Here are five thoughts on the Eastern Conference first-round series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets following Game 5, including the play of Kyle Lowry, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnet and Paul Pierce, as well as head coaches Jason Kidd and Dwane Casey.
1. KYLE LOWRY: Brilliant in Game 5. Watching him Wednesday night brought me back to watching Allen Iverson torch the Raptors in the 2001 playoffs. Considering Lowry is a Philly guy and one of the guys he looked up to as a young player was Iverson, I couldn't help myself but to draw comparisons. A totally different players but one quality that truly makes them alike is that they are both incredible competitors. Not the size of the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog. In the last five quarters of play (Game 4, 4th quarter and Game 5), other than the magic of Vince Carter, I can't recall a better stretch of play ever from a Raptor on so many fronts. Enjoy it - I'm mesmerized by it.
2. JOE JOHNSON: Give him credit. Major bounce-back in the second half of Game 5. He was close to unstoppable. Raptors did everything they could to contain/control him and he was that much better. I'm sure a significant focus of game planning for Game 6 will centre on tightening the screws on both the individual coverage's associated with him and the collective scheme based upon the help you have to give his defender. He is an absolute load. I'm so impressed by his talent.
3. RAPTORS' FIRST THREE QUARTERS VS. 4TH QUARTER: It looked like five guys stole Raptors shirts early in the 4th and tried to imitate the real guys. In the first three quarters we saw the Raptors at their truly best - ball movement, defensive energy, effort, discipline and most importantly, a collective will and confidence that the crowd fed off of. In the fourth, we saw a team that cruised and thought it would be easy and let up with its focus. Very fortunate that they hung on, yet when I reflect on it for the majority of the game they were far better, which is good. Now it's about learning from that lesson and growing. Remember back in early December at Golden State? It was the Raptors' biggest collapse in franchise history and lost to the Warriors. This time, a huge collapse as well - the difference - they won and won on a much more meaningful stage than the stage back in Oakland. Speaking of Oakland, the late Al Davis (Oakland Raiders) would say 'just win, baby!' They did. One to go but it won't be easy. Their competition has lots to play for; it should be a major challenge and lots of fun to watch.
4. KG AND PAUL PIERCE: They were spectators Wednesday night in the 4th quarter and I'm sure both men will be ready to go Friday night in response to that. I don't think there have been many times in either guys' career that they sat and watched at crunch time. I'm sure we'll see two angry/ornery guys in Brooklyn talking smack and challenging their teammates and the crowd to be at optimal level. Lots of folks piling on KG these days. I respect what he's done in his career. Is he the player he once was? No, but his effort and will to win are still there all the time. Pierce - He's still got a lot left and his matchup at the four spot is still a tough cover for the Raptors, yet I do like that the Raps are now making him guard his guy and attacking him. Fully expect both guys to come out firing guns blazing. Be prepared.
5. JASON KIDD AND DWANE CASEY: Both coaches, I'm sure, are working on their team's collective psyche as we enter Game 6. Kidd challenged his team before Game 5 to be much better in the 4th quarter after being outplayed by the Raps in Games 3 and 4 in the defining stanza. They were awesome in the 4th Wednesday night… the other three quarters, not so impressive. I'm sure he's pushing momentum and carryover. Coach Casey will hammer the fact that you must sustain and play every possession at the max and learn/build on the fact that you won, yet have to respect the little details of the game. You also sell that momentum in a series that lasts only as long as you allow it to or make it happen. As much as the Nets want to sell that they're now going to pick up where they left off, you've got to sell that the 'score always takes care of itself' if you do the right things. You concentrate on doing the 'right things" each possession and you'll find a way in Game 6, or if necessary, Game 7. Won't be easy to put Brooklyn away Friday but it can be done. Dictate the tone and personality of Game 6 right at the start. Winning/losing - that's too much sometimes to focus on. Dive into the details of what it takes to succeed and you'll handle the pressure of a road game better.