With the series even at 2-2, Game 5 between the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday should be quite the event. TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on the series so far.
1. Improved Offence: Though the Raptors struggled mightily in the second and third quarters, they were impressive in the first and fourth and overall took much better care of the ball and exhibited better shot discipline. That must continue against an outstanding defensive opponent. Got the ball swung to the weakside and made the defence shift enough to get quality looks and just seemed less rattled and a little more sure of what they wanted to accomplish per trip. Still room for lots of improvement and they'll need it; will take the Nets best punch so far in this series on Wednesday.
2. Defensive Details: Much better job guarding the ball straight up and limiting straight-line drives and easy paths to the paint. Have to stay sound and stop closing out on perimeter guys out of control and going for pump fakes that lead to drives. Better job here. Really worked hard to contest shots. Help was very good in the fourth quarter and the rotations and communication were sound.
3. Red Alert: Game 5 and you're all even. Needless to say the pressure and excitement will be there for both sides. It comes down to this the next 48+ hours: which team stays focused better on the task at hand? Which team really locks in better on the game prep and the subtle adjustments you have to make per game? Do you stay true to your fundamental habits and execute them? At this point, you've played each other eight times already so there's no secrets. Who's going to be better and can sustain the edge? Lastly, with all the hype/hoopla surrounding you, are you able to maintain your poise/composure and get at the task at hand. Not easy for either side yet this is what makes the games so much fun.
4. Joe Johnson: Raptors did a nice job getting the ball out of his hands and making him work for his shots. No Landry Fields and in spite of John Salmons not scoring, his effort was outstanding in this matchup. He fronted him at times in the mid/low post and whomever was guarding Johnson stood their ground better and the help/double came quicker and harder. An absolute must in Game 5. He'll be looking to make a statement early and often to re-establish himself.
5. Raptors Square: What a scene! Believe me. NBA folks along with players and agents take notice of what's going on outside the ACC and compare it to the level of passion/interest they see in the other 29 NBA markets. We're in the recruitment and retention business; every little bit helps gain the upper hand on your opponent. The level of passion and love for the sport that people see from fans all across Canada right now will help Raptors ownership and management in so many ways continue to improve the organization on many fronts. You the fans are making your own statement. Keep it up. Thanks!