Almost two weeks ago Toronto began their series versus the Brooklyn Nets with most NBA media analysts (save for Sir Charles Barkley) calling for Brooklyn to win. Now leading the series 3-2, Toronto head back to Brooklyn to close out the series. Improbable to some especially following last evening’s roller coaster ride these young Raptors are getting better with age. For the record, experienced playoff teams such as San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Miami have all had 20 plus point efforts either completely dissipated or cut drastically in these same playoffs.
Besides being up in the win column, other factors now begin to tilt in Toronto’s favor. The off days between games early in the series were a definite benefit for the veteran laden Brooklyn squad, but now that the series feature games every other day the younger Raptor squad has to be given the edge. Though some have pointed to Dwane Casey’s questionable rotations, the first three quarters of last night certainly highlighted the fact Casey and his assistants have mastered Kidd’s strategy. Adjustments are made after each game, but unless Kidd plans to play Friday without the services of Pierce and Garnett there isn’t too much Casey needs to address on the Nets side. Rather, he’ll need to drill into his youngsters the importance of learning from that disastrous fourth quarter and temper his outrage with praise for what is going right.
One such recipient of this praise I suspect will be Terrence Ross who finally got out of his mini slump following what appeared to be a genie-like head rub from the searing hot hands of Kyle Lowry.
Brooklyn’s wily vets who tanked the latter portion of their season for the opportunity to face the inexperienced Raptors are likely questioning that choice now given how easily Chicago was dispensed of by Washington coupled with the imminent implosion of Indiana.
The Nets are now in a dog fight and become the team with all the pressure of burden to deliver. Brooklyn were assembled, or rather purchased to win now, while Toronto has made no secret this post season is primarily to build a foundation and offer their youthful core experience (it’s just someone forgot to tell them that).
Gone is the cocky game one Pierce who peacocked to the assembled throng of national media his DNA abilities wasn’t purchasable at Target. Now that DeRozan and Lowry have demonstrated it took just one game for them to find their clutch, Pierce is now sheepishly admitting these Raptors are a tough talented team who’ve earned the leagues respect. Sure he’s saying they’ll win Friday and be back in Toronto on Sunday, but once again, given these 2 games will take place in the span of 3 days I wonder internally how confident he is after riding the pine for the closing quarter with teammate Kevin Garnett.
For his part, the once formidable Garnett has been handed his hat by a sophomore no less, and has been the key target in the Raptors pick and roll offense. His beckoning for Brooklyn fans to arrive ready to punish the Toronto squad for GM Masai Urjiri’s profanity laced war cry apparently fell upon deaf ears as multitudes of Raptor faithful were spotted throughout the Barclay Center at both games. With their team on the ropes and Toronto on the precipice of just their second trip to round two in franchise history it’s likely we’ll see an equally strong showing from the Raptor faithful Friday.
For years these two Celtic vets dominated the Raptors while unabashedly rubbing it in Toronto’s faces. Perhaps we can excuse their naivety that stereotypically polite Canadians hadn’t forgotten those slights regardless of what jersey adorns their backs now. Beating this Brooklyn team on Friday or Sunday will equate to finally getting even for the loss to New Jersey in 2007 and all those Celtic drubbings.
To that end, I found some interesting coincidences in this year’s playoffs which link to the 2006-7 season:
- Dallas had the best record: 67-15.
- Golden State battled to gain the eight seed and went on to beat Dallas in the first round (the first time that occurred since the format changed to best of 7).
- The stand-out sophomore on that Golden State team was Monta Ellis who is arguably the Mavericks leader now.
- The team benefitting from the Mavericks upset was none other than San Antonio who won their fourth championship that season.
- The team who lost in the championship that year (in a sweep) was LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
- Dallas fired head coach Avery Johnson following their ousting and hired Rich Carlisle the following season who in turn hired Dwane Casey as his Assistant Coach specializing in defense.
- Also following that season Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen became Boston Celtics.
- For Toronto’s part that year, they won their first Atlantic Division Championship also in the third seed in the East.
- Everyone in Toronto and Canada prayed for a New Jersey Net match-up so they could face prior Raptor Vince Carter. Well to be fair I posted on face book I wanted Washington because I was leery of exactly what happened.
- New Jersey beat Toronto led by point guard Jason Kidd who averaged a triple-double.
- Jason Kidd went on to play in Dallas where he won his first championship along with Casey.
- Vince Carter now plays for Dallas
- Flashing forward: LeBron James and Chris Bosh (in a move similar to Garnett & Allen) joined forces to play with Dwayne Wade in Miami. And, Ray Allen joined them when Boston’s Big 3 were no longer at the top of the heap.
Anyway, it’s interesting to see how interlinked these two seasons are and how many of the players/teams in that season are factoring in this year.
I digress so, back to this year:
In one of the best playoff first rounds in years (perhaps ever) a key story line south of the border is the Toronto fan base in Jurassic Park. The effusive crowd who added to the teams’ jitters in game one has gone on to provide inspiration in Brooklyn in pre-game glimpses of the assembly and last night helped transfer their energy as the sixth man onto the court. Should the Raptors need to return Sunday or when they (hopefully) move on to the second round this fan base becomes even more advantageous. For those sitting inside, the two areas I can see even we as fans can improve is to not chant during Raptor free throws (but go ahead on opposition tosses) and to be louder at key moments such as when the team needs a pick-up in energy or when you want to be so loud the opposition can’t hear each other especially on their defensive end.
Finally, for me the pivotal moment in this series can be debated but personally I believe it happened before the Game 1 tip when Uriji uttered his infamous profanity. That one action took the heat off the media focusing on our young Raptors and simultaneously resulted in the igniting of the Raptor fan base while inviting in the sport loving community to embrace becoming a part of this underdog team.
In a week where the NBA suffered humiliation for their unfortunate ties to an ignorant troglodyte this young relatively unknown squad and fan base should be exactly the type of storyline the Association embraces as they move forward to rebuild a positive all inclusive brand.