Giving a winnable game away hurts, but Paul Pierce’s message to his team and to the world after the Nets’ disappointing 87-79 Game 4 loss to the Toronto Raptors was simple.
Dust yourself off and try again.
“You can’t dwell on that,” Pierce told the assembled media at Barclays Center after the Nets missed an opportunity to take a 3-1 lead on an inexperienced Raptors team that absconded with a Game 4 win. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson combined to shoot just 6-for-19 after Friday night’s brilliant performance, but the Nets had their opportunity to pull out the win and push the Raptors to the brink of extinction.
“You [can’t] get caught up in the emotions and look back into what you could have done, you've just got to move on,” Pierce said.
And move on the Nets will. With their bags packed and a Game 5 awaiting in Toronto on Wednesday night, the Nets head North of the Border knowing that a prospective date with the Miami Heat will require at least one more victory at the Air Canada Centre.
“You've just got to say ‘We gotta get the next one, We gotta win on their floor again,’ and that’s it,” Pierce said, with a somewhat melancholy yet dismissive tone.
“I’ve been through too many playoffs, so many emotional highs and lows go throughout the playoffs, you've got to understand that and move forward,” he said.
The Nets seemed to take control of Game 4 during the game’s third quarter after trailing by as many as 17 in the game’s first half. For most of the night, the story in Brooklyn was one of long stretches of poorly played basketball by each team, but the Raptors ultimately prevailed.
The Nets took a four-point lead on Paul Pierce’s driving layup with 6:12 remaining in the fourth quarter but would go 0-for-6 the rest of the way. During the game’s final four minutes, the Nets turned the ball over four-straight times, allowing Greivis Vasquez (nine points, nine assists) and Kyle Lowry (22 points) to hit the two biggest shots of the game.
With Jonas Valanciunas playing a mostly ineffective 23 minutes and Landry Fields being unavailable due to back spasms, the Raptors were able to pull out a gritty victory in Brooklyn, despite only getting points from six different players.
“It shouldn’t happen,” Pierce said of the Nets futility in the fourth quarter, “But I thought we rushed a lot. I thought turnovers, the combination of those two things… You get in a playoff situation, one guy or two or three guys want to do it on their own instead of executing and I think we got caught up in that,” he said.
And as far as what he thinks of the Raptors?
Pierce knows that the Nets are in a dogfight.
“They’re a competitive group and we’ve seen that all season long,” he said of Dwane Casey’s team. “We understand that, this is a group that’s not gonna get down and not gonna give up.”
Although they may have allowed an opportunity to slip away, one thing that remains certain, is that with Pierce steering this ship, the Nets will not give up, either.
As they pack their bags and head back to Toronto in what is now a best-of-three series, they do so knowing that they are capable of winning North of the Border.
When the series returns to Brooklyn on Friday, the Nets will either be one game away from clinching their first second round berth since 2007 or fighting for their playoff lives.
If Pierce has his way—if these Nets are able to move on and get meaningful contributions from Williams and Johnson—their likelihood of moving up and on into the next round is high.
But as Malone, Ewing and Miller can attest. In the NBA Playoffs, nothing is promised.
After 15 seasons, 140 playoff games, two trips to the NBA Finals and one championship ring. Pierce knows that well, just like he knows that the most important thing for the Nets is looking ahead at Game 5.
With any luck at all, the next time the Nets are speaking after a playoff game has concluded at Barclays Center, they may have punched their ticket to a matchup they have been thinking about since last June—one with the two-time defending NBA Champion Miami HEAT.
Before then, though, they must get past the Raptors, and doing so, as Pierce knows quite well, required a renewed focus and dedication to the present game.