So it all comes down to this: The Brooklyn Nets will face the Toronto Raptors on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, ABC) in decisive Game 7 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series at Air Canada Centre.
Do-or-die: The Nets have never won a Game 7 in their franchise history. They are 0-2. Last season, they were eliminated by the Chicago Bulls in seven games. If that happens again this season, it would be a major disappointment for the most expensive team in NBA history -- more than $190 million between payroll and luxury taxes.
Experience on their side: Whether or not this matters, who knows. But Kevin Garnett (six) and Paul Pierce (eight) have played in a combined 14 Game 7s. The Raptors’ entire roster has played in seven. The Nets’ entire roster has played in 27. In a hostile environment, it’s going to be imperative that Brooklyn comes out aggressive from the start. Finishing is even more important. This is Nets coach Jason Kidd’s first Game 7. He made all the right adjustments in Game 6. But first-year coaches are 5-16 all-time in Game 7s, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The last rookie coach to win a Game 7 was Avery Johnson with the Dallas Mavericks in 2005. Can Kidd make all the adjustments again?
Good D-Will or Bad D-Will? In this series, the Nets have won when Deron Williams has played well (23 points on 46 percent shooting in wins) and lost when he hasn’t (12.7 points on 37.1 percent shooting in losses). Williams tweaked his left ankle in the third quarter of Game 6, but he played through it. How will it respond following rest and treatment? This is a huge game for Williams. He has to be aggressive for 48 minutes. If the Nets lose, will the team look to trade him?
Joe Cool: Joe Johnson has been Brooklyn’s best player in the series, averaging 20.8 points on 54.1 percent shooting. Toronto has tried a bunch of stuff defensively against Johnson, usually double-teaming him and trying to force the ball out of his hands. Most of the time, it hasn’t worked. Johnson has been so tough in the paint. This is where he operates the best, and where the Nets need to get him the ball.
D it up: The Nets must make life difficult on DeMar DeRozan (24.8 ppg) and Kyle Lowry (20.0 ppg). DeRozan and Lowry are probably going to get theirs, but Brooklyn needs to make them earn it. Both guards have shot poor percentages from the field, but they have gotten to the free throw line and hit their shots.
Other Nets keys to the game: Forcing turnovers. Keeping the rebounding battle close. Getting production from the bench. Possibly hitting some 3-pointers. A Nets’ loss would mean a massive failure for a team that came into the season with championship expectations.