The Toronto Raptors are doing everything possible to piss off the Nets.
Terrence Ross said he preferred the Nets’ presence to that of the Bulls, the Toronto Sun ran a headline calling Pierce and Garnett dinosaurs, and general manager Masai Ujiri yelled “F--- Brooklyn” at a pep rally, setting him back $25,000. In other words, the Raptors have been doing a lot of fighting off the court.
But after two games, the Raptors are lucky the series is headed back to Brooklyn knotted at a game apiece.
The Raptors certainly had their chances to make it 2–0. The Nets have embraced small ball, relying on deflections, their long guards, and three-point shooting. So when they went just 4 for 24 from beyond the arc in Game One, including an improbable 19 consecutive missed threes, the Nets left the door open for the Raptors to walk right through.
But Toronto did little to help themselves, turning the ball over 17 times and shooting just 39 percent from the field. Credit the Nets’ active defense for those numbers. Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas did have his way around the basket — 17 points, 18 rebounds — but that is a trade the Nets will take to limit Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen the way they did in Game One.
Every time the Raptors got close down the stretch, those dinosaurs Pierce and Garnett came to life, showing Toronto the importance of veteran leadership. The two combined for 11 straight points — Pierce 9, Garnett 2 — late in the fourth quarter to put Game One out of reach for the Raptors. They may be old, but like the tyrannosaurus rex in “Jurassic Park,” those two have still got it.
Game Two was a slightly different story. In a game that the Raptors had to win, the team from the great white North was able to hold on to the lead late in the fourth quarter as Pierce came up short on a three-point attempt that would have put Brooklyn’s home-team on top with just more than 20 seconds remaining. After trading points, Amir Johnson caught a deflected inbound pass for an uncontested dunk, effectively squashing the Nets’ hopes of winning.
Valanciunas posted a similar stat line in Game Two — 15 points, 14 rebounds — but DeMar DeRozen was the difference in this one, going for 30 points. DeRozen needs to be the Nets’ primary focus as the series shifts to Brooklyn.
Changes were made between games one and two: Andrei Kirilenko, surprisingly absent in Game One, did his thing off the bench in round two, showcasing the Nets’ depth, and Landry Fields frustrated Joe Johnson, who had done anything he wanted in Game One.
What will Game Three bring? Hopefully more Kirilenko, whose hustle was built for the playoffs.
The adjustments coaches Casey and Kidd make moving forward will be instrumental in determining a winner. But after two games, and nearly securing a 2–0 series lead, the Nets have to feel like they have those little dinos right where they want them.
Tom Lafe is a 6-foot-5 sports-world insider with a middling high school basketball career who believes the Nets will be driven by the success of the team’s big men.