Brooklyn started to look like a threat this season when they were forced by injry to go small without Brook Lopez, which meant coach Jason Kidd slid Paul Pierce over to the power forward slot. You knew Pierce could score at the four, but the surprise is how much better the Brooklyn defense is with him there.
It works. Well. If you have any questions about it or why they are a playoff threat, look no further than Wednesday night.
Or, maybe we should ask what is wrong with a Heat team that has lost four of five.
The Nets moved to 3-0 against the Heat this season with a dramatic 96-95 win in Miami. Pierce had 29 points on 9-of-12 shooting as he hit 5-of-7 from three and he put the Nets ahead for good with 1:45 left on a driving lay-up that broke a 92-92 tie.
Early on in the game Miami gave Pierce the jump shot, daring him to take threes, but then they started to fall. So the Heat adjusted and closed out, so Pierce went the fake and drew fouls or blew by his make on the dribble. He had 17 points in the third quarter. He was knocking down bank shots. He simply was phenomenal — he should wear that shoulder brace every game.
He wasn’t the only one to surprise — Mirza Teletovic had 17 points plus some really nice defensive possessions against LeBron James. Shaun Livingston had 13 points plus played perfect defense on LeBron on the final possession. Brooklyn did this without Kevin Garnett and on a night Joe Johnson (2-of-10) and Deron Williams (2-of-8) were off their game.
LeBron was improved over some recent outings — 6-of-13 shooting, he got to the free throw line 9 times and finished with 19 points — but he still is not his usual ultra-aggressive self. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade each had 22 points on the night, but the rest of the Heat outside the big three shot a combined 33 percent on the night. Overall Miami continues to settle too much for jumpers in the half court, not getting buckets at the rim.
Nor did they execute with the game on the line.
This is just a March slump for the Heat, they can and have played better than this. The two-time defending champs may feel they can flip the switch, and they could be right about this.
But they are giving other teams in the East confidence. Not the least of all Brooklyn, who clearly would make the Heat work for everything they’d get in a seven game series.