When the Toronto Raptors arrived in Brooklyn, the goal was simple: Take back homecourt advantage. Winning both games at Barclays Center would have been great, but the most important thing was to return to Toronto with their homecourt advantaged reclaimed.
Thanks to a gutsy and inspired fourth quarter, the Raptors pulled out an 87-79 victory over the Nets on Sunday night. It helped to ease the sting of a close loss in Game 3.
“We’re on a mission,” Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said. He added that he’s never been prouder of this group of players.
“That’s just us, man,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We’re definitely resilient. We’re not going to give up until the game’s over. We’re going to fight through it.”
More than just fighting through a close game, the Raptors fought through aches, pains, and wonky knees. Kyle Lowry, playing on a leg that wasn’t right, left everything on the court, competing with the reckless abandon that has become his signature. He finished with 22 points, countless scowls and complete adoration from the Raptors fans packed in Maple Leaf Square back in Toronto.
“He’s dealing with a lot right now and he came through with flying colours,” Casey said.
After a fantastic start that saw Toronto jump out to a 35-22 lead, shooting 62 per cent in the opening quarter, things got ugly in a hurry. The Raptors saw their 17-point lead evaporate and and went into the half with a 51-44 advantage.
When it looked as though the walls were about to come crashing down, the Raptors managed to find a way to hang on. Through a disastrous third quarter that saw the Toronto go more than six minutes before recording their first field goal, they continued to stick with it and encourage one another through their struggles. With Lowry and Johnson in foul trouble, Casey went deep into his bench. A Toronto lineup that included Chuck Hayes, John Salmons and Steve Novak managed to keep things close until their starters could return.
“That’s just our team, man,” Lowry said. “We’ve got a team full of guys who just want to win. Myself, D [DeMar], we are the leaders and it starts with us, but we’ve got 13 other guys who want to win just as bad as us.”
DeRozan was sensational in the first half, scoring 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, but went cold in the second. Unable to get things going offensively, he stepped up on the defensive end. He drew two crucial charges, showing the defensive commitment Casey had spent the previous 24 hours demanding from his players.
“This is a stepping stone for us,” Lowry said. “We’re getting our feet wet. This man [DeRozan] is becoming a superstar in front of everyone’s eyes.”
While DeRozan led early, Lowry inspired throughout. The point guard’s intensity carried over to his teammates and the emboldened Raptors didn’t play like a youthful squad scared of the moment. Instead, they embraced it. Outscoring Brooklyn 14-2 over the final six minutes, it was Toronto that looked as though they had been there before.
“We understand that this is a group that’s not going to back down, that’s not going to give up,“ Pierce said. “They earned a lot of people’s respect around the league. Just because you don’t have a lot of playoff experience doesn’t mean you’re not a good team.”
Heading back home to Toronto to play Game 5 on their court in front of raucous home fans, the Raptors sound like a group that is growing up fast.
“We are playing for our life,” Greivis Vasquez said. “We are not satisfied with what we have. We want more.”