In a wild careening rollercoaster of a game, the Toronto Raptors built up a huge lead, gave it away, then had just enough juice left to squeeze out a victory. The Brooklyn Nets, Q4 pushovers previously in this series, pounded the Raps for 44 points in the final frame. Toronto’s offense was potent enough to roll up 62 first-half points, then disappeared when most needed. The Raps’ energy was wasted fouling Brooklyn’s 3-point shooters no fewer than three times in Q4, and the Nets made the Raps pay, converting 2 of their opportunities into dreaded 4-point plays.
Coach Dwane Casey rested his starters to begin the last quarter, an understandable decision given their collective banged-up state and a 22-point lead, but one which backfired. Thankfully, a sore-kneed Kyle Lowry returned to the game, and was able to hit some improbable shots. A 5-point lead with 17 seconds to play should have been enough, but Amir Johnson fouled out while whacking Alan Anderson as the ex-Rap hit a corner 3, and the subsequent free throw. The Nets were back within one again, but DeMar DeRozan hit a pair of free throws. A deliberate foul by Patrick Patterson sent Andray Blatche to the line. He rebounded his own miss, then threw the ball well over Deron Williams’ head into the Nets backcourt – turnover, Raps ball, a second to play. A risky in-bounds pass to Terrence Ross from Greivis Vasquez connected, and the soldout Air Canada Centre crowd, plus thousands of freezing fans outside, could finally exhale.
“Catharsis” is a Greek word referring to the cleansing purge of all human emotions which occurs when viewing a tragic play. This game wasn’t a Greek tragedy but it was hellish close to being a Canadian one. We fans certainly experienced every emotion in our beings by the time the final buzzer sounded. Elation as the Raps rolled to a 26-4 run in Q2’s last few minutes, satisfaction and even humour as we pushed the lead to 26 halfway through Q3, then anger and despair as the Nets couldn’t seem to miss, and our guys couldn’t make, for so long in Q4. I don’t know about joy at the curtain…more like exhaustion.
The Raps’ backcourt won this game for Toronto. Kyle Lowry was 6 for 9 from beyond the arc, or half of his game-high 36 points. DeRozan once again did his damage at the free throw line, making 12 of 13, plus 5 field goals to end with 23. TRoss emerged from his sophomore-jinx state to record 8 points, while Jonas Valanciunas (held out of most of Q4 for unknown reasons) scored 16. Amir Johnson scored early, but not late, to end with 11. Vasquez chipped in with 15, including a huge late 3-ball.
The Nets used an unlikely quintet of Mirza Teletovic, Joe Johnson (an unstoppable force – the Raps tried everything and everybody – with 30 points), Blatche, Williams and Anderson to key the comeback. Supposed veteran leaders Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were reduced to backslapping.
The Raps can close out this crazy-making series on Friday night in Brooklyn. Don’t keep sharp objects within easy reach.