Raptors head coach Dwane Casey saw plenty of first-game jitters from players with much more time in the league than Valanciunas had on Saturday. “I was very pleased. I was very pleased with Jonas,” Casey said. “That’s one thing with the Euroleague — he’s played in some big games over there for his country, and that has helped. He was not fazed by the crowd, by the moment, by it being the playoffs. I thought he did a good job of fighting the physicality, getting inside, rebounding, using his length against K.G. and Plumlee.” The needle, though, has been climbing for Valanciunas for really the past month. “Him growing over the last month or so has really been a positive for our season,” Casey said. “He’s our future. He’s our starting centre for a while to come, so it’s great to see. Plus, he’s a great kid. He works at it. He was not intimidated, he wasn’t fazed by the physicality or guarding a legend like K.G.”
The funny thing is that I thought Patrick Patterson did a great job on Pierce for the bulk of his minutes, and before that nine-point stretch, Pierce was having a pretty ugly shooting day. Fields on paper seems like a more mobile defensive option than Patterson or Amir Johnson (especially since Amir’s clearly not 100%) and certainly would seem to be an improvement on the sieve that is John Salmons. (Salmons was 0 for 1 from the field in 13 minutes but more importantly, a -8 in terms of +/- rating. The rest of the bench all had “plus” marks.) Offensively though Fields could be a disaster. He’s shooting 40 per cent from the field this season, including 0 of 5 from long-range, and has a lovely PER mark of 8.6. While he may contest Pierce in a more effective manner than Patterson, he’s certainly not going to be spreading the court with his shooting (something Patterson does very well) and it might be akin to Toronto borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.
DeRozan had a solid All Star regular season, but a disastrous playoff debut. He only shot 3-13 and only got to the rim four times. The combination of Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson kept him on the perimeter and forced him into tough jumpers. On the bright side, DeRozan got to the free throw line eight times (made all eight) was able to hold Joe Johnson to 1-5 shooting when he was assigned to him on defense. One change the Raptors made as the game progressed was doubling Johnson in the post and they figure to do that again. Johnson has the size advantage over DeRozan and Terrence Ross and should continue to use it to his benefit. Provided Ross doesn’t get in foul trouble, we won’t be seeing much of John Salmons again.
No way they can win if 19 turnovers are allowed to play out again, which it did in Game 1 … The Nets parlayed those turnovers into 17 points … There’s an edge in athleticism and quickness, but the Raptors can only capitalize on those assets by creating a more up-tempo pace … Tightening up their perimeter defence is crucial … It’s no secret the Raptors need DeRozan to establish himself early and inject some confidence, but DeRozan has to do his part by playing through the physical defence, moving better off the ball and by attacking the rim when driving lanes do open … Paul Pierce stepped up like any future hall of famer does in crunch time, scoring nine points in a span of two minutes, but the Raptors kept him from getting to the line … Limiting Joe Johnson is huge.
The first game of any playoff series is important. The tone is set, home-court advantage can be solidified or swiped and major statements can be made. But second games are at least as pivotal, if not more. Lose two straight and suddenly, the odds of prevailing in a series shrink monumentally. Win to even things up and all of the bad feelings from the opening loss disappear and the series once again becomes wide open. The Raptors have played six prior playoff Game 2s.
With one postseason game under their belt, Casey and his team are hopeful that any playoff jitters they may have experienced on the weekend have subsided. The obstacles haven’t changed. They’re still fighting a battle-tested group – and by extension, the officials – but they should know what to expect, and be better prepared as a result. “We don’t feel pressure, man, at all,” said Greivis Vasquez, who was the first to refer to Game 2 as a must-win, shortly after Saturday’s loss. “We feel like the first game, we were anxious. I haven’t been in the playoffs in two years. A couple of guys have been in the playoffs, too, but haven’t been out there in a couple years.” “We got it out of our system. Now we’re going to play Raptors basketball. We’re going to defend, we’re going to rebound, we’re going to pass, we’re going to share the ball, we’re going to get the fans involved (and) we’re going to have fun. No pressure. This is basketball. This is fun.”
“Since I’ve been in the playoffs I’ve only done it one time,” Pierce said Monday. “It’s a hard thing to do. We have to understand how hard it is to win in another building two times in a row in the playoffs. We have to come with that mentality — nothing less.” The Nets have spent the past two days since Game 1s victory trying to eliminate any comfortable thoughts that might have been flowing through their heads since Pierce went crazy in the fourth quarter, lifting them to that gritty win. “It’s a mind-set. It’s a mentality,” Shaun Livingston said. “We have to train ourselves to be hungry, to be greedy. I think that’s what all the great teams strive for. To win one was great, but it’s over. This is Game 2 and we have to refocus. They obviously feel it’s a must-win for them and we should approach that same mentality. It’s not, ‘Oh we are comfortable, all the pressure is on them.’ I don’t necessarily believe that. It still should be a war. We should still go in with the killer instinct.”
In a star-driven league, star players get calls, even if such stars no longer play above the rim or are able to dominate games from the opening tap to the final buzzer. There’s a reason why Brooklyn, even if it does not want to openly admit it, preferred a matchup with the Raptors, despite Toronto’s obvious edge in youth, athleticism and home court. The alternative was Chicago, a team that is offensively sound, but one that has established a defensive reputation under Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls get away with extra contact when screens are set, on box outs because they’ve played this way for years. For now, the Raptors haven’t done anything, unless one considers a division title in a season of ineptness as a qualified success. For now, they’re just going to have to face the hard reality that Brooklyn will get calls, an admission Patrick Patterson aired publicly during his availability with the media on Monday.
While it’s highly unlikely Lowry gets paid like a franchise player, Toronto GM Masai Ujiri may be wise to treat him like one this offseason. If the league weren’t full of great starting point guards and there were teams in need, perhaps there would be a huge bidding war for Lowry. As is, Lowry is probably only auditioning for a very small handful of teams, but a deep playoff run could make him be viewed as even more instrumental to Toronto’s future. Lowry always had the ability to be a star, but finally playing like one on the big stage should give his agent plenty of bargaining power this offseason.
Initially on Monday, the league revealed that both commissioner Adam Silver and league president of basketball operations Rod Thorn had spoken with Ujiri and decided his clean track record and the fact that his public use of a profanity came at a pep rally as opposed to a press conference warranted a warning and nothing more severe. But after thinking it over for the next few hours, Silver had a change of heart and issued the fine. He was concerned anything less was sending the wrong message to the public and its fan base.
Who: Point guard Kyle Lowry What: Lowry, who was nearly traded to the New York Knicks in December (a deal that would have netted the Raptors a first-round draft pick, but was reportedly nixed by Knicks ownership) will be a free agent at the end of the season. While there are many Raptors who have shone this season—the ascendant DeRozan, the sublime and underrated Amir Johnson, the steadily improving Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross—it’s the 27-year-old Lowry who did so in a way he can take straight to the bank. He set or matched career per-game highs in points, assists, and rebounds. In other words, he has been very, very good, and he’s going to get paid like it. Whether the Raptors will be the team paying him is the biggest question the club will face over the summer. Used when: Lowry does something spectacular on the court.
Mayor Rob Ford said he is happy to make a basketball bet with Brooklyn’s top political boss, but would prefer it be for something other than beer. Ford said he just knows how that is going to get played on Jimmy Kimmel.
Here is the math on first-round NBA playoff series: There have been 88 first-round playoff series since the NBA switched its first round from best-of-five to best-of-seven. Three teams have lost the first two games and come back to win the series. Only two of those teams lost the first two at home. That’s two of 88. This coming from a franchise that can’t seem to win a draft pick coin toss, let alone a best-of-seven. “I wouldn’t say it’s dire,” said Casey, talking about the must-win situation of Game 2. “(If we lose) I wouldn’t say it’s over with.” He won’t — that’s his job. I will — that’s my job. “It’s important we win,” said Casey. “Going down 0-2 is very difficult to come out of. Must win? I don’t think it means we’re done. And then he changed his view slightly — somewhat, maybe. “Must win, I guess that’s what it is … there are still games to be played.” This playoff series is off to an engaging, fascinating, almost spectacular start, save for the Raptors’ performance in Game 1.
“He’s not (afraid),” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “I thought he came in and gave us a jolt. Being afraid is not in Greivis’ vocabulary. When he speaks Venezuelan, he doesn’t know the word afraid, so he is going to put the pedal to the medal and that is what we need in certain situations. I thought he played an excellent ballgame.”Vasquez came off the bench for 29 minutes in game one of the playoffs against the Nets and was a team best +8 points while on the court as he put up 18 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and hitting on 3 of 5 three-point attempts. “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. I just got to do whatever it takes to help the team win games. Whenever my name is called, I am just going to go out there and do my job. I am ready to go. It’s all about confidence and believing in yourself and I got all of that.”