“I don’t even think about who’s in the stands, who’s sitting next to me,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “Drake’s over there, yelling at the referees. I hear him, but I don’t see him. My mind is on the court. I think it’s great for our organization to get the hype and all that, but I don’t get caught up in that. That’s one thing I warned our players tonight, in a playoff atmosphere, is to make sure their mind is still on basketball.” The game played out as many Raptors games have this season. They won 100-95, and DeRozan scored a game-high 30 points and made 12 of his 14 free throw attempts. Feisty point guard Kyle Lowry finished with 14, plus nine rebounds, six assists and excellent defense on the Nets’ Deron Williams. Toronto’s frontcourt of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas combined for 31 points and 23 rebounds, bullying Brooklyn on the inside. Three bench players contributed meaningfully.
“Tonight was our worst fourth-quarter defense in a long time . . . when you allow 36 points, so many offensive rebounds, we have to do a better job of competing on the rebounds and giving ourselves a chance.” It probably didn’t help that Jason Kidd waited until there was 6:18 left to reinsert three of their starters. The bench, which played much better than it did in the series opener and racked up 30 total points, couldn’t hold a five-point edge early in the fourth. The Nets got outscored 36-29 in the fourth. DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 30 points, hit clutch shots late to seal the win. Toronto was 12-for-16 overall in the fourth. “We can’t have fourth quarters like that,” Kevin Garnett said. “Thirty-six points, that’s too many points for anybody. Preschool. Little League, YMC, Raptors. Too many. Fourth quarters are supposed to be our best quarter defensively. But I don’t think we played our best basketball.
“Sometimes they fall,” Pierce said afterward, “sometimes they don’t.”
Drawing offensive fouls was Lowry’s secret weapon this season—the best in his eight-year career, during which he averaged career highs in points and assists per game (17.9 and 7.4, respectively). In fact, there was no one better at drawing offensive fouls—it wasn’t even close. Eighty-four. That’s how many offensive fouls Lowry drew this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Derek Fisher was second with 55. To put into perspective how good Lowry was, the league leader over the previous five seasons drew an average of 56.2 offensive fouls.
Jonas Valanciunas: 1st player with 30 pts/30 rebounds in 1st 2 career playoff games since Ralph Sampson/Sam Perkins (1985) (@eliassports)
DeRozan will be fine, but he pooped the bed in his first playoff game, and Toronto has an interesting dilemma now: Get DeRozan going by force-feeding him for midrange shots, as the Raptors did in the second half, or redirect more of the offense into pick-and-rolls? Any pick-and-roll involving Jonas Valanciunas will bring Brooklyn’s lone big man away from the hoop, potentially opening up a flood of offensive rebounds for Toronto against the glass-challenged Nets
“[Giving up] 36 points [in the fourth quarter], that’s too many points for anybody,” he said. “Preschool, little league, YMCA, the Raptors. Too many points. The fourth quarter is supposed to be our best quarter defensively. I don’t think we played our best basketball. But on the road, hostile environment, still having a chance to win, I’ll take 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.”
Clearly the Raptors needed the heart-stopping 100-95 victory in game two of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal against Brooklyn in order to even conceive of winning the series – 95 percent of NBA teams that fall behind 0-2 in the first round don’t recover. But they needed it for more than just the mathematical significance of heading to Brooklyn tied 1-1 for game three. They needed it as a tangible bit of evidence that the out-of-nowhere 48-win season wasn’t some kind of bait-and-switch by Dwane Casey’s basketball gods. They needed proof that things are changing. “It’s a lot of emotions,” said Amir Johnson, who along with DeRozan is the longest serving Raptor, having put in five years to reach even this base camp on the way to the distant summit of NBA respectability.
It was about 30 hours before he’d play the most important basketball game of his life — one that could reduce a great season to disappointment or one that could mark the continued ascension of the franchise — when DeMar DeRozan talked about his NBA post-season debut. “I sucked,” he said with venom, the bitterness of a bad Saturday lingering long after. “But don’t worry,” he added. “I’ll be back.” And was he ever. In a game that basically kept alive a dream Raptors season, a game in which he made his mark as a calm and collected post-season all-star, DeRozan scored 30 points — 15 in the decisive fourth quarter — as Toronto pulled away to beat the Brooklyn Nets 100-95 and tie the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
“It was just me taking advantage of the mistakes I made in the first game and not doing the same thing in this game,” said DeRozan after leading the Raptors to a 100-95 win, evening their series with Brooklyn at one game apiece. “It’s everything that you dream about, especially when you become a professional athlete, [play] at the highest level.” After being held to 14pts- failing to make a shot until the third quarter – in the series premiere, the fifth-year guard scored 17 of his game-high 30 points in the final frame Tuesday, hitting four of his five field goal attempts and nine of his 11 free throws.”I’m just happy for him because a lot of people said he had a bad game [Saturday],” said Kyle Lowry, who scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2. “Every one has a bad game once in awhile. Tonight, he just showed what he can do. He did an unbelievable job of attacking, being aggressive and he got his rhythm going. Once he gets his rhythm going, he is a hard guard.”
The Nets stumbled on Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre and fell, 100-95, allowing the series to be tied at 1-1. That they fell short of their own high standard in both games played in Canada should remain a matter of concern. The Nets gave up 36 fourth-quarter points. They were outrebounded in the game, 52-30. Their shooting was erratic, and they failed to make the Raptors pay for their 20 turnovers. But afterward they still felt in control of the series, having taken one of two games in a hostile arena, erasing the Raptors’ home-court advantage.
“We gave them everything they wanted, (50) points in the paint, and (19) offensive rebounds,” Pierce said. “We were a soft team tonight. That is where the game is won — in the trenches. We can’t give up (19) offensive rebounds.” The Nets were outrebounded on both ends, 52-30 overall. They couldn’t hit open shots — Pierce, especially — and missed 17 of their 24 three-point tries. But Brooklyn still had a chance to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors with 24 seconds left, when Pierce’s potential go-ahead three-pointer rattled out of the rim.
The Raptors kept hitting shots and free throws, and Pierce missed two open three-pointers, both cruelly rimming out to seal the series at one game apiece. DeRozan led the Raptors with 30 points (9-21 shooting on some tough shots, 12-14 FT), and Jonas Valanciunas put up his second consecutive double-double with 15 points & 14 rebounds in the Raptors win.
Until the last few minutes, the Nets maximized their best asset — forcing turnovers — and were dominated by their biggest weakness — rebounding. They may have set a record for most shots rimmed out in a game, which will happen sometimes. Credit to DeMar DeRozan for showing up big after a rough Game 1. Now it’s time to go back to Brooklyn.