East Rutherford, N.J. Conventional wisdom would hold that the New Jersey Nets returned home Thursday with an advantage in their Eastern Conference semifinal series after splitting the first two games at Miami.
The first two games were far from conventional. Two blowouts have left the series tied 1-1 and left a lot of questions to be answered when the teams meet again tonight in Game 3.
"It's hard to get a true gauge of where both teams are at because they were such lopsided games," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said Thursday. "I'd be in another business if I could predict it. It's hard to say. Are we who we were in Game 1, and are they who they were in Game 2? It's probably somewhere in between."
Odd-numbered games always are viewed as pivotal in best-of-seven series, but tonight's game could be even more revealing given the circumstances leading up to it.
Miami evened the series Wednesday by bolting to a 25-4 lead and cruising to a 111-89 win. Two nights earlier, New Jersey scored 18 of the game's first 23 points and led by as many as 28 in the second half before winning, 100-88.
Players and coaches from both teams have used words like "intent" and "focus" when attributing their success. New Jersey's was there in the first game but not in the second, when Miami's was clearly in evidence.
"We showed that Game 1 was out of character for this team," Heat center Alonzo Mourning said. "Collectively, we did what we wanted to get done. How we approached that game is how you have to approach every playoff game. We hit them, we staggered them and we kept them down."
Miami coach Pat Riley said Wednesday's game served as a wakeup call for both teams.
"I'm sure we got their attention. I know they've got ours," he said.