Jason Kidd did his best to downplay the significance of Monday night’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors, but his Brooklyn Nets players knew that the standings made this their biggest game of the season to date. And when the final buzzer sounded, they secured their biggest win of the year.
Tooth-and-nail victories over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and Western Conference powerhouse Oklahoma City Thunder a few months back were easily the most impressive wins of the season for Brooklyn, but with the Raptors entering the night four games ahead of the Nets for the third seed in the East, this was one the Nets desperately wanted and needed.
But there was more on the line for the Nets than just a two-game swing in the standings. Their confidence was also at stake; not confidence as it relates to the final 20 games of the regular season, but specifically with this matchup. Having defeated Brooklyn in two of the previous three meetings this season, a third win would’ve given the Raptors a huge mental edge over the Nets. The impact of having an opponent’s number can never be underestimated in this league.
The same goes for the team that has found itself on the losing side more times than not. They usually find themselves timidly waiting for disaster to strike during the most critical moments of the game. Brooklyn, however, refused to be bullied. And with the East being as tight of a race as it is, the Nets are well aware that they could meet the Raptors at some point this postseason. In fact, if these teams don’t change positions before the playoffs finally roll around, they’ll meet in the first round.
Even if the Nets aren’t concerning themselves with a future date with Toronto, they definitely want that third spot considering its attainability and the comfortable home-court advantage it provides in the first round. Brooklyn was well aware of all of this, which is why this win is their most important of the season. Trust me, Paul Pierce didn’t get that animated in the final moments for nothing.