It's the first round in the 2014 NBA playoffs, so of course the Brooklyn Nets forced a Game 7 with an impressive 97-83 victory in Game 6 on Friday night.
The Nets jumped out to a commanding lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Toronto made a handful of small spurts, but the Raptors never really threatened. Deron Williams led the way with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists, while DeMar DeRozan paced the scoring for the Raptors with 28 points.
Game 7 will be in Toronto on Sunday.
The Raptors may be the higher seed and hold home-court advantage in the series, but ESPN Stats & Info pointed out that history was not on their side heading into the game:
Raptors are looking to win a best-of-7 series for 1st time in franchise history. Raptors- Nets underway on ESPN2 and http://t.co/PXlSM04k80.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 2, 2014
The Brooklyn Nets’ official Twitter page tried to fire up the fans leading up to the game, but it seemed like the supporters were frustrated with the performance of Williams, as Bleacher Report noted:
There's a Deron Williams "Missing" poster outside of the Barclays Center prior to Game 6 vs. Toronto http://t.co/DxJj8cg2kY— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 2, 2014
Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News had some bad news for the team if it thought the fans were going to show up before tip:
Arena is half empty again for player introductions.— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) May 2, 2014
There were at least a couple of famous attendees in the house, via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is in the house for tonight's game.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 2, 2014
Drake is sitting next to Raptors bench next to Ellen Pompeo and her husband. pic.twitter.com/8dE6EiUAhe— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 2, 2014
In terms of actual basketball, Brooklyn head coach Jason Kidd decided to make a change to the starting lineup facing a 3-2 deficit in the series. Rod Boone of Newsday and Bontemps provided the details and presumed reasoning:
Last-minute switcheroo: #Nets will now start Alan Anderson and bring Shaun Livingston off the bench.— Rod Boone (@rodboone) May 2, 2014
Aggressive start for Williams. Nets really need him to play like this for 48 minutes. Makes them a totally different team.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 2, 2014
The change seemed to pay dividends for Williams, which subsequently helped out the entire team, per NBA on ESPN:
Brooklyn continued to pound the Raptors out of the gate and dominated throughout the first quarter. It held a 34-19 lead through the first 12 minutes, but Raptors radio analyst Eric Smith pointed out that Toronto had more to worry about than just the score:
TOR not just being out-scored right now, they're being out-worked. Out-hustled.— Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith) May 2, 2014
If nothing else, DeRozan was playing well. The same could not be said about the rest of the squad, and foul trouble became an issue in the opening minutes of the second quarter, per the team's official Twitter account:
Raptors not named DeMar DeRozan are shooting 5-of-19 for 12 points thus far. (Players named DeMar DeRozan: 5-7, 14 Pts)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 2, 2014
The game had all the makings of a blowout in the first half, and developments in the crowd were actually of more interest for a while:
Crowd was the loudest it's been all night booing Drake when he was shown on the scoreboard.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 2, 2014
Paul Jones of NBA-TV Canada and Smith both noted that the Nets were on fire, but Toronto wasn't doing much to stop it either:
TOR down 32-10 in points in the paint. TOR down 701 in fast break points as well. BKN 22-12 rebounding advantage too. 2:30 til half— Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith) May 3, 2014
One of the reasons the Nets were dominating play early was the play of Williams, as the NBA pointed out. Guess he wasn't missing after all:
Brooklyn completely dominated the first half, and there was really no other way to put it. The Nets took a 60-41 lead into intermission and were playing with the type of urgency that Williams called for after the Game 5 loss, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "We've just got to play with a sense of urgency. We have to now. If we lose, we're done."
If it wasn't for DeRozan, the Raptors would have been in an even deeper hole:
Perhaps the biggest problem for Toronto was the interior defense. Brooklyn set the tone from the paint and controlled the entire first half:
Nets scored 34 points in the paint in the 1st half, their most points scored in the paint in any half this postseason.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2014
Despite an enjoyable first 24 minutes for Nets fans, everyone in the building held their breath in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Williams went down with what looked to be a nasty injury:
Uh oh. Kevin Garnett just called for two guys to come help Deron walk off. He's limping badly.— Rod Boone (@rodboone) May 3, 2014
Deron Williams looks hurt on this landing after he was fouled. Huge moment for Nets here.— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) May 3, 2014
Williams is walking around on the court, and getting a chance to loosen out his leg. Crowd is now chanting his name.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 3, 2014
Despite the fact that Brooklyn was destroying the Raptors, Williams remained in the game, and it paid immediate dividends, as Zach Lowe of Grantland pointed out:
Lowry is angry at Valanciunas for failing to rotate on that D-Will corner 3. Points to his head, making the "THINK!" motion at JV.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 3, 2014
Toronto did cut into the lead a bit in the third quarter because of plays like this:
Drake out of his seat clapping hard after those consecutive dunks by Jonas.— Rod Boone (@rodboone) May 3, 2014
However, Andrei Kirilenko and the Nets continued to push back:
Not sure anyone makes prettier passes than Andrei Kirilenko. His hustle plays are also off the charts. #Nets— Rod Boone (@rodboone) May 3, 2014
AK bringing some great energy to the game! #BKNvsTOR— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 3, 2014
After the dust settled in the third quarter, Brooklyn held a 79-59 lead:
If it appeared over though, you haven't been paying attention to the NBA playoffs. The Raptors opened up the fourth quarter on a run and cut the lead to 84-73 with just less than eight minutes remaining. DeRozan flying in for dunks is certainly one way to trim a deficit:
Part of the reason Toronto climbed back into the game was the fact that all of Brooklyn's main guys were sitting at once. Not surprisingly, it seemed to have an impact on the offense:
Nets offense can get dicey with all three of Pierce, Johnson, D-Will sitting.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 3, 2014
It didn't take long for Kevin Garnett to announce his presence as crunch time approached though, as Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com and Brian Mahoney of the AP noticed:
Kevin Garnett .... Forever Dirty— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) May 3, 2014
Kevin Garnett struts off after getting under Hansbrough's skin. Can't tell what KG's saying, but it looked like: "$&^%#%$*&$@%^$%%$#*&%$."— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) May 3, 2014
While Toronto was able to cut the lead to 10, it was simply too little, too late for the Raptors. Brooklyn's starters were just too strong throughout the game:
After Kidd put his main contributors back in the game, the Nets were able to pull away. They eventually forced a Game 7 with a 97-83 victory.
Drawing general conclusions from a single playoff contest is a dangerous game this time of year, but it's hard to ignore the fact that the Nets were completely dominant Friday.
What's more, ESPN Stats & Info let fans know at halftime of Game 6 that Brooklyn seemed to be putting it together on the offensive side as the series continued:
Nets scored 104 points in their last 3 quarters. That's more than they scored in any of the first 4 games this series.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2014
The Raptors will have the home-court advantage in the decisive Game 7, but Brooklyn has plenty of momentum and the experience factor.
Who wins Game 7?
Look for veterans Garnett, Williams and Paul Pierce to pick up right where they left off Sunday. Alpha-dogs make plays in do-or-die situations, and Brooklyn simply has more guys that have earned that status in the postseason throughout their careers.
The Nets controlled the tempo in Game 6 by going inside first and then out. They will do just that again in Game 7, and the excellent guards should be able to close the deal in the final quarter.
The winner won't have it easy, though, as the defending champion Miami Heat await in the second-round.