Only three teams in NBA playoff history have gone on to win a best-of-seven series after losing their first two games at home: the 1968-1969 L.A. Lakers, the 1993-1994 Houston Rockets, and the 2004-2005 Dallas Mavericks. That’s it — that’s the list. Other than those three, no team has managed to recover from losing a pair of games on their home floor, and it’s not a big surprise. Momentum swings in the favor of the lower seed, and the only thing that separates them from going home and advancing to the next round is winning two out of their next five games. To put it into perspective, only eight teams failed to win 40 percent of their games this season. Winning two out of five games for most teams, whether it is in the playoffs or not, isn’t an overly demanding task.
For that very reason, it was a shock to see Landry Fields–someone who has played in just 30 games for the Raptors this season and a shade over 60 minutes since the start of the New Year–get the call from Dwane Casey to replace Terrence Ross with 6:18 remaining in regulation of last night’s game. After all, the Raptors found themselves leading by a single point at that moment of the game, and the next six minutes were the most important of the season. With a loss, they’d fall into an 0-2 hole, and, as we know, it’s one which few teams have been able to crawl themselves out of before.
Giving crunch time minutes to someone who has failed to work his way into a rotation since his second year in the league seemed like a death sentence for a team that was already on the ropes, but he ended up being the difference maker and a big reason why the Raptors were able to tie up the series at 1-1.
The reason Field got the call was purely for defensive purposes. Other than Mirza Teletovic, the Nets struggled to get in any sort of rhythm in the first-half, but in the third quarter, Johnson got it rolling, scoring 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting, primarily off of post-ups on DeMar DeRozan. After a slow start, the Nets went into the final 12 minutes of the game with a 66-64 lead, and when Johnson checked back into the game with Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams at the midway point of the fourth quarter, Fields got the nod to tussle with the Nets’ All-Star. Fields did a formidable job pushing him out of the post, limiting his touches, and using his length to poke away a pair of steals; one of which sparked a fast-break with just one minute remaining in regulation to put the Raptors up by six. He received help from his teammates, too–the Raptors’ bigs hedged on pick-and-rolls to prevent Johnson from turning the corner, and on post-ups, they threw a double team his way to get the ball out of his hands.
While Johnson finished the game as the Nets’ leading scorer, in those final six minutes, he scored just two points on two shot attempts. After the final buzzer sounded, Fields received some praise from Jason Kidd for his defensive effort on the seven time All-Star:
Kidd on Fields: "He stopped Joe. He's the defensive stopper."
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 23, 2014
Fields may not see a big jump in minutes as a result of his performance in Game Two because, as great as he was defensively, he’s still a liability on the offensive end. In the 17 minutes he played, he failed to attempt a shot and fell scoreless on the night. That wasn’t particularly an issue in the Raptors’ win last night, but that’s because DeMar DeRozan played hero, scoring 17-points in the fourth quarter to put them over the hump. Nevertheless, it was an impressive performance from Fields, who wound up with the second best plus/minus on the team, and, at the very least, Casey now knows he has someone he can call on to rough Johnson up for spot minutes.