For the third time in this series, the Brooklyn Nets squandered a chance to steal a game in Atlanta and went on to lose by less than ten points. Now, the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks lead the Nets 3-2 in the series, needing only one more win to advance to the next round, and play the Washington Wizards. But these Nets certainly aren’t going to go down without a fight.
In game five, the Nets brought back memories of the team that showed up most of the regular season. In a huge, pivotal game, Brooklyn was outscored 33-16 in the first quarter. Many times this year the Nets have been sluggish out of the gate, and couldn’t stop a nosebleed on defense.
However, after an 11-0 run to start the second quarter the Nets made it a game again. Outscoring the Hawks 28-20 in the second quarter, the Nets held a good position going into the second half.
Late in the fourth, down by more than ten, the Nets simply would not give up. Timely shooting by Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson propelled a fourth-quarter assault that brought the Nets within one point for a brief moment. But for all the offensive miracles, the Nets could not defend the Hawks down the stretch. Al Horford and Paul Milsap knocked down mid-range jumpers, Kyle Korver hit his patented, contested, quick-release three-pointers, and the Nets defense in the paint was absolutely atrocious.
For the third time this series, the Nets blew an opportunity to steal a game in Atlanta and swing the series odds heavily in their favor.
Now, there’s no multiple scenarios or miracle comebacks the Nets have to make. On paper, their task is simple. Defend homecourt in the Barclays Center on May 1, and then travel back to Atlanta for a winner-take-all game seven. Simple right?
At the very least, the Nets have proven they can compete with the East’s best. There will be no sweep in this series as top seeds often do to inferior competition. Going into the series, some even predicted Brooklyn to pull out the series in seven games, which is still very possible.
Just how close has this series been? Consider this: the Hawks have scored an even 500 points through five games, compared to the Nets 493. That’s right, a mere seven points have separated these teams through five games in this series. It’s safe to say any of these games could’ve gone either way. If a couple broke the Nets way late, they could already be prepping for a second-round visit to Washington.
Instead, the most difficult two games of the year lie ahead for the Nets. After backing into the playoffs by virtue of a last day loss by the Indiana Pacers, the Nets need to prove they belong in these playoffs.
Deron Williams probably isn’t going to score 35 points again, especially after his putrid five point showing in game five. The Nets also can’t solely rely on Joe Johnson or Brook Lopez to have huge games either. Yes, all three players are capable of putting up 30+ points any given night, but relying on them too much is no recipe for a series win.
Offensively, the Nets need to spread the ball and space the floor. This opens up the three-point game for Jack, Anderson, Johnson, and Williams, while allowing Lopez and Plumlee to attack down low.
But offense isn’t the key problem for Brooklyn, it’s the soft as a pillow defense that’s prevented them for taking games in Atlanta. The defense in the paint has been pretty weak, with Horford and Millsap scoring from the post with ease, and Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder routinely finding open lanes to the basket. And on the perimeter, the Nets must stop Kyle Korver from getting the ball.
As he’s proved time and time again, the only effective defense for his three-point shooting is making sure the ball never touches his hands in the first place.
Perhaps some limited minutes for Markel Brown could help the Nets slow Atlanta’s efficient offense. While Brown may be an offensive liability in the playoffs, his athleticism could be a great counter to Kyle Korver late in games. With the score within one possession, Brown won’t be called upon to shoot the ball and his fresh legs late in a game could swing the momentum late.
A steal by Brown on a pass to Korver, who was set to hit an easy three-pointer, leading to a layup on the other end? That’s a five point swing in the Nets favor, and ultimately could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Lastly, the Nets need to find a way to stop DeMarre Caroll, who has been routinely knocking down big shots and leading the charge for the Hawks offense. Caroll led all scores with 24 points in game five, and has been killing the Nets throughout the series. By name, Millsap is a better player and should garner more defensive attention. But in these big games, you have to guard the hot-hand, and shift some more defense towards Carroll wherever he is on the court.
After what this series would consider a “decisive” eight point win over the Hawks in game three, the Nets held on in overtime to beat the Hawks by five in game four. The Nets must continue to build in game six to even the series at three games apiece.
This would set up the ultimate, winner-take-all game seven in Atlanta, a location where the Nets are 0-5 this season. But for game, for 48 grueling minutes, the Nets are capable of pulling out an improbable series win.
Chance Nets win Game 6: 65%
Chance Nets win series: 40%