The day started for the crowd outside of the Air Canada Centre with the Toronto Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri revving up the crowd and dropping an ‘F-bomb Brooklyn’. While that got the crowd going and might create a long term rivalry between the teams’ fans, it would be pretty tough to blame anything that went on inside the building on that faux pas on this day.
“Wrong choice of words out there,” Ujiri said. “This thing is not really about me. It is about the players and the playoffs. I was trying to get the crowd out there rattled. (It was) a wrong choice of words. I apologize to kids out there and to the Brooklyn guys. Nothing against them, just trying to get our fans going – You know how I feel.”
It seemed pretty obvious to the crowd in Toronto how Ujiri felt at that moment. A sea of T-shirts at the ACC saying, ‘What Masai Said’ on Tuesday would create a lasting impression.
Right now, the words ‘What Masai Said’ would likely resonate a lot more with the crowd than ‘We The North.’
Nets Head Coach Jason Kidd did have the right answer for the situation postgame.
“You got to tell me who the (Raptors) GM is, I don’t know who that is,” Kidd said. “I could care less what they think about Brooklyn. I have a job to do and that’s to play the game of basketball.”
This was not what went wrong for the Raptors on Saturday afternoon.
1. The Early Start
The Raptors have been terrible in early starts this season. A traditional advantage for Toronto teams in the past just hasn’t worked out this year and has left the coaching staff searching for answers.
“Normally we bring them early on the day of those early games so we changed that up a little bit to see if that helps,” Casey said. “I’ve had different teams react in different ways to early games. Some teams – the older teams in Dallas were better in early games, then some older teams just couldn’t get going, so I think it’s the personality of your team. I don’t know if there is a right formula, right way, wrong way to try and prepare for an early game, I think it is each team’s personality. We have struggled (with early games), there is no ifs ands or buts about it.”
The early start got to the Raptors again. Toronto got down 25-13 in the first quarter before starting to push back and basically played from behind the rest of the way. That is no way to win a playoff game.
2. John Salmons on Joe Johnson
John Salmons is the veteran with the most experience on the Raptors and Casey often goes to him when the sophomore Terrence Ross gets himself in trouble. Ross was limited by 2 quick fouls in the first quarter and another foul in the second quarter, so as usual, Salmons was sent in to cover. This time, however, it didn’t turn out to be such a good move. Joe Johnson immediately worked himself into the paint for free throws and them a couple of easy close range baskets by backing in Salmons. Johnson scored all 4 of his first half buckets in the paint while Salmons was on the court.
It just wasn’t the Raptors veteran’s day. Salmons went 0-1 for 0 points and didn’t play in the second half.
3. K.G. Sucks, But Never Fouls?
It was almost a shock to hear the Raptors fans chanting ‘K.G. sucks’ and they were not just trying to get under his very thick skin. Kevin Garnett played as bad as ever in game that mattered – in living memory. He looked slow, old and ready to be put out to pasture.
The Raptors sophomore Jonas Valanciunas owned Garnett – lock, stock and barrel. The only defense Garnett had was to foul, but for some unfathomable reason, the starry eyed referees chose to ignore the beating Valanciunas was taking every time he touched the ball and pretend nothing was happening. If the referees had of called every foul Garnett committed, he wouldn’t have made it out of the first half.
Valanciunas wasn’t deterred by the illegal abuse he was taking from Garnett and other Nets as he grabbed a franchise playoff high 18 rebounds and scored 17 points. However, to say this deliberate favoritism didn’t impact the outcome of the game would be to ignore the obvious. Valanciunas was tagged with 6 turnovers – they were not all his fault. By some miracle, the referees thought Garnett didn’t commit a single foul on Valanciunas in the 4th quarter – the reality was very different. Raptors color TV analyst Jack Armstrong warned that this could happen with the Nets as the season wound down.
“I am going to save my money from speaking (about) the officials,” Casey said. “I thought we did a decent job of playing through physicality. That said we still have to continue to finish plays at the rim and make with contact.”
Basically, the Raptors have to score while being hammered and not complain about it and the Nets don’t.
4. Disappearance of DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan had a rough day and took a pounding in the paint that wasn’t always rewarded with free throws. He shot 3-13 from the field for 14 points and only took 3 fourth quarter shots for 4 points. The Raptors need their All-Star to score at the end of games.
“You’ll see the adjustments on Tuesday,” Casey said. “I thought the foul trouble kind of bothered him a little bit. They did a good job of double teaming him. Garnett was coming across the midpoint and into his area, so it was almost like a triple team, so we have to make some adjustments with that to free him up a little bit better.”
DeRozan got hit early on a drive and lost the ball out of bounds without a call from the referees and that set the tone for the afternoon.
The Raptors were charged with 19 turnovers, 6 by Valanciunas, 3 by DeRozan and 5 by Lowry. It was more than they could come back from in the end. The stat was tainted by the physical abuse the Raptors were taking, but complaining about the referees only costs players and coaches money. They will have to find a way to deal with it.
6. Paul Pierce Got Hot At the End
This game was tied at 73 with 6:25 remaining when Pierce substituted back in to shoot 4-5 for 9 points and lead his Nets to the victory. It’s not like Pierce hasn’t done this kind of thing before.
“We’ve talked all season about what the 6 minute mark means to our team,” Kidd said. “We feel that with the veteran guys making breaks for one another, sharing the ball, a play might be called for someone, but a teammate might end up with the shot. A perfect example of that tonight was Deron (Williams) and Joe (Johnson) playing the pick-and-roll and Paul (Pierce) penetrating from that and taking advantage of that.”
It’s never just one thing that causes a team to lose a game. It’s usually a long list. Add in little things like not having a shot clock for most of the second half, getting a lengthy timeout while the ACC staff determined they couldn’t fix it and the backup shot clocks didn’t work either affected both teams, but probably hurt the inexperienced Raptors more. It isn’t always the things you expect that can hurt you.
“We all can play better,” Casey said. “I can coach better. We can all do a better job. 19 turnovers and we shot 39 percent and a lot of those were chippies inside and I think game two will be a lot smoother from that standpoint.
“At the end of the year we talked about being resilient, being ‘Freddy Krueger’, always keep playing, keep coming, not giving in and we have developed that personality and that’s a good thing.”
Casey is probably right. The home team usually bounces back after losing the opener, it is, after all, their home court. Losing game one is huge, however, as it’s tough to come back from something like this in a series of any length. The Raptors ‘Freddy Krueger’ personality is about to be put to the test.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
Home Court Matters To The Raptors, Greivis Vasquez
The Toronto Raptors held off the charge from the Brooklyn Nets to win the Atlantic Division and take home court for themselves in the first round of the playoffs. Put all the ‘tank talk’ about the Nets aside, they might have wanted to face the Raptors, but they did everything they could over the last six weeks of the regular season to open the playoffs in the Barclay’s Center and the Nets fell short.