Raptors lose NBA playoff opener against Nets
Experience, despite what the young Raptors tried to tell themselves coming into this thing, is a difference-maker.
And in the first NBA playoff game for this team and the first for this city in six years, it was as plain as the white T-shirts that blanketed a sold-out Air Canada Centre.
No one needed look any further than the 19 turnovers the Raptors committed, the determining factor in head coach Dwane Casey’s opinion in a 94-87 Game 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.
From DeMar DeRozan, who disappeared under the type of playoff defensive pressure he can expect from here on out, to Jonas Valanciunas who, despite a great day on the boards and on the scoresheet, was the chief culprit in the giveaway department with six, the Raptors’ first-timers got a rough taste of the post-season — some rougher than others.
Terrence Ross, who began the game on Deron Williams — and was doing a pretty decent job of it — got into early foul trouble, forcing Kyle Lowry back on to Williams which meant more of the star point guard’s energy was spent on defence.
The Nets were led by 24 points apiece from Williams and Joe Johnson and, while the Raptors threatened at times, the wily Nets never let them get north of four points ahead of them.
Lowry finished with a team-high 22.
Down the stretch, it was Father Time or, more precisely, Paul Pierce, settling this one almost by himself as he scored nine of 11 Nets points (the other two went to the Nets other grizzled vet Kevin Garnett) in the pivotal stretch of the game. Before Pierce went to work, it was a one-point game. When he was done, the lead had stretched to six and grew from there.
Speaking after the game, Casey sounded, and was, the least surprised guy in the building.
“I thought we played a little bit as expected, as it was our first playoff game,” Casey said.
He pointed to the early foul trouble for both Ross and DeRozan as contributing factors for that scattered start. But now that they have experienced playoff basketball first-hand, Casey believes they can turn the page and get back to the form that helped them win 48 games this season.
Lowry just wants his teammates to stay with the program and not over-react to one result.
“We’ve got to make adjustments, but once the game started everyone kind of relaxed a little bit,” he said. “We started to play our game against a hard-nosed defensive team. We held them to 42% shooting but we didn’t shoot the ball as well.”
In truth, Lowry and his backup, Greivis Vasquez, were the only two Raptors attacking the basket with any regularity. That had not been the case for most of the season and Casey doesn’t expect it will be the case again in Game 2.
Casey certainly didn’t tread lightly when a local TV reporter asked rather forcefully if he was concerned he was disappointing the Toronto fans who had waited six years for playoff basketball.
“No,” Casey said, just getting wound up. “Believe me, this is nowhere near disappointing. If our fans are disappointed they are not true fans. They are come-lately fans. This young team won a division, all right. We’re third in the conference. We’re going to fight our butts off to win this series. This does not identify us as far as who we are if we don’t come out on top. This is one game. This series is not over.”
Casey, though, was not done with this particular questioner.
“Let’s get educated on basketball,” he advised.
The game was marred from the final minutes of the third quarter to the end of the game when the shot clocks at both ends of the floor malfunctioned.
When the backups also failed, it went from a tsk-tsk moment to an embarrassment.
According to the team, it experienced a signal path failure and, with the backup system relying on the same source for power, had to rely on arena announcer Herbie Kuhn to verbally count down the shot clock for the players on the floor.
The series took on a decidedly edgy tone before the ball was even tipped off as an exuberant Raptors president and GM Masai Ujiri addressed the fans in Maple Leaf Square and got a little carried away with the moment.
He punctuated his fire-em-up speech with an unfortunate “F*&% Brooklyn.”
Ujiri apologized for the remarks at halftime, calling it a bad choice of words.
“You guys know how I feel,” he said. “I apologize but I don’t like those guys.”
The Nets headed straight back to Brooklyn after the game and will practise on their home practice court before returning Monday night for Tuesday’s Game 2.
The Raptors will spend the next few days devising ways to make things at least a little more difficult for Johnson while DeRozan will let the disappointment of a 3-for-13 playoff debut simmer for a few days.
“You will see adjustments on Tuesday,” Casey promised.