The Toronto Raptors, despite a poor shooting night, still had life with just over 6 minutes to play. A Patrick Patterson 3-ball brought the visitors to within a single point of the Brooklyn Nets. still, it was crunch time, and Nets’ fans were surely confident their playoff-toughened veterans would prevail. Instead, to their dismay, and our delight, the Nets couldn’t solve the Raps defense. Coach Dwane Casey went small, relying on Amir Johnson to double on the ball handler, and he did just that. The Nets’ last points were a pair of Kevin Garnett free throws with just under 5 minutes to play. After that, the Raps rolled 9 unanswered points, and left the Barclays Center with their first road playoff victory since 2001.
The Raps came out boiling hot, riding a superb shooting first quarter to a huge lead. The Raps had 35 points, and missed 2 open 3-balls and both Greivis Vasquez free throws in the last minute, or the margin would have larger. DeMar DeRozan’s pouring in shots from everywhere was not a surprise, but Amir Johnson slipping his defender consistently to score 11 points certainly was. Kyle Lowry, who’s aching in about 17 places, added 10 points, helped greatly by 2 of 3 from beyond the arc. Landry Fields, who injured his back in the frantic final minute of Friday night’s game, was scratched. Terrence Ross, once again ineffective, was replaced by John Salmons. Our veteran swingman held his own on D, but couldn’t hit any of his 3 tries from distance. The Raps were also winning by not losing…the ball, committing only 5 first half turnovers. They did have an unwanted lead in fouls, committing 15 to the Nets’ 9, and there were none to complain about. Kyle needed to sit down after his third, and his absence seemed to act as a tonic for the home team, which proceeded to outscore the Raps 10-3 before the intermission.
For most of Q3, the Raps looked less a basketball team, than a punchdrunk boxer. They were on the ropes, absorbing the repeated blows of the Nets. Having surrendered a huge lead, the Raps’ shooting in Q3 had gone several degrees beyond freezing. They needed more than six minutes to score their first first goal of the quarter, and were 1 of 16 from the field. But amazingly, the Nets didn’t run away and hide. The Raps’ defense was relentless, and Brooklyn had only turned a 7-point halftime deficit into a 5-point lead when the Raps got off the canvas. Toronto scored 8 straight points, highlighted by a Kyle Lowry 3-ball, and the Nets needed a buzzer-beater to end the quarter at 67 all.
The fourth quarter featured lead changes and ties galore, until the Raps slammed the door. The series is tied 2-2, and Toronto has regained home court advantage. Much credit goes to DeMar DeRozan, who was forced repeatedly into difficult shots, but made enough of them, and his free throws, to lead all scorers with 24. Kyle Lowry, that medical marvel, scored 22 despite accumulating 5 fouls. Amir ended with 17, 5 rebounds and a round of applause for his help defense. Greivis Vasquez has turned into quite a distributor, handing out 9 assists. Speaking of D, DD blanketed Joe Johnson, holding him to 7 points. The Nets were firing blanks all night, as only Paul Pierce with 22 was a consistent headache. Of course, his nickname should be changed to The Traveller, and that’s The Truth.
Game 5 takes place on Wednesday night, in the cacophonous confines of the Air Canada Centre.