Post Up: Not Extinct Yet

Nets 104 – Raptors 103 (Brooklyn wins series 4-3)

The Nets had more vets, more Game 7 experience. When Joe Johnson hit a three-pointer to put the Nets up 95-85 with 6:18 remaining, it really shouldn’t have been a close finish.

But the Raptors clawed their way back, never getting unnerved, never looking like the inexperienced team. When Brooklyn shot themselves in the foot with multiple late missed free throws and one humongous turnover off an inbounds pass, Toronto was in position to win the game with 6.1 seconds remaining.

With the score at 104-103, Kyle Lowry bullied through a blitz of Brooklyn defenders and into the lane like a running back. He nearly fumbled the rock when he got to the nail of the court, but quickly collected it again and floated up a shot at the rim.

The ball barely left his fingers when Paul Pierce swiped it away, along with the Raptors’ hopes of seeing the second round.

It was a devastating loss for the Raptors; an unceremonious win for Nets. For Brooklyn, the win wasn’t exactly a momentum or confidence builder. The series probably wore down their tired legs while the Heat have been preparing for a week.

No doubt Joe Johnson will be the focal point of Miami’s scouting reports. JJ was easily the series MVP, the Nets’ most consistent force, and the Raptors’ most frustrating mark. They threw every defender they had at him for seven games, and he dealt away with them all. Iso Joe made his final, devastating mark on the series in the fourth quarter, when he registered 13 of his 26 points on the night.

KG came out spry and energized as if it was his first Playoff series. Garnett dropped 12 and 11—his 86th post-season double-double.

The Nets got huge contributions off the bench from Shaun Livingston (10 and 3 dimes) and Marcus Thornton (17 and 4 treys). Livingston, who hadn’t shot a free throw in two games, knocked down two crucial points from the charity stripe to put the Nets up three with 13 seconds remaining.

Lowry led Toronto with 28 points, Amir Johnson had a Playoff career-high 20 points with 10 rebounds, and DeMar DeRozan had 18 ad 6 assists. When Terrence Ross ripped an inbounds pass away from Pierce and threw it off Truth’s leg and out of bounds, it looked like Toronto was going to pull off an epic comeback win.

Of course, if that would have happened, Toronto fans may still be outside the ACC celebrating right now. Instead, the Nets are flying south as victors and underdogs against the defending Champions.—Ryne Nelson

Spurs 119 – Mavs 96 (San Antonio wins series 4-3)

After a dogfight of a series that showcased several All-Stars and up-and-coming athletes going at it for six games, the final seventh matchup showcased what has been the typical case for each of these teams:

A three-headed Spurs monster dominating the basketball court with unprecedented chemistry and a lone Mavericks wolf pleading and fighting for any sort of help from his teammates.

The Spurs ended a weekend filled with five Game 7s and gave the nation the type of convincing win most people thought would be happening more frequently in this 1-vs-8 series. Before the first quarter even had a chance to get started, this one was already out of hand. The Spurs led 18-7 midway through the first quarter and didn’t let off the pedal the rest of the first half.

A few plays into the second half, the Spurs led 70-49 as they simply had too much of a stifling defense for the Mavs to handle. Even though the 119 points and 56.8 percent shooting from the field will stand out for the Spurs offensively, they won this game with their defense being the catalyst for their balanced offense. The Mavs had to fight for every single inch on the offensive end of the court, and with Ellis getting into early foul trouble, they lacked enough playmakers to keep up with their opponent.

The Mavs, though, did cut the deficit to 14 points midway through the third quarter, but San Antonio quickly responded by going on a 14-5 run to close the quarter and put this one away for good. The Mavs never had a chance from the get-go.

Tony Parker (32 points, 11-19 from the field) finally had a dominant Game 7, which hasn’t been the case in the past. Parker started off hot and stayed on fire for the majority of his time on the floor. He hadn’t been able to sustain his success for a full 48 minutes up to this point in the series, and he didn’t even need the full game Sunday to leave his mark.

In attempting to keep the Spurs’ 3-pointers at bay, the Mavs defenders have consistently stayed put on the perimeter, almost encouraging Parker to find his scoring touch from midrange and at the rim. The French point guard finally fully grasped this defensive scheme and made the Mavs pay in a large, large way.

It helped that his partners in crime couldn’t miss, as Tim Duncan (15 points, 8 rebounds) and Manu Ginobili (20 points, 5 assists, 6 steals) combined to shoot 12-15 (80 percent) from the field. These three have faced plenty of obstacles during their three championship runs and knew what they would need to contribute in order to close out the pesky Mavs.

Unlike these three players, veterans like Monta Ellis (12 points, 3-11 from the field) and Jose Calderon (4 points, 4 assists, 2-8 from the field) haven’t ever been a part of this type of a competitive series with this much on the line. The only Playoff series win between these two came when Ellis took down the Mavs in 2007. Their inexperience on the big stage was clear for everyone to see Sunday afternoon.

But as painful of an ending this was for the Mavs starting backcourt, they are going to be in Dallas together for at least another two years and they can build off of the successes and failures from seven difficult Playoff games—just as the Spurs are doing right now.

Dirk Nowitzki (22 points, 9 rebounds) did everything he could to keep his team’s season alive. He did miss shots he usually knocks down, looking uncomfortable on the baseline at times. But as a whole, this season and seven-game series, Dirk showed he still has something left in the tank if the right pieces are around him. With Ellis as Dirk’s sidekick, the 49-win Mavs might be one more piece away from becoming elite once again (Luol Deng?). 

For the Spurs, they have plenty of fight to make much more noise in these Playoffs. With the Big 3 having their best collective game and Boris Diaw (8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) proving he can anchor the second unit, they continue to laugh in the face of “Father Time” and show the NBA this is a team sport. Popovich foiled the Mavs’ blueprint in the end and will face a similar blueprint now against Terry Stotts (a Carlisle mentee) and the Blazers, who also have a flow offense and weak defense.—Jay Wallis