(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets
Season Series: 2-2
The popular consensus on this series is that the Brooklyn Nets will defeat the higher-seeded Toronto Raptors en route to a second round clash with the Miami Heat, a team they swept 4-0 in the regular season. It sounds good. It feels good. But it’s a commitment I’m not ready to sell myself on now.
It’s something about the Brooklyn Nets that yells “keep away”. You know the saying. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and looks like a duck, odds are it’s a duck. Not to say the Brooklyn Nets are frauds. They’re far from that. Since Brook Lopez’s injury, Jason Kidd has found ways to make his available players work. Without Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston shined. Kevin Garnett looked a bit rejuvenated once moved to the center. Same with Paul Pierce at the three. Scoring was added with Marcus Thornton. Joe Johnson still exists. Mason Plumlee has emerged as a key rotation player. And yet, I don’t feel comfortable with saying the Nets have an advantage over the Raptors.
The Nets do have the experience factor which may pay dividends in the end, but the Raptors, one of the league’s most young and exciting teams, have a lot of things in their favor. Better point guard. Better shooting guard. Better small forward. A capable bench lead by Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson. And the advantage that the Nets used to baffle teams, constructing lineups to create mismatches around the court, the Raptors have the personnel to combat that. Need post defense? That’s what Chuck Hayes is for. Spread the floor on offense? Steve Novak can do that or Dwyane Casey can play a combination of Amir Johnson-Patrick Patterson to open up the floor for Lowry-Derozan-Ross.
This Raptors team is probably better than most people take them for. Had they made the same trade a few months earlier in the offseason, sending Rudy Gay to Toronto for cap relief and able bench bodies, this ends up a 50-win team, better than any other Raptor team put together in the teams history. They’re one of the four teams to finish top-ten in both offensive and defensive rating (SAS, OKC, LAC). Demar Derozan and Terrence Ross are both having career years and Kyle Lowry… well, KLOE. If he’s indeed healthy, he’s in my top-3 players for the Steph Curry “Most Likely to be a Fan Favorite After the Playoffs” award. It’s possible that we are underrating this club, not because they aren’t talented and because of the lack of playoff experience (36 combined playoff wins total), but because they are who they are: the Raptors? It may sound foolish on the outside, but I’ve seen crazier things happen. The Bobcats aren’t a good defensive team because they’re the Bobcats to many. Meme’s stick and after years of mediocrity, they’re currently fighting a label that doesn’t fit anymore.
In the regular season, the margins of victory for the Nets in this season series once again jumps off the screen. In their two wins, Brooklyn won by a combined six points. Three of the series win were by less than ten points. Usually when a team plays it this close, luck begins to fall in the opposite direction. It happened with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers. No reason why Brooklyn won’t fall victim to the same circumstances. They just hope that’s it’s not now instead of in the second round against Miami (it’s gonna happen in the second round against Miami if not now).
I truly don’t know where I’m going with this, but plenty signs say go with the Raptors. Would I be surprised if the Nets won? Not at all, but I’m not truly convinced the Nets are just a far and away better team than the Raptors. With that said…