Moke Hamilton, NBA Analyst
Never in NBA history has a team been able to erase a 3-0 series deficit.
On Saturday night, the Brooklyn Nets were determined to not have to attempt to be the first.
Behind spirited effort and phenomenal three-point shooting, on Saturday night, the Nets defeated the HEAT Game 3 of their Eastern Conference playoff series, 104-90.
Now, all of a sudden, we have a playoff series.
“We needed a win,” Deron Williams said after turning in a nine-point, 11-assist effort. “I do not think the percentages of teams going down 3-0 are very good, so it was a much needed win and changes the series.”
It is a new series, indeed.
“We knew we didn’t do a few things right in the first two games,” Paul Pierce said afterward.
“Right now, we just got to take it one game at a time. You lose game three of the series, it’s definitely not in your favor. We got to play with urgency each and every night. Tonight was the type of urgency we’re gonna need for the rest of the series.”
But it was only after a much-needed victory that the Nets could actually even begin to think about the rest of the series.
When the Nets host the Miami HEAT on Monday night, instead of merely delaying the inevitable or fighting to simply send the series back to Miami, the Nets can make it a three-game series with a win. Heading into Saturday night, dating back to last season’s NBA Finals, the HEAT had won eight consecutive playoff games, but behind a scintillating three-point shooting exhibition, the Nets put the HEAT on ice and recorded a much-needed win against the two-time defending NBA Champions.
Joe Johnson shot 5-for-7 from behind the arc and Mirza Teletovic hit four of his seven three-point attempts. As a team, the Nets shot 15-for-25 and and were a plus-21 from long-range.
The brilliant three-point shooting display was augmented by overall balanced scoring—eight different Nets scored at least eight points. Six were in double-figures and the team collectively totaled 26 assists on 38 made field goals.
In a word, the Nets performance was balanced and that is what this team will need if it is to have any chance of dethroning LeBron James and company.
As a team, because the HEAT often yield a size advantage by opting to play smaller lineups, they rely on blitzing, trapping and smothering the basketball. Because of their impressive athleticism on the perimeter with Dwyane Wade and James, they can often overcome their propensity to take gambles on the defensive end. However, they still remain susceptible to crisp, accurate passes, ball movement and outside shooting.
That was the story in Brooklyn on Saturday night; the Nets played it to perfection.
“I thought the thing that was great about [the three-point shooting] was the ball movement,” Johnson said afterward. “Us getting into the teeth of the defense and kicking out for wide open shots. That was the biggest key. I think that’s what kind of started the guys making the threes and us going on the run.”
Aside from ball movement, the Nets won the rebounding battle decisively, 43-27, including nine offensive rebounds to just five for the HEAT.
So long as the Nets play decent defense, if they shoot the ball well and get spirited play from their frontline, they will have an opportunity to win.
Whether or not they can actually do something as shocking as defeating the HEAT in a playoff series in which they got off to a 2-0 start remains to be seen, but the characteristics of Saturday night’s win will go a long way toward giving this team a puncher’s chance. And the depth that was on display will be a necessity for this team moving forward.
“I think [our depth] is huge for us,” Johnson said. “That means we got a collective team effort. You can’t game plan for that. We got guys coming off the bench and playing with a lot of energy and effort. It helps us out as a team and gives us that extra boost.”
Now, heading into Monday night’s Game 4, Pierce believes that the Nets may have found something.
“We’re not scared of them,” Pierce said of the HEAT.
“Everybody is coming out saying that the series is over, talking about we’re gonna get swept, I’m hearing all these whispers and stuff, and I’m saying ‘No need to panic,’ they did some good things but all they did right there was hold up the home court now it’s our job to hold up the home court.”
“We’re just not gonna panic, take it one game at a time, come out here in Game 4 with the same intensity and be ready.”
James knows that the HEAT must be ready, too. The Nets shooting 15-for-25 from behind the three-point line could easily be dismissed as an aberration, but James believes that the Nets have the potential to replicate that performance heading into Game 4.
“We’ll make adjustments,” James said after the loss.
“We’ll check our defensive schemes… A lot of the threes they made were contested. You clap your hands and pat them on the back for those ones that they made,” he said.
But realizing that Pierce, Johnson, Williams and even Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton have the ability to get hot from downtown, James refused to dismiss the Nets ability to keep up their hot shooting.
Perhaps James was informed by recollecting his 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals loss to Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic.
Then, the Magic shot 62-for-152 over the course of the six-game series—41 percent. They averaged 10.3 makes per game on 25.3 attempts. So James is fully aware of the potential that the long-ball has on resulting in a playoff upset.
“You don’t go into a game saying that they won’t make 15 [threes],” he said, perhaps having flashbacks of Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu sinking his championship hopes that season.
“They will [make 15] if we don’t get close to them and put more pressure on them.”
And as the discussion of pressure begins, it will be interesting to see how each of these teams respond in Monday’s Game 4.
After defeating the HEAT on Saturday night, the Nets are now 5-2 against the HEAT over the course of their last six contests. It is fair to say that the Nets have proven to at least have some of the requisite tools for testing the HEAT.
Fortunately, with a much-needed victory in Game 3, the test will continue, because another Nets win Game 4 would make this a three-game series, and though the HEAT are capable of winning even under the most daunting of circumstances, the last thing they want is to give the Nets new life and tempt fate.
With a blueprint intact, though, it is up to the Nets to match their energy and intensity and execute.
One way or another, this series is heading back to Miami. But whether or not the Nets will be in a 3-1 hole or in a three-game series remains to be seen.
So, on Monday, as the Nets once again attempt to exploit the weaknesses of the HEAT, we will watch, intently.
After avoiding an insurmountable 0-3 hole, the Nets have new life. And in Monday’s Game 4, Nets fans will watch intently, hoping that Game 3 was just the beginning of a new trend.