To help win a championship? To be on the floor in important moments in the playoffs, where their championship experience and leadership would prove invaluable to a team that previously had no players with real, legitimate postseason success?
In the most important moments in the Brooklyn Nets’ season, the final minutes of the team’s Game 5 loss in Toronto, Pierce and Garnett were tethered to the bench, expensive cheerleaders watching their team’s furious comeback come up tantalizingly short in a 115-113 loss Wednesday at Air Canada Centre.
The Nets were down by 26 in the third quarter, unglued by another aggressive Raptors offensive onslaught again led by Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry. So it made sense for Brooklyn head coach Jason Kidd to take Pierce and Garnett off the court for the remainder of the game, to rest and save them when there would be a crucial and critical moment in the series. Right?
In the moment, yes. But after the comeback was complete? Hmmm.
Leading up to Game 4 of this series, Toronto head coach Dwane Casey decided that his team needed to match Brooklyn’s effort, intensity, physicality and aggressiveness. He wanted his team to stop turning the ball over, and he would make sure his team did everything in its power defensively to contain Joe Johnson. Relative afterthoughts in the Raptors’ adjustments were Pierce and Garnett.
So with Toronto up 85-59 with 3:29 to go in the third quarter, Garnett had played just 12 minutes, scored four points, grabbed two rebounds and registered a minus-15 while on the floor. With Pierce on the floor, Brooklyn was outscored by 31 points, his worst plus-minus since May 10, 2008.
Then, the Nets came back.
Deron Williams decided to play with effort in the fourth quarter, Joe Johnson got hot and played like the Alpha scorer Brooklyn acquired him to be, and role players were hitting shots. The Nets were on the precipice of one of the great playoff comebacks in modern history.
“Every mistake you could think about, we made in the fourth quarter,” Casey said.
The mentality of teams trying to come back from such a large deficit is to slowly chip away until the game is eventually tied. But often when the trailing team comes all the way back to pull even, it sputters and fails to finish the win because the players who executed the comeback are so physically and emotionally taxed. Brooklyn was in the position where it had two fresh future Hall-Of-Fame players who had been in pressure-packed postseason games such as Game 5 and knew what to do to win the game against a reeling and inexperienced Raptors team.
“I thought the guys on the floor were fighting and they got us back in the game,” Kidd said. “Those guys weren’t tired, so they wanted to continue to keep playing. So it was more of a rhythm…So when you have guys playing the way they did and fighting, you’ve got to leave those guys out there.”
Kidd didn’t make a single substitution in the fourth quarter until there were nine seconds left in the game. Shaun Livingston and Andrei Kirilenko came in and Pierce and Garnett just sat there, their championship experience and their fresh legs wasting away.
Pierce said the right things too, saying that he was on the sideline cheering on his teammates.
But don’t you think those two were eager to enter the game and complete the comeback their tired teammates started?
Most importantly, if Kidd didn’t put Pierce and Garnett in the game, then why did the Nets even bother acquiring them in the first place if not for a moment and a situation like the latter stages of the fourth quarter in Game 5, on the road, of an even playoff series with the score close and the stakes higher than at any point in the season?
Let’s not forget, Brooklyn gave up three future first-round picks for these guys, four of you include the one that the Celtics have the right to swap with the Nets.
Pierce and Garnett were rested during the regular season for games like this, justified with the notion that they’d be healthy for the big moments in the playoffs. The biggest moment of the season came and went. Both players were on the bench.
One could argue that Pierce and Garnett should have been on the bench because they weren’t playing well and that better players were on the floor for the given situation. Livingston and Kirilenko are versatile defenders and Mirza Teletovic was a hot shooter who spaced the defense.
Maybe the direction of the team has changed since last June. Brook Lopez’s season-ending foot injury and the team’s 10-21 start caused the Nets to become a smaller, longer, more versatile team, and perhaps Pierce and Garnett never really fit in with that. But if Pierce and Garnett were absent from the Nets’ most important moments, it just makes you wonder why general manager Billy King acquired them in the first place.
Unless Brooklyn wins the next two games against Toronto, it will exit in the first round for the second straight year— achieving just as much success with Garnett and Pierce as without them. Those draft picks the team traded aren’t coming back, and it seems like the whole premise, purpose and point of acquiring the two former Celtics, like the Nets’ Game 5 comeback, came up just a bit short in the end.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You should follow him on Twitter.