The Toronto Raptors stood toe to toe with the Brooklyn Nets last night, and prevailed. In a playoff game tied 9 times, and with the same number of lead changes, Toronto’s young players made the key shots down the stretch and the veteran-heavy visitors didn’t. The final minute and ten seconds of play was tense beyond measure. Paul Pierce’s 3-ball attempt, which would have given Brooklyn a one-point lead with 24 seconds left to play, rimmed out. After that, the Nets were forced to foul, and DeMar DeRozan, who enjoyed a great bounceback game with 30 points, made them pay.
The game’s conclusion was far superior to its beginning. Toronto’s shooting was frosty, and Brooklyn had an 8-1 lead before Jonas Valanciunas finally made the team’s first bucket, a layup almost four minutes in. That seemed to be the cue for the Nets to go cold, and the Raps shortly went on a 10-0 run, ending the quarter ahead by 2. JV and Amir Johnson dominated the boards, a pattern which continued all game, as the Raps outrebounded the Nets 52-30. However, JV was once again plagued by turnovers, as were his mates; the Raps committed 21 in total. The quick-handed Andrei Kirilenko (a pickpocket in a previous life?) had 4 of the Nets’ 14 steals. None was more egregious than his snatching the ball away from Terrence Ross, while TRoss was trying to decide what to do after pulling down a defensive rebound. Terrence’s faux pas summed up his miserable night – one basket from 8 tries, no makes from long distance.
The Raps stretched their lead to 11 halfway through Q2 before Mirza Teletovic drained the first of his 3 extremely deep 3-balls. Greivis Vasquez continued his strong play off the bench, but Kyle Lowry couldn’t make anything, and needed a technical free-throw to get on the board. His time would come later. DeMar had already established the return of his jump shot, which had gone missing in Game 1.
A 6-point Raps halftime lead disappeared less than 6 minutes into Q3, as thorn-in-our-side forward Joe Johnson drained a 3-ball. Toronto was fortunate to be down only 2 going into the final frame. Coach Dwane Casey, growing tired of watching TRoss miss from everywhere, dusted off Landry Fields and asked him to play D. We can give him credit for that much (plus_8, with 2 steals), although he was a spectator in the half-court offense, taking no shots in 17+ minutes.
The gruelling and ultimately triumphant fourth quarter was highlighted by terrific mid-range jump shooting from DeMar, and the relentless basket attacks of Kyle Lowry. The Raps made the Nets pay for their too-frequent fouls, hitting 15 free throws in the Q, including 6 of DD’s 11 in the final 20 seconds.
Fanatical Raps fans savoured their team’s first playoff win in six long years. Now it’s off to Brooklyn for two games, then back to the Air Canada Centre in a week. Can the balance of the series be this taut and exciting?