When you hear media and players citing “this is a new season” in reference to the playoffs, it’s partially because the game itself takes on a new strategy. For the most part free flowing, fast break assaults tend to get replaced by half court sets and an emphasis on defense. Teams who’ve seen each other on three or four occasions over the course of five and half months will solely face each other in a 9 to 16-day time frame. Each game takes on its own personality and sometimes (if you’re lucky) the series itself offers enough sub-plots to capture our imagination and excitement.
We’re two games into what is now a best of 5 series between Toronto and Brooklyn, and it has all the makings to enter the pantheon of a historic series. Before the game 1 ball was tipped there was plenty of fodder to feast on. First, the veteran packed Nets had seemingly tanked their final games with the hopes of facing an inexperienced youthful Raptor squad. Though some feel this move was more about aligning to meet the Heat who the Nets swept in the regular season, the fact remained Brooklyn was already looking beyond Toronto. In retrospect, I wonder how wise this decision was since the Wizards look poised to take down the Bulls with relative ease and then likely face an Indiana squad who appear to have lost their mojo completely.
The post script of game 1 focused more on antics off the court than on:
- With the horde of 10,000 plus who assembled in what’s been coined Jurassic Park cheering wildly to Masai Ujiri’s battle cry of “F___ Brooklyn”.
- Raptor Ambassador: Drake did his part with a shot at his absent Brooklyn counterpart: “Jay-Z is somewhere eating a fondue plate”.
- The sold out crowd at the ACC chimed in by singing the Canadian anthem so loud the appointed celebrity vocalist gave in to the moment, electing to let their enthusiastic voices take center stage, and during the game the chants of “KG sucks” ostensibly threw the grizzled vet, who went scoreless the first half for the first time of his storied playoff career.
On court, the side bar of the loss focused on the effect of the Raptors first timer’s dealing with jitters and multiple turnovers leading to Brooklyn peacocking in their post game comments:
- “You’d have to tell me who the GM is, I have no idea,” and “ I could care less what they think about Brooklyn.” Said Jason Kidd regarding Ujiri’s profanity. (Seriously, you don’t know who last year’s Executive of the Year is?)
- “That’s why they brought me here” “I think it’s just in the DNA,” “Everybody doesn’t have it. Everybody’s not born with it. You can’t buy it at Costco or Walgreens.” Pierce said in reference to his fourth quarter heroics.
- “Yes (they wanted my headband),” Pierce said with a sly smile. “The cameras were on them so they wanted to keep their pride. You saw that the third time was the charm. (The Toronto fan) will wear it one day as a souvenir”, said Pierce. Personally I’d like to shake the hands of the two fans who threw it back!
- truth-asaurus rex 1, raptors 0. Pierce retweeted from his account not long after the game in response to the Toronto Sun front page.
- “It’s all good. It’s not our first time. When (I would) go to San Antonio, they’re similar. I’ve read this book before,” he said. “It’s nothing new. But I love the Toronto fans. They’re passionate, they love the Raptors, and that’s what’s up. That’s true NBA basketball” was Garnett’s response to being parodied as a dinosaur in the Toronto Sun and to the rowdy ACC crowd who mocked him relentlessly.
Just one game later and the series tied, the confident Nets vets did an abrupt about face pointing to team flaws, taking umbrage with comments previously ignored in an effort to spur on their home town crowd and attempted to humble their previous cockiness:
- “Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t.” Pierce said afterward.
- “We were a soft team tonight” Pierce added.
- “I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and come into Brooklyn, so we bout to see what its like.” opined Garnett who previously shrugged off the rally cry as nothing. I guess he’s hoping Brooklyn can produce a similar product to the frenzied fans inside and OUT of the ACC, the following video demonstrating the celebration of Tuesday’s win
For their part the Raptors took the high road choosing to focus on the role of underdog they perfected in this magical season and their inherent chemistry. Appropriately, the longest serving Raptors, DeRozan and Johnson, spoke at the post-game podium emphasizing the lack of respect they’ve faced all season which was poignantly addressed in the following responses:
- Amir Johnson “we’ve (DeRozan/Johnson) been through the ups and downs of this team, we’ve been through 80 something players and different coaches. This year we’ve broken so many records and we finally made it to this level and I feel like we have a duty just to prove that we are a great team. It just means a lot for me to be here 5 years and finally get to this stage.”
- DeMar DeRozan “We’ve been here when people just thought you come to Toronto and just get a win. It’s been frustrating seasons and we want everybody to know when you play against the Toronto Raptors, you’re going to have to fight, you’re going to have to bring your game. That’s the passion every single guy on this team has, this organization have, for us to go through the struggle and start from the bottom and work our way up and still don’t get the respect we deserve we understand we still have got a long way to go” Full Interview
A day later, team chemistry was the echoed sentiment in the post practice interviews (along with humorous reactions to DeRozan’s stank face when he cleared the hurdle of becoming Toronto’s answer to Pierce as a closer):
It’s no secret this team feels disrespected and it’s hard to argue the point given how little coverage the team gets stateside, Lowry’s exclusion from the All Star team and even with a franchise best season they are still considered the underdogs.
Part of the reason is simply because the Raptors are Canadian as Cathall Kelly’s article eloquently pointed out.
In a conversation with a Raptor insider, he pointed out the obvious to me regarding why Toronto doesn’t get featured nationally during the season: “Because they (the Raptors) are in Canada, they do not register in U.S. TV ratings which inevitably create ad sales – therefore, when the Raps play on US TV – it’s like one team playing” He further added “ It can be significant, but if they win a round or make some noise then the US networks are forced to put them on.” “They (Toronto) have to play their way on-same as Washington or Charlotte who also weren’t on ABC, ESPN or TNT this year.”
It makes sense from a dollars and cents perspective, but my marketing background kicked into gear with these thoughts: Wouldn’t the Raptors winning present Adam Silver and the Association with the perfect opportunity to market their global image and expansion into Europe? Doesn’t Jurassic Park provide them with images to sell the game better than any ad agency could falsely re-create? Granted Toronto isn’t a U.S. market but several key advertisers are represented in both countries and opportunities exist for inroads in Canada which could lead to expansion with U.S counterparts.
How the series plays out may well come down to this coming weekend in Brooklyn in terms of the shape the final plot lines take. Certainly neither team has played up to their standards yet, but I’m wondering if the Raptors who’ve been more consistent throughout the season may well have the upper hand, at least from a numerical standpoint.
- Toronto tied Miami and Chicago as the best road teams in the East.
- As highlighted by the player clips above, this team not only likes playing on the road, it embraces the challenge.
- Without the home pressure, will Terrence Ross become a factor? If he simply produces his season point average, he can take the team over the top.
- The Nets’ veterans will not have the benefit of multiple off days to physically recover with only one game separating these two home dates favoring the younger Raptor squad.
- Could the timing of DeRozan recognizing his ability to be the closer be the AHA moment he’s been seeking since the trade, and erase the experience factor most prevalently pointed to as the Nets advantage?
- Can the Nets find an answer for the Raptors dominance on the boards and front court size?
- More specifically, exactly how are the Nets planning on dealing with Jonas Valanciunas who they’ve had no answer for? The young Lithuanian has opened eyes in his first two playoff games matching standards set by Shaq and Sam Perkins:
- In his debut (17 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocks) Jonas became only the third player in league history (Ben Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal) to finish with at least 15 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks.
- Over his first 2 games he became the first player since Ralph Sampson and Sam Perkins in 1985 (@eliassports) with 30 points and 30 rebounds.
Perhaps the best answer lies within the character of these two diverse teams; one full of grizzled vets who expect to win and were purchased by a Russian billionaire versus the youthful inexperienced underdogs who’ve dealt with adversity for what seems like much longer than a season.
The win Tuesday may have erased some doubts, but don’t kid yourself into thinking this Raptor team isn’t fully prepared to accept the role of underdog and face the adjoining adversity that comes with that role. They’ve overcome the odds all season and now that they have an entire nation backing them and have confronted their Goliath head on they are ready to take center stage. I wouldn’t discount their chances of proving the naysayers wrong yet again, as they champion change north of the border.
While Brooklyn prepares to bring their version of hard ball to Toronto maybe Casey put it best: “Now, the series starts.”