NEW YORK – Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were expected to bring a championship mentality to Brooklyn, providing the skills, savvy and swagger the Nets needed to make a lengthy playoff run.
It’s hard to do all that from the bench.
That’s where they were for the entire fourth quarter of a Game 5 loss to the Toronto Raptors that sent the Nets to the brink of an even quicker elimination than last year, which seemed unthinkable before the season with the All-Star roster they assembled.
And coach Jason Kidd isn’t thinking about it now.
“We’re just focused on tomorrow’s game,” he said Thursday.
Lose it, and the Nets can forget about a shot at the NBA champions. The Raptors would be the ones moving on to face Miami.
A Brooklyn victory would force a Game 7 back in Toronto on Sunday.
“We have no doubt. We’re very confident,” Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez said. “We’re not going to underestimate them, but we’re going to go there with the mentality that we’re going to fight and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get this win. We’re very humble, but at the same time we’re very hungry. We need to leave it all on the court. We’ve got to win Friday. It’s not going to be easy but that’s what we’re looking for.”
After losing to Chicago in a Game 7 on their home floor in the first round last year, the Nets traded for Pierce and Garnett, made a few more moves in free agency, and ended up with a roster that featured 36 All-Star appearances and would cost more than $180 million in salaries and taxes.
Having big names is great, but having them play well on the same night has been a season-long challenge for the Nets. It has to happen now, and Kidd believes it can.
“We always think the next game,” he said during a conference call. “We’ve got a game tomorrow, so that’s our thought process, that everybody can have their ‘A’ games tomorrow.”
Pierce had just 10 points in 24 minutes Wednesday, the Nets getting outscored by 31 points while he was on the floor. Garnett played only 12 minutes and is logging fewer than 18 per game, barely more than backup Mason Plumlee, the rookie whose selection on draft night was overshadowed and practically ignored because it came after news of the trade with Boston had broken.
Kidd explained that he wanted to stick with the guys who had made the Nets’ huge fourth-quarter rally, that the two veterans weren’t upset, and that he remained confident Garnett could still make an impact late in games.
But just in case his guys can’t get it done, Kidd called on some help from the officials, noting that Joe Johnson had only attempted one free throw in Game 5.
“If flopping is the way to go, then we have to maybe play that game,” Kidd said.
They still would have to stop Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who helped the Raptors build a 26-point lead that was just enough after Brooklyn scored 44 in the final period. Lowry scored 36 points and DeRozan had 23, and don’t mind that the final margin was only two points.
“We still won the game,” said Lowry, who made the go-ahead 3-pointer after the Nets had tied it a 106. “At the end of the day, the ‘W’ still counts. It’s a positive, we won the game. We learned from the things we did and we learn. We’re winning the series right now and we have to go out and win another game.”
The Raptors were the division champions and the higher seed, yet Kidd said the Nets felt their experience would give them an advantage in the fourth quarters to help them pull out victories.
On Wednesday, they had to settle for just making it close. That won’t be good enough Friday, so they know they need to have more urgency back on their home floor.
“We’ve got to start the game off that way,” Kidd said. “We’ve got to be in attack mode for 48 minutes.”
AP freelance writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed to this report.