In only a few hours, the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets tip off Game 3 of their first-round playoff series.
It's been an eventful one already and with the series now taking place in Brooklyn for the next two matches, promises to bring another wave of drama.
For the Raps, they're coming off a near must-win Game 2 victory, and hopefully have put some of the playoff jitters that were evident through the first two games, behind them.
We're locked and loaded for what should be another tight affair tonight and in preparation for the event, as always, here are our three keys to the match:
1) Turnovers. This one was an obvious key. The Raptors have been averaging about TWENTY turnovers a game so far in this series and while the Nets haven't capitalized on a chunk of them, the Dinos can't keep up this pace and expect to win the series.
We talked before Round 1 about how effective Brooklyn was on the season in this regard, but the strange thing is Toronto was one of the league's best teams at holding onto the ball, so we figured TO's wouldn't be a big issue. But it certainly is, and the frustrating part is that a ton of these turnovers aren't even coming under the Nets' blitzkrieg D. If you go back and watch the first two games, you'll notice a large amount coming in the halfcourt thanks to frankly, sloppy ball-handling and suspect decision-making. By my count in Game 2, the final turnover count would have been cut in half had Toronto simply eliminated those kinds of mental errors, so we'll see if things get any better in this regard tonight, on the road.
2) Rebounding/Inside Play. While the Nets have had the advantage in the turnover category, the Raptors have been able to negate a big chunk of this through rebounding, particularly on the offensive end, enabling them to create extra possessions of their own. The Nets will look to do a better job in this regard going forward, but I'm wondering if it's not an area Toronto can exploit even more.
If you notice during this series, the Nets defence has made life pretty rough on Toronto's guards and wings by crowding the perimeter, switching on screens, and generally making many of Toronto's hand-off plays at the top of the key, chaotic. But what about running more of these as a decoy, with the Raptors' big men sealing their men in the paint, looking for a dump-off in the key? Perhaps one big running a cross screen for another in fact? The Nets like to take advantage of their small-ball lineups, but I'm wondering if Toronto can't turn the tables and turn the Nets strength, perimeter D, into a weakness.
3) The Joe Johnson Dilemma: One of the interesting things about this series is that two fairly solid three-point shooting teams have been pretty atrocious so far in this regard. (And shooting in general in fact.) The Dinos have hit on only 26 per cent of long-range attempts, the Nets, 23 per cent. Both teams have had open looks too, but just haven't been able to knock them down.
For the Raptors, this has been especially lucky as some of their defence has been predicated on slowing down Joe Johnson, and bringing double-teams to greet him when he catches the ball on the blocks. This leaves a loaded long-range shooting Nets team open to fire away, but that's been ok so far because, right, Brooklyn keeps missing.
However I'm leery about continuing to double Johnson as at some point, the Nets, a 37 per cent three-point shooting club on the season, will start knocking them down. The best bet may be to stick Fields on him when possible, something that worked well last game. Johnson though is a tricky customer, something RaptorsRepublic does an excellent job of breaking down, here, so Toronto may simply have to concede a certain amount of points to him, and ensure his teammates don't start getting involved as well.