Well, we all knew this series was going the distance, right? The Raptors and Nets have been so evenly matched -- both in this series, and in the regular season -- that it was somewhat inevitable it would take a Game 7 to decide which team moved on to the second-round.
Of course, looking ahead to Sunday's game, it's easy to talk about the inevitability of this series going long -- last night's crap-fest is behind us. But it would've been oh-so-sweet to clinch the series at the Barclays Center. Alas, the Raps laid a huge egg last night.
In a game in which they should've been raring to go, the Raps came out brutally flat. This wasn't nerves, just a lack of effort and discipline -- the fact that they were out-rebounded 24-14 in the first-half was illustrative of that. The Nets, with all the pressure in the world heaped upon their shoulders, and the entire NBA ready to bathe in sweet schadenfreude had they lost, came out looking fresh and full of energy. In fact, they looked a little like a team that had scored 44 points in the fourth quarter of Game 5.
The Raps just had no answers throughout the first 24 minutes of the game. The defense was atrocious, that was problem number one.
Deron Williams, trashed in the merciless New York press for his performances in Games 4 and 5, was able to regain his confidence thanks to the Raps' farcical perimeter defense; let's just say it looked rather FARTDOG-ish last night. Time and time again Williams, and Joe Johnson, AND Paul Pierce, AND ALAN ANDERSON (smartly inserted into the starting lineup) waltzed through the lane, completely un-harassed. The Raps may as well have put up a welcome sign at the top of the key.
The Nets shot 68% from the field in the first quarter, and 59% for the half. And the Raps? 36% through two quarters. Yep, the other problem: a total lack of cohesion on offense.
Blow-outs happens, bad games happen, shit happens. But when the Raptors struggle on offense, what they do wrong, and what the solution is, seems so damn obvious that you wonder if they suffer some sort of collective amnesia every couple games. When this team is at their best, they're getting their big-men involved, running the pick-n-roll with Kyle Lowry and Jonas or Amir, and working to get DeRozan shots closer to the bucket. In short, they're moving the basketball.
The Nets were super-agressive on defense last night; doubling, rotating well, and picking Lowry up 35 feet from the basket at times. Credit them for that. But right from the get-go the Raps fell in love with isolation-ball. There was far too much dribbling, and zero effort to get Jonas involved in the offense (although foul trouble didn't help). When the Raps did try and get into something resembling an offensive set, it was a slow, plodding effort; and when the Nets blew those first plays up, which happened often, the Raps failed to recover and transition into something else.
The only guy hitting shots in the first-half was DeRozan. But the shots he was taking were brutally tough -- not sustainable over the long-run.
The Raps, as they so often do when they fall down big in games, recovered to play well down the stretch. After trailing by as many as 26, they started moving the ball, doubling effectively, and generally looking like they gave a crap. They did cut the Nets lead to 10 points, and Patrick Patterson missed a wide open 3 that would've made things interesting, but the Raps fourth quarter performance was important with regards to gaining some momentum for Game 7. They dug themselves way too big a hole, and were never going to come back and win last night.
Dwane Casey and his coaching staff might want give serious consideration to a line-up change for Game 7. Terrence Ross is giving the Raps absolutely nothing in this series -- he's a liability, in fact -- and putting Greivis Vasquez in the starting lineup might get the offense going early. Jason Kidd made some great adjustments last night -- inserting Anderson into the starting lineup for extra shooting, and giving Andray Blatche a good chunk of playing time. Casey should not be afraid to mix things up.
But this is it. There can be no coming out flat on Sunday. The Raps cannot afford to play a first quarter similar to the one they played last night. The Nets, despite their gutless performance in last season's Game 7 against the Bulls, are built for games like this. If the Raps aren't able to execute early on Sunday, there's a good chance that the likes of Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson will smell blood in the water, and that'll be that.
Ultimately the Raps are a resilient bunch. They've been great all season at putting bad loses behind them and moving on to the next game, not dwelling on the disappointments of the previous tilt.
It's not an exaggeration to say that Sunday's Game 7 might be the biggest game in franchise history. Let's hope the Raps are up to the challenge.
As a wise Georgian philosopher once said: Nothing easy. We're going to Game 7, baby. GAME SEVEN!!!!!!!