For the second straight year, the Brooklyn Nets will play a Game 7 for the right to move on to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Unlike last year, when the Nets squared off against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center, Deron Williams and company will have to take their act on the road, heading north of the border to take on the Toronto Raptors for the right to face the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat in Round Two. Nets fans will head into Sunday hoping that the venue isn't the only thing that's different this time around.
After an impressive 97-83 Game 6 victory on Friday, the Nets are feeling confident about their chances of advancing. How confident, you ask? Enough for reserve forward/center Andray Blatche — yes, Andray Blatche — to big up his chest and start making conference semifinal travel plans. From Brian Lewis of the New York Post:
“Yeah, we guarantee it. We’re going to go there, take care of business and go to Miami,’’ Blatche said in a hallway in the bowels of the Barclays Center. The big man had guaranteed victory during Friday morning’s shootaround, and after Jason Kidd gave Blatche extended minutes in Game 6, he made good on that vow.
“Yeah, I did [guarantee Friday’s win],” he said. “We’re not going home. We’re not trying to go home. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to fight in Toronto on Sunday.’’
It's bold talk from a guy whose airmailed pass helped give Toronto a 3-2 lead. To his credit, though, Blatche did his level best to back it up in Game 6, chipping in eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks, a steal and an assist in 21 minutes off the bench. He rewarded Kidd's faith in going to him as the first big man off the Brooklyn bench, helping spark a Nets offense that shot a blistering 68.4 percent from the field to build a 15-point first-quarter lead they'd never relinquish.
After Blatche made his guarantee, the Raptors were made aware of his prognostication. As you might expect, they didn't think too much of it. From Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
“I don’t know who he thinks he is,” [reserve guard Greivis Vasquez] told reporters Saturday in Toronto. “He’s not [Kevin Garnett] or Paul Pierce or Jason Kidd. But, you know, we’re not going to listen to this nonsense. He gotta earn that, and he hasn’t yet.”
DeMar DeRozan shrugged it off.
“I don’t care what he said. He can say what he wants, honestly. He can go out there and say he’s going to hit the lottery tomorrow.”
They're right, of course; Blatche's guarantee, in and of itself, doesn't mean very much. But it does speak to the overall sense of confidence the Nets feel heading back to a place where they've already won a game in this series, and especially after outscoring Toronto 141-107 over the last five quarters. And if the Nets can once again stymy Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry — just 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting in Game 6 — and keep Toronto from making hay in the pick-and-roll with big men Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, they'll have every reason to be. Put that all together and by Sunday night, Andray Blatche could join the likes of Joe Namath and Mark Messier in "make good on your guarantees" New York sports lore.
(OK, maybe not.)
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