Nets on brink of elimination entering Game 6 at Barclays
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It wasn’t quite as bold as Patrick Ewing’s “See you on Sunday!” guarantee before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Chicago Bulls in May of 1996.
But Paul Pierce had a similar notion following Wednesday night’s crushing 115-113 Game 5 loss to the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.
The former NBA Finals MVP channeled his inner-Ewing after sitting on the bench for the entire fourth quarter of the Nets’ furious comeback from a 26-point deficit en route to another heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Kyle Lowry and the feisty Raptors.
''I think we'll play better on Friday at home [in Brooklyn] and we'll see them back here Sunday [for Game 7],'' Pierce declared.
Ewing, of course, was unable to back up his boast 18 years ago, as the Knicks went down in five to the Michael Jordan-led Bulls.
Pierce and the Nets have to win two in a row now just to get a shot at the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat, a team they defeated in all four regular-season meetings during the regular season, and more importantly, save face.
With their backs planted firmly against the wall entering Friday night’s do-or-die Game 6 at the Barclays Center, the Nets can only hope at this point that their future Hall of Fame forward knows what he’s talking about.
Down 22 entering the fourth quarter Wednesday, Brooklyn finally sprang to life after slumbering through the first three periods. The Nets’ 44-point fourth quarter was the biggest the NBA playoffs had seen in well over a decade.
But much as they have done throughout this close series, the Raptors found a way to stave off the furious comeback, thanks in most part to Lowry’s career playoff-high 36-point effort, and can now put the padlocks on the Barclays Center Friday night.
Pierce, who along with Kevin Garnett, could only watch as Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Mirza Teletovic, Alan Anderson and Andray Blatche fought and clawed their way back into a 101-101 tie with just over three minutes remaining.
Now, he must step to the floor and lead by example if the Nets are to avert becoming one of the most underachieving franchises in modern NBA history.
Armed with the largest payroll in the history of the sport, a roster full of former and current All-Stars, a pair of surefire Hall of Famers in Garnett and Pierce, Brooklyn can ill-afford being sent home for the summer on its home floor for the second straight season.
Last May, the Nets had a hobbled Bulls team on the ropes entering an opening-round Game 7 at Barclays and laid an egg on their herring-bone designed court, sending dejected Brooklyn fans to their respective subway platforms with a “Wait ‘Till Next Year” mantra.
Well, it’s next year right now, and the Nets don’t look any tougher, more resilient or capable of advancing in these playoffs than they did last May.
At least not yet.
“We've just got to play with a sense of urgency,'' noted Williams, who has been thoroughly outplayed by Lowry throughout the first five games, looking at times like a playoff novice rather than a $98 million face-of-the-franchise-type point guard.
''We have to now. If we lose, we're done,” he added.
Toronto, which is trying to win its first playoff series since vanquishing Ewing’s Knicks way back in 2001, clearly possesses the proverbial “Eye of the Tiger” coming into Brooklyn.
The Raptors have passed virtually every test of their playoff mettle, despite being absent from the postseason since 2007.
Wednesday night’s fourth-quarter collapse appeared to be the turning point in the series, with the Nets poised to sneak out of Toronto with an epic comeback win on their way home to wrap things up Downtown Friday night.
But Lowry wouldn’t allow it to happen, playing through an injured knee to drill a courageous step-back 3-pointer that broke the tie for good in the final minute.
“He’s never going to stop playing,” Nets coach Jason Kidd admitted of Toronto’s fiery point man.
Kidd must be wondering when his team will start playing.
In Games 4 and 5, the Nets have dug themselves into deep holes, emerged from them just in time to flirt with victory, only to suffer the indignity of watching as the Raptors made all the big plays down the stretch.
Brooklyn must be ready to fire from the get-go Friday night before what should be a sold-out, if not completely raucous, crowd on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
If not, the only thing Pierce and the Nets are likely to see on Sunday are the black garbage bags in front of their lockers following a second straight home playoff ouster.
Nothing But Net: Johnson scored all but four of his 30 points in the second half of Game 5, spearheading Brooklyn’s comeback. He also took himself and his teammates to task for yet another slow start. "More importantly, it’s just the energy that we didn't have in the first half,” he said. “We dug ourselves such a big hole and in the second half, now we finally decided we wanted to play and we exerted a lot of energy getting back in the game and we had a couple of bone-headed mistakes down the stretch, but gave ourselves a chance." … Teletovic was brilliant off the bench with 17 points, and has 29 combined over the Nets’ last two losses. … Williams took just eight shots in Game 5, and most of his nine assists came on feeds to Johnson during the fourth-quarter comeback. … Toronto had outscored Brooklyn by 20 points combined in the fourth quarters of the first four games of the series before the Nets matched that figure with their 44-24 advantage in the final period Wednesday night. … "My emotions, you wouldn't want to hear it. We just didn't play smart,” admitted Toronto coach Dwane Casey after his team barely held for the win in Game 5. “They are a veteran team, they are going to take advantage of the mistakes that you make and we wrote a book on the mistakes we made in the fourth quarter.”