It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Seriously though, last night’s game somehow melted down from the best mood Toronto Raptors fans may have ever been in mid-way through the 3rd quarter to a Dickensian state of near comic depression in the final minutes of the game. The Raptors played the longest stretch of great basketball that they’ve played all post-season. Kyle Lowry had what might have been the best game, if not the hottest shooting streak of his career. The entire city began to erupt in celebration on every social media outlet and bar available to us. We should have known better. Not because this Raptors’ team can’t be trusted, they’re great, but because we all should have known how angry and spiteful the sports gods can be. There is nothing they hate more than hubris (see: “Not five, not six, not seven…”). I hope we’ve all learned our lesson here; I know I have. But I also now know this: Not even the sports gods can stop Kyle Lowry. He is their Hercules. Either that, or they just completely forgot about Andray Blatche and he bungled it up for them.
The Raptors came out looking the best prepared and the most comfortable that they’ve been in this series. Casey had the offense prepared, as the Raptors would start a possession running a pin-down designed to get the perimeter ball hand-offs they struggled to execute in games 1 & 2, except then they would swing the ball quickly around to the weakside in response to Brooklyn overloading the strong side perimeter and the raptors would have a pick and roll, spot-up shot or entry pass ready to go against the outnumbered and now scrambling Nets defense. It was a great response by the coaching staff to simply and intelligently counter Brooklyn’s defensive schemes.
Last nights game was the perfect example of what it means to be a Toronto sports fan. First, listen to how insanely loud that crowd was through the entire jubilant third quarter. Then notice how quickly the wind was sucked out of the building when Joe Johnson cut the lead to 20. It didn’t matter that the Raptors entered the 4th quarter with a 99.1% win probability, because millions of but cheeks across Southern Ontario clenched nervously in perpetration for all out panic. By the time the lead was down to ten points most of us were in cold sweats, reliving the repressed memories of just a year ago. God might not hate us as much as Cleveland or completely forgotten us like Chicago Cubs fans, but being a Toronto sports fan is a truly painful exercise. Everything since the Joe Carter home run celebration in 1993 has been the exact opposite of the Joe Carter home run celebration.
Toronto fans were ready to leave that troubled past behind with the jubilance of ‘The Kyle Lowry Game.’ Lowry’s dominance in the first half, and especially the final six minutes of it, dwarfed any other first half storyline. In a short manner of time, Kyle Lowry made all of us leap out of our seats, forget Patrice Bergeron, hardly care about a new Rob Ford crack video (Lowry for Mayor!) and completely and embarrassingly lose our collective shit on the Twitter (again, Lowry for Mayor!). If Lowry’s 3/4 court 3 point heave had of dropped instead of rimming out as the 3rd quarter expired, the ACC very well might have self-combusted. When the team’s 26-point lead had somehow evaporated and Toronto was seemingly fouling every 3-point attempt Brooklyn took, the only thing that kept me from breaking down into a panicked, feral state was Kyle Lowry checking back in to the game. Kyle Lowry is my Ativan. You can decide for yourself whether or not Kyle Lowry won this game with his cold-blooded buckets down the stretch, or if Andray Blatche lost this game by throwing a 50 yard post-pattern bomb to Deron Williams instead of a chest pass. Regardless, Kyle Lowry is now the most popular athlete in this city in a long time. He will not have to wait for tables. He will not have to pay for drinks. Hell, he wouldn’t have to wait for a kidney.
- The camera going to the dejected look on Terrence Ross’ face every game after he gets the early first quarter yank to the bench is killing me. It’s too sad. Something needs to be done to inject some confidence back into Ross’ game. When he checked back in later as the lead swooned, during what Raptors fans now remember as ‘the good times,’ there was nothing the crowd wanted more than a Ross make. Rather than turning on their struggling young player, every person in the building and at home was pulling for him to pull through. For the first time in my entire life, I watched an entire arena cheer a dunk attempt that was rudely rejected by the front of the rim just because they were so excited that Ross woke up and showed some aggression. When Ross’ finally broke the streak and hit a corner 3 ball the Air Canada Centre erupted with an enthusiasm usually reserved for free pizza. Canadian fans are the best.
- Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett did not play in the 4th quarter of a tight playoff game in a close series. That’s crazy.
- I understand and appreciate the role that Chuck Hayes can play. He’s a very good post defender. There are lineups wherein he makes a lot of sense. But why, may I ask you, Dwayne Casey, is CHUCK HAYES ON THE COURT TO GUARD MIRZA TELETOVIC?! In a 2 minute stretch with Hayes on Teletovic, Mirza drilled two quick 3 pointers and was left open, and I mean wiiiiiiiiiide open for two more that he narrowly missed. On the latter two, Chuck Hayes looked over from underneath the basket in terror as his man spotted-up a full 23 feet away. Hayes then hustled Bryce Harper style out to ‘challenge’ the shot, not even getting halfway close to actually challenging it but just far enough away from the hoop to pull himself out of rebounding position. I don’t know why Dwayne Casey trolls basketball twitter so hard with his lineup roulette, but the man is committed.
- DeRozan did a much better job of recognizing the Brooklyn bigs overplaying him on pick and rolls and when the help defender would jump on him early to try and trap. His early passing out of it led to a hockey assist on an Amir Johnson layup early and cut down the turnovers that Brooklyn’s offence had been sustaining itself on.
- MLSE might have fixed the shot clock after game 1, but John Salmons has been trying to break it again ever since. Salmons has simply let the clock expire or dribbled casually through 4, 3, 2… four times in the last six quarters of play. He passed it off with less than a second last night to Chuck Hayes who had to hit a running, one-footed 19-foot jump shot in order to bail Salmons out. Just a hunch here, but you’re probably not going to be able to rely on that shot. Salmons has been playing up to 10 minutes per game of the minutes that Terrence Ross was getting in the regular season. I get that Terrence Ross hasn’t played well lately, but look at what John Salmons is doing. I feel like Terrence Ross could let the shot clock expire every bit as well as Salmons, which is all that Salmons is contributing offensively. Sure, Ross might not do it with the same casual veteran confidence–Ross is still young enough that he gets anxious when the clock winds down and either finds a quick pass or takes a shot when time is about to expire, but he can still turn the ball over if he works at it and is given the chance. After all, you can’t commit turnovers from the bench. And that’s why Salmons should probably be sitting on it.
- When was the last time that you did anything with the kind of visible enthusiasm that NBA refs display every time they give out a technical? Start living your life!
- Seriously though, Kyle Lowry for Mayor!