A disturbing trend is emerging, and it is one trend Brooklyn doesn’t want to grow.
The Nets can’t seem to hold the late lead against the inexperienced Raptors.
The talented veterans on the Nets roster have held leads in every fourth quarter. This series could be over already, or at the very least headed back to Toronto with the Brooklyn boys up 3–1.
And yet, it’s the veterans who are having trouble closing out.
Up 93–78 with five minutes to play on Friday, the Nets were poised for an easy Game Three win. But there the team was, clinging to a one-point lead with just 34 seconds remaining. The Nets ultimately held on to win game three 102–98, but not without first allowing the Raptors to claw back to within striking distance with a late 18–4 run.
Game Four was more of the same.
The Raptors came out and immediately put the Nets on their heels, opening with a 35–22 first quarter. Credit the Nets, however. They battled all the way to gain a 77–73 lead with just more than six minutes remaining. It was all downhill from there.
The Nets, the team with all the playoff experience, including those who have won an NBA championship, collapsed down the stretch for the second game in a row.
The Raptors closed out the game on a 14–2 run buoyed by six straight Nets’ misses and six fourth quarter turnovers. The Nets shot just 3 of 17 from the floor in the final frame.
As the Nets slogged through the fourth, Coach Jason Kidd made some interesting lineup moves to gain a strategic edge. He pulled Garnett with 4:43 remaining in a tie game. When he re-entered, the Nets were down four and not really able to gain any footing. If there are any exceptions to that unwritten 20 minutes per game rule, a tie playoff game with under five minutes to go would be a good one.
But Kidd’s minute-limiting aside, the Raptors head back to Toronto with momentum and home court advantage on its side.
So, in a lineup of veterans, who is going to step up?
Through four games, the Nets go as Deron Williams goes, which was always the plan.
The Kevin Garnett-led frontcourt has been responsible for the Nets defensive turnaround, but not he, nor Blatche, nor Teletovic, nor Plumlee or any other post players are expected to carry the offensive load. That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the franchise point guard.
In the Nets’ two wins, Williams has been aggressive getting to the basket and getting his shots. In the two losses, he has been tentative and made careless mistakes with the ball. In order for the Nets to move on to the second round, Williams will need to be the man.
If he’s not, that trend growing out of Brooklyn might find its way north to Toronto.
Tom Lafe is a 6-foot-5 sports-world insider with a middling high school basketball career who believes the Nets will be driven by the success of the team’s big men.