The Raptors have centred their entire “We The North” marketing campaign on being ignored by the league. Still, to beat Garnett, Pierce, Deron Williams and the Nets and guarantee at least four games against, LeBron, Wade and Bosh of the Heat would generate instant credibility. “That was our goal, to try to win this series,” said point guard Kyle Lowry, whose 36-point annihilation of Williams on Wednesday was one of the highlights of the playoffs. “We weren’t satisfied with getting to the playoffs. It proves that we were worthy of being in the playoffs and we have a team that can win a series.” “It’s what we work for,” Johnson added. “It’s what we put the work in for every summer, every day in practice. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to have accomplishments done, especially this season. We still have a long way to go. It definitely feels good that you’re working hard and getting stuff done.”
“Let’s make it clear. I think this is a playoff game,” said Vasquez, one of this team’s fearless men. “Ain’t nobody going to win by 20. If I remember, the first game in New York, they were up 20 and we came back and nearly won that game. (Patrick Patterson) missed two free throws, we missed a couple shots at the end. The same thing happened this time. We’ve just got to be more mature.” It’s a process, and Toronto’s progression has been remarkable. In Game 1, this team’s first playoff game as a group, Toronto wasn’t ready, and Paul Pierce added the Raptors to his long list of big-shot burials. In Game 2 Pierce missed his big shot, and DeMar DeRozan didn’t. In Game 3, their first playoff road game, the Raptors were smacked in the face, but came within those two missed Patterson free throws of erasing a 15-point deficit. In Game 4, after blowing a 17-point lead, the Raptors held the Nets scoreless for the final 4:58, and Lowry and Vasquez made more giant, fearless shots. Then came Wednesday night. Just another game.
Players tend to focus more on who wins and who loses and never mind how. But the details? That’s the coach’s job. Casey talked about writing a book on all that went wrong in Game 5. The Raptors need to look forward but spent most of Thursday dissecting the final 12 minutes of Game 5. “One thing we haven’t done is learn how to play with the lead.” said Casey. “Experience is going to teach us that. What’s a good possession? What’s a good shot? What’s a safe pass? What should the spacing be on this play? All those things are ramped-up when other teams are bringing their best. “You have to make safer passes. You have to make shorter passes … Our mental mistakes put the game in jeopardy. “These young guys, they do have amnesia. I can’t have amnesia. Coaches can’t have amnesia. It wears on you. We won. We almost lost. You take each situation and try to teach and try to learn from it. Today was more about teaching.”
A couple of late brain cramps made it even more of a nailbiter. Forward Amir Johnson fouled Alan Anderson for a four-point play with 9.7 seconds left. “It was one of those bone-headed plays that you just can’t do,” Johnson said. In addition, the Nets weren’t boxed out properly after a missed free throw with 4.9 seconds left. Toronto got lucky that an errant pass prevented a potential game-winning shot attempt. “The positive thing about the whole thing is that we won,” Casey said. “We found a way to win with all those mistakes. With every mistake we made we still found a way to win, which is a great positive for a young team.” Both teams have held big leads throughout the series but the point difference at the finish has always been single digits. If Game 7 is necessary, it will be played Sunday in Toronto.
There’s a lot to like about the Raptors, beginning with the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, arguably the two best players this series has seen, each stepping up in crunch time. There’s even more to like when the Raptors don’t turn the ball over, when their offence isn’t compromised by too much isolation or when they somehow forget that the best post player is on their side. But there’s also concern, well-founded and well-documented, that this team isn’t quite ready to take that next step. On Friday, the Raptors have their moment, a time they need to seize and dominate because no team, regardless of the basketball buzz surrounding the game, wants to play in a Game 7. In Toronto, the Nets made most of the plays in the fourth quarter in two of the three games played at the Air Canada Centre, but came away with only one win. The Nets have looked wretched, discombobulated and disjointed in the fourth quarters of the two games played at Barclays Centre. “It’s extra special just being in the playoffs, working to get here,’’ said Amir Johnson, who was a teenager the last time he experience the pressure and cauldron that is playoff basketball.
“It’s kind of mindboggling,” he said. “Somebody shoots 23 (field goals) and only shoots one free throw.” By planting a seed, Kidd is following the lead of the Raptors, who whined similarly after Game 1 — although not as overtly as Kidd. Clearly these are desperate times for the typically reserved coach, who saved his most piercing public remarks of the season for the day before an elimination game at home, with the Nets facing a 3-2 series deficit. The Raptors have two players — Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — who combined for 23 free throws on Wednesday, and who are good at selling contact.
Toronto might be in the driver’s seat, but Brooklyn heads in with momentum. The team annihilated Toronto’s defence and proved to itself that it can score at will, when necessary. Jason Kidd went small and Toronto had no answers. Now, Brooklyn has planted a seed in the minds of Casey and his players — that its smaller lineup, led by one-man wrecking crew Johnson and some outside shooters, cannot be stopped. That’s not good for the Raptors. If you only tuned in post-game, you would have had no idea who actually won. While Casey seethed, Kidd said it was “a great game all the way around … the guys fought, so we can build on that.”
He also suggested that perhaps the Raptors, in the person of Kyle Lowry, could serve as an example for him to follow in Game 6. “If flopping is the way to go, maybe we should play that game.” — Kidd
The Nets will, unfortunately, probably lose tomorrow despite my thoughts. I really, really hope not, but all evidence points to the contrary. The Nets wanted the spotlight. They wanted to take over New York. They wanted to be recognized as a contender. Well, the organization has that now. No more Knicks, a potential shot at knocking off the best player since Jordan, and a lot of legacies on the line, what will Brooklyn do with everything on the line?
Maybe they don’t cheer as loudly as Boston fans. Well, the Celtics do have a bit more of a legacy than the two-year-old Nets. They have 17 pennants hanging from the ceiling at TD Garden. Maybe they’re not as potty-mouthed as Toronto fans. Well, in Canada, curses aren’t bleeped out on TV, so its culture is more free-spirited. Not to mention their mayor! Yikes. Maybe they don’t show up on time. Well, this IS New York, not some 9-to-5 cowtown. People work late, but if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. (By the way, we’ve checked and couldn’t find a Sinatra or Jay-Z tribute to Ontario.) The Nets fan is a work in progress. Big deal. It will take time. So what? So have a lot of great things. And make no mistake, these are Brooklyn fans, not transplanted New Jersey fans. They’re a new breed. Only about one in ten fans at Nets games are from New Jersey, considerably less than the team expected. Almost as many fans walk home from the game as drive or take the train(s) to the Jersey side. When will Nets fans find themselves? Shouldn’t take long. That’s not an excuse. It’s a promise. Maybe Friday night, at 7 p.m. Be there.
“The positive thing about the whole thing is that we won,” Casey said. “We found a way to win with all those mistakes. With every mistake we made we still found a way to win, which is a great positive for a young team.” Both teams have held big leads throughout the series but the point difference at the finish has always been single digits. If Game 7 is necessary, it will be played Sunday in Toronto. Vasquez said the Raptors plan to play angry on Friday night at Barclays Center, predicting it will be “another street fight.” “We’re very confident,” he said. “We’re not going to underestimate them. But we’re going to go there with a mentality like we’re going to fight and we’re going to try to do whatever it takes to get this win. “We’re very humble but at the same time we’re very hungry.”
What in the name of Bill Russell, the patron saint of defense, were the Raps doing allowing 3 four-point plays in one quarter? That’s too many for a month. There are two major issues here; one is the actual foul, and the other is losing the shooter in the first place. I know coach likes to preach the importance of closing out, or contesting, long shots, but our guys have to recognize when it’s too late! God bless Amir Johnson, but when Alan Anderson is open for a corner 3 with 9 seconds remaining, he’s got to be allowed to take it. Our Amir instead flung himself at Alan in a hopeless attempt at blocking the shot. He crashed knee-on-knee, simultaneously (a) fouling out (b) injuring both himself & Alan and (c) creating his second four-point play opportunity of the quarter (Greivis Vasquez was guilty of the other). Can you find a positive in all that? And who had the cover on Alan, a known streaky shooter? Why was he so alone in prime 3-point real estate? Here’s an easy mantra: don’t try to block shots. For every one you do, there’s about nine that become and-1 chances. Put your hands up, and keep your feet on the ground. When was the last time a 3-point shot attempt was actually blocked? Can you remember one (if you do, please tell me in the Comments)? I can’t imagine a play less likely to succeed.
Perhaps it’s a case of being careful about what you wish for. But Brooklyn merely needs to go on a two-game winning streak and they’ll still get their desired second-round matchup against the Heat. Unlike the Raptors, who merely were seeking to advance, the Nets’ visions were much grander, which included setting themselves up for the second round in the Heat’s half of the conference semifinal bracket. The reality is that the best approach to avoid such manipulation, which, with the elimination of the Pacers, would have had the Heat at the top of the reconfigured East bracket and away from the Nets’ side in the second round. The NFL and NHL both have re-seeded, with the NBA more concerned about television scheduling.
Kudos to the Raptors for thinking outside the box when it comes to fan promotions and currently the Raptors or Bounce have not made the lint rollers available for public sale. If you are a hardcore Raptors/Drake fan that didn’t attend Game 5 or were unable to get a lint roller at the game you are in luck! An enterprising eBay seller named cosmic is selling one lint roller with the current bid at $46 plus $10 for shipping.