With the 100-95 victory at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night, the battle between the Brooklyn Nets and the Toronto Raptors has come down to which All-Star, DeMar DeRozan or Paul Pierce, can pull their team over the hump in the fourth quarter. Pierce getting the job done in game one with 9 points over the final 3 minutes and DeRozan returning the favor with 10 points in the last 3 minutes of game two.
“The game is a 1 point game coming down the stretch,” Head Coach Jason Kidd explains. “We had a great look by Paul, it goes in and out, so tonight Toronto executed, they scored, got the stops where in game one we got the scores and stops. We knew going into this series it was going to be tight games, one or two possession games and so, whoever can execute or score or get the stop is going to win that game.”
In game one, the Nets had a 79-76 lead with 3 minutes left as Kyle Lowry missed the potential game tying three-pointer just before Pierce took over. In game two, Pierce missed a potential game tying two-point shot and soon after missed a three-point shot that would have given the Nets the lead as DeRozan broke an 85-all tie with a pair mid-range jumpers that put the Raptors ahead to stay.
“(DeRozan) was great,” Kidd said after game two. “He made every shot and he made his free throws.
“Great looks, (Pierce) had some great looks. It’s basketball. Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t.
“These two teams are very similar. They shoot the three extremely well. Both teams like to shoot the three. You have guard play that is at an extremely high level, so you have very similar teams and both teams play extremely hard.”
Where DeRozan was held to 3-13 shooting in game one, Pierce shot 2-11 in game two. Both of these teams need their All-Star to come through at the end of the game in order to win.
Once again in this game, the Raptors had an inordinate number of turnovers, however, they offset the lost possessions by outrebounding the Nets 52-30. Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey was using pace and size against the older Nets team to great effect, but his own players struggled in the system against a veteran Nets team that knows how to take advantage of mistakes.
“That’s the problem with trying to play faster than who you are,” Casey said. “Our whole thing was to try and keep the tempo up and that is not easy for us to do. We kind of get a little frenetic and that’s where our turnovers come. Then in the half court you get hit, bumped, held (for) some of those turnovers, so we have to get adjusted whether we are playing fast or in the half court playing through contact and making a play and not turning it over.”
For the second game in a row Jonas Valanciunas put up a monster double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Amir Johnson had 16 points and 9 rebounds and Patrick Patterson had 12 points and 9 rebounds. Toronto’s big men were able to consistently take advantage of the Nets small ball lineup. However, the night belonged to DeRozan who scored 30 points, 17 in the fourth quarter, as Toronto outscored the visitors 36-29 over the final 12 minutes to win it.
“(DeRozan) bounced back and refocused,” Casey said. “Making those free throws down the stretch was huge. For him to come through after a tough first game, everyone doubting him and that type of thing, I was very happy.”
The issues Toronto faced in game one haven’t gone away. Joe Johnson shot for a high percentage and scored 18 points in game two and Kevin Garnett found the range and is still a tough cover when his jump shot is falling. Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston combined for 27 points and 10 assists to offset the scoring from Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez. It isn’t going to get any easier in Brooklyn on Friday.
“Next game is going to be tougher,” Casey said. “We know that, they are going to come out with guns-a-blazing. We have to go there and be ready for the fight.”
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“I can tell you this, I am not afraid at all,” Vasquez said. “I am not going to be afraid of the moment. I like big moments and that’s just my personality since college. It’s all about confidence and believing in yourself and I got all of that.”
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“It’s cool man. It puts everything in perspective. We are going to play a game. We are going to play a basketball game and we are going to have fun with it. It is an important game. It is on another level, but at the end of the day it’s a game and it is going to be fun.”