Previewing Game 6 of the Raptors-Nets first-round series.
1. Where We Are: The Toronto Raptors are where they are supposed to be after five games; they're up 3-2 in the series. It's just how we got to this 3-2 seems dizzying and confusing. We've had each team stealing a game on the opposing home floor. We've had huge leads late in games be erased to make the final outcome look to be in doubt. We've had the stars of each team stepping up in big situations and big moments. The latest was Kyle Lowry helping the Raptors build a huge lead in Game 5 and barely hang on.
But barely hanging on to a win doesn't matter in the playoffs in terms of negativity. There are no bad wins and the Raptors still ultimately took care of business. Lowry's 36 points and obliteration of Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston throughout the game were exactly what the Raptors need and exactly what Lowry's free agency needed. Back in Brooklyn for Game 6, the Nets will have a chance to even up the series, extend their season, and use their experience in Game 7 to pull off the road upset. They have to get Game 6 first though.
2. The Big Number: 43.4. That's the difference in net rating for the Brooklyn Nets when it comes to Joe Johnson. In 39 minutes with Johnson off the floor, the Nets are minus-34.5 points per 100 possessions. They simply can't score at an offensive rating of 96.8 and an atrocious defensive rating of 130.9. When he's in the game (201 minutes this series), the Nets are a plus-8.9. The offense jumps to a rating of 108.2 points per 100 possessions and the defensive rating drops down to 99.3. The Nets can't really afford to leave Joe on the bench for very long, if at all.
3. Key Adjustment: Run the offense through Johnson to get Deron Williams going. The Nets need a much bigger performance out of D-Will and they need him to really make Lowry work on the defensive end of the floor. Lowry is prone to foul trouble with his aggressive defense and Williams is strong and quick enough to put him at a disadvantage. But Williams doesn't seem to consistently have that burst anymore to do it every possession. By running more of the offense through Williams, you can get him spot up looks to get the jumper going. Then when the defense runs at him to honor the shot, he can blow by a sloppy closeout and get into the paint. With Lowry recovering to Williams, we could see the Nets' point guard draw some fouls and grab the advantage.
4. The Big Story: Experience vs. inexperience. That's been the story of this entire series. The Nets are supposed to be the calm and cool customers when it comes to defeating a relatively young team that is trying to learn on the job. The Nets need to turn this in their favor again and do what Paul Pierce did in Game 1: show them why they brought these players to Brooklyn. The home floor should be a boost for the Nets, just out of familiarity alone, and we'll get to see if the Raptors can come through when they have a chance to end a series, regardless of whether or not it's in their building.