TORONTO – Anyone that has read Sun Tzu, the great Chinese general who wrote The Art of War, or any fan of The Godfather trilogy, is familiar with this saying:
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Alan Anderson intends on keeping DeMar DeRozan close, very close, Wednesday night (7:30pm; My9) in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference playoff series between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors.
Anderson and DeRozan were teammates with the Raptors from 2011 to 2013. They often went chest to chest in practice. One of the reasons DeRozan emerged as an All-Star this season is the lessons he learned from going up against the rugged, experienced Anderson.
Now Anderson and DeRozan are enemies on the court.
In the Nets’ disheartening 97-89 loss to Toronto Sunday night in Game 4 in Barclays Center, DeRozan was torching the Nets, scoring 16 of his 24 points midway through the first half.
But with 7:03 left in the first half, coach Jason Kidd inserted Anderson, who must have stock in Velcro and Crazy Glue. Anderson attached himself to DeRozan, holding him to just six of his 20 first-half points.
“I’ve been around him two years when I was in Toronto so I pretty much know him really good,’’ said Anderson. “I just try to be aggressive with him. He’s a great player, an All Star. Just try to make all his shots tough and make him feel me.’’
Make no mistake about it, if the Nets drop pivotal Game 5, they will feel the pressure knowing a Game 6 loss Friday night in Barclays Center would end a season that began with lofty expectations.
After being eliminated from last season’s playoffs in the first round, GM Billy King went all-in, trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and bolstering the roster with mostly veteran players that understand playoff basketball.
Perhaps no team in the Eastern Conference has had more expectations this season than Brooklyn. And not many teams have had less pressure than the Raptors. Yet here they are – the Nets and Raptors – tied at 2-2 in what has been a riveting series.
The three most pressing issues the Nets must address are:
* Point guard Deron Williams has to get the upper hand against his Raptors counterpart, Kyle Lowry. In the Nets’ victories in Games 1 & 3, Williams prevailed. Lowry was better in Games 2 and 4; Toronto won.
“Deron’s in the driver’s seat,’’ said Paul Pierce. “He’s our point guard. We feed off of him a lot when he’s being aggressive, taking the ball to the basket, getting shots up. That will bode well for all of us.’’
* The Nets will have to do a better job of containing DeRozan, who has played some of the most aggressive ball of his career in this series.
Through four playoff games DeRozan has attempted more free throws (48, making 42) than any player in these NBA Playoffs – even that guy named LeBron.
Coach Jason Kidd said he will continue to use multiple defenders on DeRozan but don’t be surprised if Alan Anderson doesn’t get the first call off the bench.
Anderson sat out practice on Tuesday to give his sore groin a rest, but Kidd said he is ready to go. And Anderson is ready to go – hard.
“He definitely knows I’m going to be there,’’ Anderson said of DeRozan. “I mean, that’s how I play. I’m really aggressive.’’
“So he’s going to have to work for a lot of his shots. And he’s going to make a lot of them, but I’m going to be there on all his shots.’’
*The Nets also know they must do a better job of finishing. They got careless in the final five minutes of their 102-98 win in Game 3, frittering away all but one point of a 15-point lead.
In Game 4 it was Nets' offense that went south. After Garnett made two free throws with 4:58 left giving the Nets a 79-78 lead, they didn’t score again.
“In this series there are going to be multiple games where you get some things right and you get some things wrong,’’ said Kevin Garnett. “Obviously you want to learn from them and continue to improve. That’s the mindset.’’
Nothing has happened in this series to deter the Nets from believing they will prevail. They are wrapping themselves in a blanket woven of playoff experience, leadership and the knowledge that on any given night, any player wearing the black and white jersey can be the difference.
Especially if one of those players is prepared to keep the enemy close.
“Just him knowing his game and also being a more physical player as far as his body, can be an advantage for us,’’ guard Shaun Livingston said of AA.
“My strength is length, it’s not necessarily putting a body on guys. With certain players, especially scorers, I think that helps. You look at what Tony Allen is doing to [Kevin Durant]. He’s nowhere near seven foot but him being a little bit stronger, being physical, I think that helps. Alan can do that for us.’’