Whether it was the struggling DeMar DeRozan or the slightly sharper Kyle Lowry, the Nets made the Raptors’ stars have to initiate their offence from well beyond the three-point arc. It seems like the natural adjustment for the Raptors will be to take advantage of back-door cuts. “Everything is contested,” Lowry said. “The mental side of it is different because you are not getting the ball in the spots you’re used to getting it at because they’re overplaying, being more physical, denying the ball.”
The Nets were up five with 35 seconds. All they had to do was hit their free throws, and this game would be over. Free throws they needed, free throws they hit. The Nets came into Toronto hoping to steal one on the road, and they did so.
“Wow, this many [members of the media] That’s funny. Guys, I apologize. I used wrong choice of words out there. This thing is really not about me. It’s about the players and the playoffs. Just trying to get the crowd up there rattled. 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. That’s it. That’s it. You know how I feel. Thanks guys, thank you. I apologize I won’t answer any questions. But you know how I feel. I don’t like ‘em, but I apologize.”
“I have to be better,” said DeMar DeRozan, who was blanketed by one, two and sometimes three defenders on a difficult day of 3-for-13 shooting and just 14 points. “I just missed shots. I’ll just go out there and take the same shots. “I just had a tough game today and I tried to make it up on the defensive end. We have to adjust to playing against a smaller lineup, an unconventional lineup like they have, and attack it the right way.” The Nets might have something to say about that, however, and it’ll be up to Casey and his staff — and DeRozan’s teammates — to make it easier for him to get going. “They overplayed him,” Kyle Lowry said. “They really denied him the ball. We have to find a way to screen for him, get him open sooner and get him to his sweet spots.”
Ujiri, who made his way to the NBA’s clubby executive suites from the anonymity of Africa, is nothing if not a student of human nature, a man with a Clintonian-ability to connect with the other. He feels Raptors Nation’s pain. Looking out on the sea of red and white, the clear blue sky above them, Ujiri knew they needed a message, something to cling to, the way a thirsty man needs water. He opened a fire hydrant for them, his rallying cry instantly becoming part of Raptors lore. As mild-mannered as Ujiri generally comes across he burns hot and when he gets hot he speaks like a sailor. It’s charming and real and a big reason why only the prudest of prudes – “but what about the kids?!” — could reasonably take offense to his offering. More likely it will be Grade A fodder for the New York tabloids and every other outlet who might otherwise have failed to notice the Raptors were in the playoffs.
The first game of the NBA Playoffs, the biggest stage for the league, came down to a guy on the sideline holding a stopwatch and a second guy keeping a constant eye on it and the action. There’s something incredible about this stage, featuring many men making millions of dollars, devolving into the equivalent of a middle-school game. The announcer, as the shot clock wound down, even said the word “HORN” as a replacement for the actual horn. “I don’t remember if I’ve ever played without a shot clock,” Pierce said, adding a little snark: “Since I’m a dinosaur, it’s been so long.”
I mentioned how the Raptors let this game slip away before. Another reason they have to be kicking themselves right now is because of how truly dreadful the Nets’ bench play was Saturday. The five bench players who saw action Saturday – Mason Plumlee, Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton – went a combined 7-for-23 from the field, including a staggering 0-for-12 from 3-point range. Plumlee played well in his limited minutes, but only played 11:45 because he picked up five fouls. Alan Anderson struggled from behind the 3-point arc, but also did a nice job of getting to the rim for a few layups and chipped in defensively as part of the effort to slow down DeRozan and Ross.
“I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road,” said Pierce. “The Truth” finished the game with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists, but it was his 4-of-5 fourth quarter that truly told his story. “That’s why we brought these guys in here, their experience,” said Williams. “And you saw it tonight — especially down the stretch.”
They had battled their own inexperience, working through an early and understandable case of playoff jitters, they contended with spotty officiating and even navigated around an arena malfunction that knocked both shot clocks out of commission for most of the second half. For all their shortcomings on a Saturday afternoon they can’t be particularly proud of, the game was in reach until the final few minutes, winning time. That’s when experience comes into play, more so than any other moment, any other game situation. The Nets have it, the Raptors don’t and it’s something you can’t simulate or prepare for. “You just get that feeling,” said Pierce, who has played in more postseason games – now 137 – than anyone on the Nets’ roster. “[I’ve] been in those situations a number of times. I don’t get rattled in the fourth quarter, down the stretch, in playoff settings. I’ve been in pretty much every playoff setting that you can imagine so I just try to stay calm.”
A visibly frustrated DeRozan only attempted two field goals in the fourth quarter. “It’s one game, man” DeRozan told a journalist who asked if he expects to bounce back in Game 2. “I know I’m going to go back and watch the film tomorrow and see what kinds of things we can do better on both ends of the court. Without a doubt (I’ll do better in Game 2). I just had a tough game today.”
It was nothing the Nets did to him in their 94-87 Game 1 first-round playoff victory, DeRozan said. It was all on him. He took the stance used by every player since they nailed up a peach basket — which could have blended in perfectly Saturday at Air Canada Centre, what with the shot clock becoming a guy with a stopwatch and another with an airhorn. But that’s another story. This one was about DeRozan missed shots — his first eight in fact. He finished 3-of-13 after making his first at 2:34 of the third quarter. He collected 14 points, including eight at the line but most of the days, if it weren’t a layup or free throw, chances are it was a miss. And while, yes, he misfired, credit the Nets’ defense that sent waves at him every time he touched the ball. “They overplayed him,” point guard Kyle Lowry said. “They really denied him the ball. We’ve got to find ways to screen him and get him more looks, get him open a little bit sooner quicker and get him to his sweet spots.”
So apparently the time machine Mikhail Prokhorov paid to invent is working. Paul Pierce wore the cape for Brooklyn late in the fourth quarter to take Game 1, channeling those old Celtics runs. The Nets’ most-discussed edge entering the series was experience, and it proved the difference. Late in the game, Brooklyn had all the wisdom while Toronto lacked poise. Toronto settled for bad looks and was far too generous in turning the ball over. The Raptors got nothing from DeMar DeRozan in his playoff debut (3-of-13 shooting), and the Raptors stand no chance if their All-Star doesn’t get it going.
Forward Amir Johnson supported his GM after the Raptors’ 94-87 Game 1 loss. “He’s a very passionate man,” he said. “We definitely have his back. I’m with him 100 percent. If he said f— ‘em, we all say f— ‘em.”
Toronto – the only place on earth where the front office executive and mayor are tougher than rap star? — Steve Popper (@StevePopper)
“That’s why they (Nets) brought me here,’’ he screamed.