The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets were assembled with one goal in mind: win a championship. For the revamped roster to have any shot at competing beyond the first round, though, it will have to send the Toronto Raptors packing as soon as possible.
The Nets’ inability to execute down the stretch of Game 4 cost them the game and what would have become a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Brooklyn failed to score a single field goal during the final six minutes of the fourth quarter. Despite boasting far more experience than the upstart Raptors, the Nets have failed to prove that edge is a significant advantage while relying on it to bail them out of tight spots.
“This is where we should be at our best, those late-game situations,” point guard Deron Williams said after the loss, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). “We’ve been there before. They’re a younger team that doesn’t have as much proper experience, but they ain’t playing like it.”
Quite the contrary, as a lack of playoff know-how hasn’t hindered the likes of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Lowry hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2008-09 as a bench player with the Houston Rockets, but he’s averaging 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per contest against Brooklyn.
DeRozan, meanwhile, is on the playoff stage for the first time in his young career. He scored 30 points in Games 2 and 3.
Scoring efficiency has been an area of concern for both of Toronto’s best players, but they haven’t shied away from big moments.
The Raptors are still a significant threat to the Nets. If Jason Kidd’s squad doesn’t take of business by avoiding a do-or-die Game 7 scenario, their playoff run likely won’t continue for long.
If the Nets somehow manage to eliminate the youthful Raptors, they’ll have the unenviable task of squaring off with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
It’s worth noting that Brooklyn swept LeBron James and Co. during the regular season, 4-0. Three of those contests, however, were decided by a one-point margin, so it wasn’t as if the Heat failed to compete.
Of course, regular-season standings haven’t mattered all that much during the 2014 postseason anyway. The Dallas Mavericks, for instance—who finished 0-4 against the San Antonio Spurs in 2013-14—are up 2-1 in their series against the No. 1 seed.
As a matter of fact, every series in this year’s playoffs has been competitive, save for one: Miami against the Charlotte Bobcats. The Heat can close the series out with a sweep after taking a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Brooklyn can only close out Toronto in a minimum of six games after squandering a close game at Barclays Center. Odds are the Nets won’t be as fresh as Miami in a potential Eastern Conference semifinal matchup, which is an important variable for the team’s veterans.
Much like the Heat, the Nets were a poor rebounding team during the regular season. They ranked 29th in the Association by grabbing just 38.1 boards per contest, per ESPN.com. Only Miami was worse (36.9 rebounds per game).
Entering the next series physically and emotionally drained wouldn’t help matters.
Put simply, the Nets can’t afford to waste more energy during their first-round matchup.
Pierce and Garnett are no longer the elite players they were a couple years ago with the Boston Celtics. Also, the season-ending injury to center Brook Lopez has stretched the frontcourt thin, forcing rookie big man Mason Plumlee into extended action. The Duke standout played well during the regular season, but he’s averaging four fouls per game in the postseason versus 2.8 points and 3.3 rebounds.
Allowing guys like Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Shane Battier to rest up is a recipe for disaster. That’s especially true for D-Wade. In four games played after six days rest or more during the regular season, the veteran shooting guard averaged 18 points per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point territory, per NBA.com.
If the Nets can’t put their foot on the gas pedal and motor past Toronto in six games, a refreshed Wade may ensure a Game 1 loss for Brooklyn in Round 2.
The Nets have the experience needed to beat the Raptors, but poor late-game execution and a lack of killer instinct leaves them knotted at 2-2.
Brooklyn has every right to be confident against Miami, but failing to close out Game 4 may ultimately come back to haunt them.
“I thought this was out of character for us,” Kidd said, per Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post. Vaccaro fired back with his own analysis:
Actually, this is absolutely in character. So many times this year the Nets would follow up a feel-good win with a head-scratching loss and there would always be an excuse: This guy was resting, we’re managing the regular season, we’re saving our bullets for the playoffs. Again: The Spurs can do that. The Heat can do that. As recently as last year, the Celtics of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett could do that.
He also boiled the Nets' season down to one undeniable fact, “Together, this is what they’ve done: They’ve finished in sixth place.”
Even though Brooklyn has shown that it can beat Miami consistently, looking beyond its first-round affair with the Raptors is foolhardy. There is still no guarantee that the Nets will get past Toronto, especially if they get complacent and fail to execute their offense in crunch time yet again. The Raps are playing with confidence, so overlooking them in the short term would doom the Nets to a first-round exit.
Brooklyn still has plenty to prove before it's considered a danger to elite teams. Before the Nets start playing as a cohesive unit that can execute in all facets, Williams, Pierce, KG and their teammates will still be considered the team that started 10-21 before a respectable turnaround.