By Steve Lichtenstein
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Has the entire nation of Canada stopped its bellyaching about NBA officiating yet?
Was Tuesday’s 100-95 Raptors victory that evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at 1-1 sufficient payback for god-knows-what transgressions the referees allegedly committed in the Nets’ opening-game win?
OK, there was the missed hop, skip and jump that Nets forward Paul Pierce took before laying in a key bucket down the stretch on Saturday.
But that was a pittance compared to all the calls — not to mention all the whistles that should have been blown but weren’t — that turned Game 2 in Toronto’s favor. For instance, the refs must have been distracted like those who officiate WWE matches when Nets guard Deron Williams was scraped across the arm by Kyle Lowry on a fourth-quarter drive to the basket — the EXACT same play that was called a foul on D-Will when Lowry tried that maneuver on Toronto’s previous possession.
Still, the Nets had several opportunities to take command of this series, but the same bugaboos that have plagued Brooklyn all season came back to haunt them — and it had nothing to do with the referees.
There was the incompetence on the defensive backboards, with Toronto tracking down 19 offensive rebounds — the same number as the total defensive rebounds pulled down by the Nets. Pierce called the Nets’ effort “soft,” and he could have been pointing a finger at himself or at reserves Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic, both of whom played like the ball was lathered with butter.
There was the live-by-the-three-pointer, die-by-the-three-pointer mentality. The Nets, who recorded the sixth-lowest road three-point shooting percentage in the league during the regular season, jacked up another 24 three-pointers on Tuesday, making seven. In the two games, the Nets are shooting just under 23 percent from behind the arc.
And then there was the illogic of coach Jason Kidd’s rotation. It was just a matter of time before the Raptors exploited the Nets’ penchant for having the wrong people on the floor in the wrong matchups.
After the game, the YES Network showed clips of a handful of field goals made by DeMar DeRozan, who led Toronto with 30 points. None of the ones shown were defended by Shaun Livingston, who did a fabulous job on the All-Star swingman in Game 1.
To be fair, DeRozan did convert a few other shots with Livingston on him, and the player Kidd gave Livingston’s time to down the stretch — forward Andrei Kirilenko — was involved in a bunch of those game-turning plays that only he can make.
But in most of Toronto’s possessions during the fourth quarter, Kidd had Kirilenko guard Terrence Ross, who again was a nonfactor despite not being saddled with early “ticky-tack” foul trouble that Raptors coach Dwane Casey said was the excuse for his Game 1 no-show.
Meanwhile, DeRozan went to work on Joe Johnson. The Nets’ small forward may be a cold-blooded scorer in his own right, but he unfortunately does not have Livingston’s disruptive abilities. DeRozan poured in 17 points during the Raptors’ 36-point outburst in the fourth quarter, including a pair of mid-range jump shots that gave Toronto the lead for good with less than three minutes to play.
Kidd returned to Livingston with the Nets down two points in the final minute and he promptly harassed DeRozan into a turnover. Unfortunately, Pierce didn’t get a chance to go to Walgreens or Costco to refill his clutch supply, and his pair of three-point misses down the stretch ended any hope that the Nets could return home up 2-0.
So now it’s on you, Brooklyn.
Starting on Friday, it’s your chance to turn the tables on the Raptors and scream at every call that goes against the Nets in the next two games, regardless of its accuracy.
It would be helpful if the Nets could sell out Barclays Center. As of this writing, there are still tickets for Friday’s game available for purchase.
And the crowd has to be loud — not just when public-address announcer David Diamante requests that Brooklyn “Stand Up!” — but all game long. Bring back the national anthem drown-out that used to make Madison Square Garden such an intimidating place to play before it was overrun by crowd-watchers posing as sports fans.
You would never know it if you looked at these NBA playoffs in a vacuum, but there is a little bit of scientific evidence in the book “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played And Games Are Won” as to why home teams have an advantage: Simply put, the refs generally have a subconscious bias towards home teams.
That may be true, but elite teams find a way to overcome the egregious officiating. The fact remains that the Nets had a solid chance to do it on Tuesday night, but they couldn’t put the Raptors away.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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