Surging Brooklyn Nets Stymie Miami Heat Again with Makeshift Lineup

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterMarch 13, 2014

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MIAMI  There were 3.5 seconds left to complete the comeback, alter the outcome, nip the narrative.

Mario Chalmers sprinted from the baseline to the top, Ray Allen booked from the top to the corner, Dwyane Wade occupied Paul Pierce on the other side of the paint.

Chris Bosh, ball high over his head, surveyed the scene from just behind the left sideline, turning his elbows slightly to the left, then back to the center, trying to get the clearest possible view over Mason Plumlee's head and hands.

With the sightline to Allen obstructed, Bosh identified another attractive targetLeBron James, taking a shove from his initial cover Joe Johnson before Johnson switched to Allen, pushing back against Shaun Livingston after Livingston had let Allen go, then planting hard and bursting toward the basket.

"I threw it to where he was, instead of where he was gonna be," Bosh said.

And there was trouble.

"I was two feet off," Bosh said. "Well, one foot off. Shaun Livingston, he's got long arms. You don't have time to process the information, but I had to lead LeBron a little more..."

"You know, live and learn, man."

The ball bounced toward the baseline, toward Allen, though he reacted too late and too slow, and Joe Johnson saved it to Livingston, one of the NBA's greatest comeback stories.

Livingston spiked it hard.

Living and learning? That's what these Nets have done.

After Wednesday's 96-95 win, they are now 3-0 against the Heat this season, and while much will be made of that, the more notable number is 23-9. That's their record since dropping to 10-21 on Dec. 31. They've stumbled to safety, switching to a small-ball lineup out of desperation, due to the season-ending injury to Brook Lopez. Wednesday, they were also without Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, forcing them to start the mobile rookie Plumlee, as Paul Pierce and Mirza Teletovic took turns at power forward, both of them mostly floating out on the perimeter.

And it worked. Again. It's another happy NBA accident.

No, first-year head coach Jason Kidd didn't intend to innovate.

Necessity birthed this invention, as it so often does.

Remember, the Heat didn't intend to switch to small ball in the 2012 playoffs. Bosh's injury forced Shane Battier into the starting lineup. Then, when Bosh came back, it didn't make sense to remove Battier. So Erik Spoelstra abandoned the team's collection of stiff "true" centers, went with a Bosh/Battier front line and later soaked in champagne.

Going back to the last century, and the Nets' neighboring borough, the Knicks didn't plan on riding a Marcus Camby-Larry Johnson inside duo during the postseason. Not until Patrick Ewing partially tore his Achilles tendon. They got all the way to the NBA Finals.

Will the Nets do the same?

Highly unlikely. After all, the Heat were 1-3 and 0-3 against the Celtics (of Pierce and Garnett) and Bulls, respectively, in 2010-11, and won eight of 10 games against those teams during that postseason. They were 1-3 against the 2011-12 Celtics (also of Pierce and Garnett) and survived that squad in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But Brooklyn certainly looks like a worthy opponent now.

"They're a very good team," James said. "They exploit mismatches. They got a lot of guys who can beat you off the dribble. And they share the ball."

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

All of this is to their credit.

They could have folded, caved, quit. They could have, well, Knick-ed.

Instead, they've found a new way to play.

"It's effective," Battier said. "It has its shortcomings and its strengths, like every other style of play. But when you have offensive talent, you create space. And they have a bunch of talent on the offensive end, you give them space, they're going to score points and effective. Obviously, rebounding is an issue, and when you play the big, strong teams, it's an issue. But you cover up a lot of warts, especially with the efficiency of the three-ball."

The Nets out-rebounded the Heat, 37-33.

Outshot the Heat, too, making 12 of 29 shots from deep, compared to nine of 27.

"It's something that works for us, because we're able to put four three-point shooters out there for most of the game," said Pierce, who scored 29. "And it really opens up the driving lanes. A lot of teams, when they go through their defensive schemes, they're used to playing against other teams, and the pick-and-roll coverage changes when you play against smaller teams. So you don't know whether to switch, you don't know whether to show out and help. So we cause confusion that way."

Pierce finished 9-of-12, after realizing that he was passing up on too many shots as the Heatespecially Dwyane Waderefused to bite on his trademark pumpfake.

"I was kind of surprised," Pierce said.

He started launching from deep, and hitting.

"And I think that's what set up my drive late in the game, when I was able to get the pumpfake, and open up the lane and get to the hole," Pierce said.

That basket gave the Nets a 94-92 lead with 1:45 left.

His read of this game was another example of improvisation, after the initial plan was eliminated.

The Nets' first option this season, even with the additions of Pierce and Garnett, figured to be Lopez. Getting the ball down low. Letting him operate.

That option was excised.

So the Nets have adjusted.

They've gone smaller. And they're thinking bigger.

MIAMI, FL - March 12: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat and Shaun Livingston #14 of the Brooklyn Nets reach for a rebound during the game at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on March 12 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
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Or have they? After all, size can be incorrectly characterized.

"It's length," Battier said, of what matters, and what the Nets still have. "Length and the ability to switch on defense is the biggest attribute across multiple positions. And when you play a small-ball team that switches, you have to hit the third and fourth options in their offenses. And if you don't, you can really get stagnant, and it becomes effective."

And the Nets are switching more than when they beat the Heat in two overtimes back on Jan. 10.

Compared to when they beat the Heat by one back on Nov. 1?

"Oh yeah," Battier said. "A lot more."

Including Wednesday's very last play, when it allowed the Nets to leave the arena with a little more on the scoreboard than Miami. 


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