Make no mistake, it’s the Toronto Raptors who are the young up-and-coming team trying to learn on the job fast enough to steal a first round playoff series from a very veteran Brooklyn Nets squad and they are learning fast, fast enough to have taken a 3-2 series lead with a 115-113 win at home on Wednesday night.
“The whole series for us is a growing experience because we are such a young team,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey before the game. “First time in the playoffs for a lot of our key guys, so I am learning that they are growing from it, they are getting better in certain situations – still making mistakes in certain situations, but the adjustments part is something that is big for us – to change things on a day’s notice or even in games, that’s good to see.”
The Raptors were about to learn a lot of new lessons and get another opportunity to practice those in game adjustments.
Toronto started to break away from the Nets midway through the first quarter and seemed to cruise to a 62-44 half time lead on the buzzer beating circus shot from Kyle Lowry. Lowry scored a game high 36 points and was there whenever the Raptors needed a bucket and at the end of this game, they really needed him.
Head Coach Jason Kidd tried to salvage the positive out what has to be a crushing loss for a team that is built to win now and whose future opportunities after this season have to be called into question.
“It was a great game all the way around,” Kidd said. “We got off to a slow start, but the guys fought, put us in a position late again to have a chance to win on the road. We just didn’t do the little things we had to. Again the guys fought, so we can build on that.”
“You have both teams understand(ing) what’s at stake and that they aren’t going to quit. They are going to play for 48 minutes.”
Casey saw things from a very different perspective as the Raptors surrendered 44 points in the fourth quarter to squander a 22 point third quarter lead and give the Nets a chance that should not have been there.
“My emotion, you wouldn’t want to hear it,” Casey said. “(We) just didn’t play smart. They are a very veteran team. They are going to take advantage of mistakes that you make and we wrote a book on the mistakes we made in the fourth quarter. We have been a better team in the fourth quarter. They flipped it on us tonight. Every mistake you can think about we made in the fourth quarter.
“We got to learn. Tonight was a learning experience in a playoff atmosphere and it’s a hard place to learn. This game tonight, we have to learn from it. So many learning experiences from tonight’s game. Handling the lead, withstanding prosperity, embracing pressure, we got to do that from top to bottom.”
The good news for Toronto was they learned those hard lessons in a playoff win and teaching the Raptors how to become successful wasn’t exactly what the Nets had in mind when the series started.
“I was on the court when it slipped away,” Amir Johnson said. “We (allowed) 44 points in the fourth quarter which is tough. Brooklyn switched up their guys. They set their starters down and came with their bench players and they came out hot shooting the ball. Joe Johnson came out hot. It is always like one quarter for us where we have a bad quarter and we can’t do that.
“You got to keep your head. You got to keep playing. You got to regroup and I think we did that. We stayed poised. We made some bonehead mistakes, but we finished off the game and that’s all that really matters.”
Joe Johnson scored 26 of his 30 points in the second half to lead the charge back for the Nets, but Pierce and Williams only combined for 23 points in the game. Off the bench, Mirza Teletovic netted 17 points and Alan Anderson scored 13 points.
DeMar DeRozan added 23 points for the Raptors by getting to the free throw line 13 times. Jonas Valanciunas scored 16 points and Toronto needed all of Greivis Vasquez’s 15 points off the bench. Terrence Ross had his best game of the playoffs scoring 8 points on 3-9 shooting and showed signs that just maybe he is starting to figure out the postseason game a little bit.
The Nets are doing a good job of teaching the Raptors that playoff games are never over and a 20 point lead can disappear in a flash. It’s just one lesson among many that the Nets have generously imparted upon the Raptors during this series and they are messages Casey could never have conveyed without their help.
There is just one more lesson to learn, how to finish off your opponent in a series clinching opportunity. The Raptors will get their chance to eliminate the Nets from the postseason in Brooklyn on Friday.
Coach Casey Brings Playoff Experience To The Raptors
“It’s not my first rodeo in a playoffs situation,” Casey said. “You are not as comfortable after a win as you are down after a loss. You have to treat each game separately. We have to go into the next game as if we lost the last game. That’s the mentality you have to go in (with). You can’t go in too high and if we lost, we couldn’t go in too low. ”
Toronto Raptors Love Their Fans, Kyle Lowry
“We need our fans,” Lowry said. “We love our fans. We want them to do everything they have been doing, packing the house, filling Maple Leaf Square. We need that. We want that. We can’t wait to see (Wednesday) – just the vibe and energy we are going to get.”