Nets may not need Paul Pierce's clutch heroics against Raptors
Had things gone the Nets' way in Game 1 against the Raptors, Paul Pierce would never have been the hero. He wouldn't have rattled off nine straight points for Brooklyn and never would have staved off a Toronto comeback with a dagger from the top of the key. He wouldn't have celebrated yet another big-time bucket in a career overflowing with them, nor would Raptors fans have shared in their collective groan in response.
None of that would have transpired because none of it would have been necessary. Brooklyn scraped by with a 94-87 victory in Game 1 in part because of Pierce's heroics, but only because so many points were left on the board as to prevent a more lopsided outcome. Brooklyn's long-range shooting -- which ranked No. 11 by percentage and No. 4 by proportionate attempts in the regular season -- went astonishingly cold Saturday, a snap most notable in the Nets' 19 consecutive misses from beyond the arc.
In total Brooklyn hit just four of its 24 long-range tries (16.7 percent), a mark made especially painful by the quality of those empty attempts. When a well-coordinated defense makes controlling the three-point line a priority, even the sharpest shooters in the league have to make compromises. But when the Raptors concede quality looks to good shooters on a regular basis, one would expect that the percentages come home to roost.
Look at how much room Pierce, a 37.3-percent shooter from deep, found after ducking behind a simple off-ball screen on Saturday:
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Or the clean look that Mirza Teletovic (39 percent from three) found in Toronto's miscommunication:
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This is how Brooklyn pulled off one of its worst shooting performances of the season -- not with ill-advised chucks off the dribble, but by taking good, balanced shots and suffering for it all the same. Toronto's closeouts were sloppy to the point where this should have been a problem; not often will Teletovic, Marcus Thornton and Joe Johnson -- all 38-percent shooters or better -- combine to go 0-for-10 from beyond the arc, particularly if the Raptors remain so delayed in their recovery out of pick-and-rolls and the like. Thus far Toronto has opted to hug tightly on the wings while drawing help responsibility from its bigs -- an arrangement that tends to leave openings for any shooter manning the power forward slot:
On that play, Patterson initially does as he should: He takes a step deeper into the paint to pick up Andray Blatche's roll if need be while waiting for Tyler Hansbrough and Greivis Vasquez to make their own recoveries. The race is on when the pass is made to Teletovic at the top of the floor, though Patterson chooses a conservative closeout course that has him stretching at Teletovic's shot attempt rather than contesting it.
This is a slightly more complicated sequence, though it begins with a similar mechanism:
When Teletovic screened for Johnson on the right wing, he activated the Raptors defense: Up went Patterson, who pushed up to the hash mark to get the ball out of Johnson's hands, and over slid Chuck Hayes, who attempted to guard Teletovic and Blatche simultaneously despite their positioning on opposite wings. Hayes strayed just far enough from Blatche that he had to rush back when the ball moved that way, leaving open a baseline drive that attracted Patterson's overeager help.
Were Blatche's kick-out to the corner clean, Teletovic would have been ready to fire away with an open three. Instead Patterson managed to stall the play with a deflection, though with the Raptors' subsequent recovery and trap came other opportunities. Teletovic swung the ball back out to Johnson, who forwarded to Shaun Livingston and a quick-firing Marcus Thornton. Vasquez at least got a hand up to influence Thornton's shot at the last moment, though Brooklyn can generally make good on this kind of attempt from a quality shooter.
That entire sequence was only possible, though, because of the Nets' stretch at the power forward spot. Pierce and Teletovic played every minute at that position in Game 1 for good reason; if there's a swing matchup in this series, it's there. Neither Brooklyn nor Toronto has the singular star who would dominate for seven games, but with screens and ball movement the Nets can force the Raptors into defensive compromises. More often than not the yield is an open shot from the perimeter, whether directly through a spot-shooting forward or as a function of the next pass in the process. The open looks will come, regardless, and Brooklyn will hit them more often than in Game 1. Where that leaves the Raptors is a matter settled in small tweaks, shooting breaks and the haphazard influence of a defensive scramble.
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