnson set a soft screen for Deron Williams, Williams curled around towards Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who set a double pin-down screen for Williams. They were two “decoy” screens, which didn’t catch Williams’s defender (Kyle Lowry), but focused the defense towards Williams catching the ball at the top of the key. Watch Patrick Patterson, guarding Pierce on this play, point towards Williams as Garnett sets up to screen him:
From that image, you can surmise what happens next: Pierce leaks out to the left corner three-point line with no coverage, Williams whips him a pass, and like so many shots Tuesday night, a good look just rimmed out.
The second three was similarly well-drawn: with three Nets at the top of the key and one defender hanging in the paint, Livingston found the open man (Pierce), who once again rimmed out a good — albeit long — attempt.
In the regular season, time and time again the Nets ran through Joe Johnson in crunch time, with normally excellent results: his stretch of hot crunch-time shooting ranks among the best in recorded NBA history. But in the playoffs, Johnson has been unusually quiet with the game on the line: he had just one shot attempt in the final 4 minutes of Game 2, a slick layup to cut the lead to 94-92 with 18 seconds left.
Diversifying their offense may not be a bad thing. The Nets have a variety of weapons to rely on in crunch time, and if they pound defenses with Johnson time and time again, they’ll become predictable in the playoffs, which isn’t good. But it’s hard to imagine that Johnson, who’s hit six game-winners in the last two seasons, won’t see a few more opportunities with the game on the line.