This is exciting. After an incredible regular season, the Atlantic-champion Toronto Raptors are gearing up for a series against the Brooklyn Nets (the supposed Atlantic champs according to ESPN) in a 3rd vs 6th seed match-up.
This series just feels like it was meant to happen. The heated rivalry, trash talk, and epic regular season games makes this a picture perfect match-up.
Terrence Ross said “I want Brooklyn personally” when asked about his preferred playoff match-up. He also said Kevin Garnett is the best in the league at setting screens because they are illegal and he never gets caught for it. Andray Blache responded “S—, you better be careful what tree you bark up. He better be careful. He’s probably just saying that because he had a good game against us. But I don’t think that’s really what he meant or what he really, really wants.”
The fact that Jason Kidd decided to purposely lose is pretty cowardly, and has to add to the fuel for the inexperienced Raps.
“I don’t think our guys like them that much & I don’t think they like us. And that’s the way it should be…we’re not particularly scared of anybody. You are coming to play & we’re coming to play. We’re ready. If they give out Championships based on experience then we wouldn’t be playing in the playoffs, they’d just hand it to them. We want to be the loudest arena in the NBA and make this place a living hell for the Nets or whoever is coming in here.” – Masai Ujiri
This season has looked eerily similar to the 2007 campaign on multiple levels. The Raps won the division when the East was relatively weak, Sam Mitchell won coach of the year (with Dwane Casey being a strong candidate), a new GM came in and revamped a team (Bryan Colangelo) that was powered by all-star Chris Bosh (DeMar DeRozan) and the two point guard tandem of TJ Ford and Jose Calderon (Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez). The season ended with the inexperienced third seeded Raps losing to Vince Carter and the 6th seeded experienced Nets in 6 games. Let’s hope we don’t experience Deja Vu.
Here are some general stats The Raptors defensive rating is 10th overall, while the Nets are 19th. The Raptors offensive rating is 9th while the Nets are at 14. Both teams like to play slow, half-court basketball, with their paces being 22 and 24 respectively.
The Raps are 17th in overall rebounding, where the Nets are 29th. It doesn’t take a genius to see there is a clear advantage on the glass for the Raptors that must be exploited. Further, the Raptors are 20th in assists, while Brooklyn is 24th. Finally, the Raptors are 5th in the league in FT %, while Brooklyn isn’t as good, sitting at 18th.
Regular Season Breakdown
Game 1 – November 26th: Raptors Lose 102 – 100
The Rudy Gay era was still in full effect. The Raps were 6-8 at the time, while the struggling Nets were 4-10 with fans calling for Kidd’s head. The game ended with Casey drawing up a play for an Amir Johnson summertime three. Here’s a refresher of the game if you don’t remember. I wouldn’t say this is a fair indicator of what to expect simply because neither team was very good at this point in the season.
Game 2 – January 11th: Raptors Win 96-80
The Nets were scorching hot, winning 5 in a row. It was OVO night and the Raps simply took care of business. Toronto controlled the whole game, and absolutely man-handled Brooklyn in the 4th quarter. The Raptors out-rebounded them by 10 and held them to 40% shooting. Mind you, Kevin Garnett was out, however this game might be model for success. Play tough D, crash the boards, and wear out the vets.
Game 3 – January 27th: Raptors Win 104-103
This was the game of the year for me. The Raps headed to Brooklyn, however were missing DeRozan. This was the game that won Masai Ujiri over, and ended with him hugging Kyle Lowry. If you don’t remember, Patrick Patterson stole the inbound and hit an epic game-winner in a contest that had loss written all over it. After the Raps kicked their asses last time around, here were some quotes from the Nets before the game.
“It’s payback time, just like we did with the Knicks. They beat us in Toronto and we have to come back and take care of it [Monday].” – Andray Blatche
“This one is personal.” – Jason Terry.
Game 4 – March 10th: Raptors Lose 101-97
This was a back and fourth game with a playoff atmosphere. It was clear that both teams really don’t like each other. The Nets scorched the Raptors from deep, hitting 11 threes. The Raptors played hard, but couldn’t execute down the stretch. Terrence Ross tried to be clutch but the ball ended up out of bounds because he bounced it off his foot. If you remember, Paul Pierce hit a dagger which was the turning point in the game. Here’s the post game.
Bottom Line: 2-2 season split
Aside from the game where the Raptors whooped the Nets, every game between these two was a heated battle from start to finish. Therefore, I truly believe this has the makings for a helluva playoff series.
While I feel that saying a team is better based on who has the upper advantage in positional battles is simply not true, there is certainly some valuable analysis that can be deduced from it.
I’m going to have to say Dwane Casey is actually the better coach. I won’t deny the fact that I have vented my frustration on Casey multiple times in the past. However he’s legitimately improved and has a strong grasp on this Raptors squad. Kidd has had his ups and downs, and is ultimately still very inexperienced as a rookie coach. The way both coaches adjust, react, and approach each game will be a vital part of the series and the Raptors have an upper hand here.
The Raptors have a pretty deep bench this season, and it has proven to be a significant weapon. Greivis Vasquez will play a big role, as we could see a lot of small ball by both teams. Patrick Patterson is the Nets killer. John Salmons brings significant experience the Raps will need. Tyler Hansbrough will hopefully piss Kevin Garnett off enough to affect his performance.
As for the Nets bench, Marcus Thornton provides a significant scoring punch. This guy scores in bunches, and ensuring he doesn’t catch fire will be important. Alan Anderson and Andrei Kirilenko are both capable veterans as well. It’s also kind of funny that Anderson will be squaring off against the Raptors. *obligatory Anderson troll face picture*
The Nets back-up bigs are pretty capable as well. Mirza Teletovic has proven to be a serviceable player. Andray Blatche loves to talk trash, but has been pretty solid off the bench. Finally, Mason Plumlee has been an integral part of the Nets’ success and will provide some trouble for the Raps. Overall, I would have to say the Nets bench is deeper than Toronto’s, and is a cause for concern.
Centers – Jonas Valanciunas vs Kevin Garnett
Kidd deploys a weird starting line-up. Their squad’s starting 5 is very small, meaning it’s Jonas’ time to step up. With that being said, it’s a fair assumption that the sophomore may have a hard time against future HOFer Kevin Garnett. This guy is oozing with intensity, and can be sort of intimidating. If Jonas plays nervous, this could be a very bad match-up. It’s certainly exploitable, however if he does a poor job because of the nerves, Casey could go with a smaller line-up or rely on the bench. Ultimately, JV could be the x-factor in this series.
Power Forwards – Amir Johnson vs Paul Pierce
This doesn’t really make sense either. Paul Pierce against Amir Johnson? The thing is, Dwane Casey has been known to adjust towards other team’s styles rather than exploit them. Exploiting this undersized frontcourt Brooklyn puts out will be a key to this series. Amir has the height, strength, and athleticism – he should be able to eat ‘The Truth’ alive. On the other end, it might be a tough guard for Amir as he struggled when he had to guard Pierce in the regular season. It will be interesting to see which team adjusts first.
Small Forwards – Terrence Ross vs Joe Johnson
Both are shooting guards playing the small forward role. Again, Johnson is the seasoned veteran going up against the sophomore. Ross has the athleticism to score on the JJ, who is a relatively poor defender. On the other end, Ross has shown his defensive capability. Ensuring he keeps Johnson in check by limiting open long-range attempts and staying in front of him in isolation plays will be the key for T-Ross.
Shooting Guards – DeMar DeRozan vs Shaun Livingston
Don’t laugh, Raptors fans. Livingston has actually been very good for the Nets this year. He’s also a good defender who possesses tremendous length. DeMar could have a tough time, especially if he comes out with playoff jitters. With that being said, DeRozan has shown his elite offensive ability throughout the season with tremendous scoring outputs over some very tough defenders. Livingston isn’t a huge threat offensively – he’ll get his points but it won’t determine the outcome of the game. However, DeRozan’s scoring output can be the difference between a win and loss, so the battle of DD’s offense vs Livingston’s defense will be one to watch for.
Point Guards – Kyle Lowry vs Deron Williams
This is the most important match-up in my eyes. Remember when Deron Williams was an elite point guard? Yeah, well he’s shown flashes of that this season and could be saving up for the playoffs. Lowry has played on the same level as the upper echelon point guards of the league, and has been unbelievable defensively. Raptors fans understand the importance of Kyle Lowry – his will to win drives this team. First and foremost, he is going to have to shred the Nets offensively. He’s been dominant against the Nets this season, averaging 22 points on 50% shooting. On the defensive end, limiting Williams’ play-making will be the key. The Nets have had their share of problems offensively this season, however at times Williams has been able to smoothen things out by dictating the tempo of the offense. Take Deron out of the game and the Brooklyn offense will struggle mightily.
Cage’s Keys To The Series
The Nets have been very good at home this season. Thankfully, the Raptors have been as well, and if it gets there, they will have the grudge match at the ACC. If you guys are going to any of the games, be sure to get loud. Maybe start some ‘Brooklyn sucks’ chants. The Raps will certainly need to take care of business at home.
This will be huge. The undersized Nets have not been good at rebounding the ball. You simply have to take advantage on the glass. Also, banging bodies inside would provide the Raptors with a huge edge. JV, it’s on you here. Casey, don’t play small ball to match them. Please, don’t do it, unless you really have to.
Inexperience vs Age
The Nets have the experience, that’s for sure. The Brooklyn starting 5 has 399 playoff games under their belt while the Raptors, who own the youngest starting 5 in the playoffs, have a mere 24 games played by starters.
However, because of all that experience, the Nets are now old. The Raptors aren’t. Using athleticism to wear Brooklyn out will be important, and the starters being able to withstand more minutes is a huge plus.
“We know we can beat them. We understand they are experienced, but we have our advantages. Age, speed, etc. – DeMar DeRozan”
Both teams rely heavily on the three. The Raptors are 10th in 3PT attempts while the Nets at 11th. Thus, both coaches will emphasize on limiting open looks.
The Nets like to pressure the ball while the Raptors like to take care of the ball. The Nets are 4th in steals in the NBA, while the Raptors commit the 9th fewest turnovers. Again, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
This really shouldn’t be here, but unfortunately it could be a factor. If the refs give the Nets ‘benefit of the doubt’ calls, this really could be a tough series. I sincerely just want to see good, even officiating. Respect the Raps – after all, they did have the better record. Shoutout to Turbozone for the great pic.
We got a few of our writers to give us their individual takes. There might be a little bit of bias.
Raptors. Nets. Toronto. Brooklyn. Drake. Jay-Z. It sure seems like young upstarts are always destined to match up with their experienced counterparts. So here we are—heading into late April with another Raptors-Nets dogfight on the horizon. Considering the fact that these two franchises played under similar conditions back in the 2007 NBA playoffs (Raptors in 3rd place, coming off a division title-winning season), it feels as if the basketball gods were intrigued by the prospect of a rematch between the Atlantic rivals. To be honest, I don’t blame them. While Brooklyn’s method of forcing this series was sort of questionable, there’s no getting around this battle. The two squads split the regular season meetings 2-2 (with three of those games being decided in the final minutes), so I believe it’s safe to say that we’re in for quite some series. When it comes to advantages, the Brooklyn Nets will benefit from their overall familiarity with the postseason atmosphere. On the other side of the coin, I believe that the Raptor youth will be something to watch in this matchup. Having less mileage could potentially pay dividends for Toronto. That, coupled with the fact that they’ve been pretty darn good both at home and away (best road record in the East this year) really makes me believe that they can get the second series win in franchise history. It won’t be easy, but it will be doable. While we know that the Nets won’t simply roll over (see: Andray Blatche’s responses to Terrence Ross’ mention of Brooklyn as his playoff preference), we also know that this year’s Raptors team has had a knack for proving experts wrong. Raps in 6.
The Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets match-up as two of the biggest turn around stories in the league. The Raptors are 34-19 in 2014, while the Nets are 34-17. At one point the Raptors were the only team to have beaten Brooklyn (they did it twice) in the New Year. The key will be the effectiveness of Patrick Patterson and Amir Johnson. They’ll be asked to guard players with vastly different skill sets, from Paul Pierce to Mirza Teletovic to Kevin Garnett. These matchups along with Patterson’s and Johnson’s ability to erase defensive letdowns with timely rotations and blocked shots will be huge if the Raptors are going to be successful on the defensive end. Both teams have struggled defensively down the stretch; whoever makes the greatest adjustment on that side of the floor wins the series. The Nets have been seen as a huge playoff threat because of their New Year surge and their “small”/long ball lineup. But the Raptors have only been a game worse than the Nets in 2014, they’re the only Eastern Conference team in the top 10 in both offense and defense, and they have players like Patterson, Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry who are capable of handling the Nets length and odd-matchups that they force you into on both ends of the floor. There’s an experience disparity in this series, but that’s being overblown; in the end, the better team will come out on top. In this series, I say it’s the Raptors by a very slim margin. Raptors in Seven
Raptors in six. The Atlantic Division foes tied the regular season series, 2-2. The Raptors have the higher seed, but are considered the underdogs because they are a young team with minimal playoff experience. Most people expect the veteran team to advance to the second round. In essence, the Raptors have nothing to lose. They’ll go out and play their game. They have the seventh-best defence in the NBA and the 13th-best offence. They are bigger, faster, and lethal from beyond the arc while the Nets are the eighth-worst team at defending the perimeter. The Raptors are out to prove that winning 48 games was no fluke. Nobody expected this team to do anything, and they’re 42-22 (best in the Eastern Conference) since trading away their most expensive player. Toronto ended two of Brooklyn’s five-game winning streaks in January. One instance was on Drake Night, when the Raptors won by 16 points. The other three games were decided by an average of two points. Despite playing very different styles of basketball, these teams have a tendency to play each other down to the wire. You know who that bodes well for? The Raptors. They have been the best fourth-quarter team in the league this season. According to NBA.com, Toronto is the ninth most clutch team in the association. Brooklyn ranks 25th. Still, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Nets have clutch players, closers if you will, in Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. That’s the only reason I didn’t say “Raps in 4.”
The Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets match-up is probably the most intriguing in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors, who were 8 games under .500 at one point, and the Nets who weren’t in the play-off picture in the beginning of the season, creates a battle between two different stories, a Cinderella story and the inability to reach expectations. For the Raptors, this series will be based upon confidence, composure, and their ability to withstand runs. The Nets have tons of offensive weapons. With (arguable) All-Star Joe Johnson, point guard Deron Williams, the Truth in Paul Pierce, and Marcus Thornton and Andray Blatche coming off the bench, they’ll have the ability to score. It will be up to the Raptors to stick with their defensive identity, grinding them and pressuring them, making sure every shot is contested, no easy baskets, and avoiding run-outs. Offensively, with no Brook Lopez and an older Kevin Garnett, the number 1 priority is to attack the paint; that’s up to DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas to make that all happen. The Raptor back-court controls everything offensively, Kyle Lowry must be able to run the team under major pressure, with DeRozan learning to be composed under physical defenders – calls aren’t going to come around often in the play-offs. In conclusion, the Nets have an experience and talent advantage individually; however, the Raps are a better team on both ends of the court. It’s going to be a tough, but important series to experience. Raptors in Six.
Stefan (surprisingly, a non-Raps pick):
The Toronto Raptors first round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets is akin to the first round playoff series back in 2007.
We have the same narrative echoing. It is the young, resilient and inexperienced Raptors versus the experienced, battle tested and star-studded Brooklyn Nets. Hell, even the seeding is the unchanged.
The homer in me wants to pick the Toronto Raptors but after vigilant consideration, I am taking the Nets in six games.
Toronto has the edge in most regular season statistical categories including points per game, rebounds, assists and defense but the post-season is a blank slate. And one factor that cannot be overlooked is playoff experience. According to NBA.com, the Nets squad has played more than 10 times as many playoff minutes (approximately 17,000) as the Raptors’ rotation (around 1,600). That is a huge advantage.
Moreover, the whistles will play a huge factor in determining the outcome. I foresee the zebras giving Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson more subjective calls than DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross. You know ABC, TNT and ESPN are already salivating over a potential Miami Heat vs. Brooklyn Nets Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Each game will be close but I am siding with Brooklyn. I hope I’m dead wrong.
Anything can happen in the playoffs. Although the Toronto Raptors aren’t the universal favourites going into this series against the Brooklyn Nets, they have three intangible factors that will tip the scale in their favour: momentum, head coaching experience and the ability to close out games. The Raptors are 7-3 in their last ten games, while their opponents are 5-5. In fact, the Nets went 1-4 in their final five games of the regular season in a shameful effort to secure the sixth seed. Ironically, their attempts to tank on a micro-scale may end up backfiring and benefit Toronto- the Raps have maintained their winning mentality and this should carry over to the post season and aid in composure. In head coach Dwane Casey’s time as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, he coached 37 playoff games and achieved both a divisional title and the NBA championship. Inversely, Nets head coach Jason Kidd is a first-year coach and has no prior experience on the bench. This is an enormous advantage for Toronto. Casey knows what it takes to win in the playoffs and will undoubtedly apply this formula to his team. These two teams split the season series 2-2, and the average margin of victory was just 5.75 points. In the most recent stretch of games, the Raptors have demonstrated their ability to close out games with timely shots and consistent defensive stops. Their previous habit of falling behind early, closing the gap and failing a last-minute comeback appears to be fixed. As long as Toronto can compete with Brooklyn as they did in the regular season and ignore their label as “inexperienced”, they have a legitimate shot at taking down the Nets. Raptors in 6
You know I would never go against the Raps. This is a pretty damn even series, so I’m going to have to go with Raptors in 6. As Masai said, there is bad karma associated with losing on purpose, and I think the Nets did just enough to piss the Raptors off. They might struggle initially, but once they figure this playoff atmosphere out they should be able to take down these old folks. Mine is short because I already wrote enough analysis above.
You wanted the Raptors, Kidd. Well, you got em. Let’s see what happens. LET’S GO RAPTORS !!1!!1!!