BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CP)_ DeMar DeRozan scored 28 points, but the Toronto Raptors dropped a 97-83 decision to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, sending their best-of-seven playoff series back to the Air Canada Centre tied at three games apiece.
A win in Sunday’s Game 7 will put Toronto into the second round of the post-season for just the second time in the franchise’s 19-year history, and give them a date with the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
But they’re clearly going to need a better effort than they gave Friday in the team’s first-ever Game 7 appearance. Kyle Lowry was the only other Raptor to score in double figures with 11 points. Jonas Valanciunas had nine points and nine rebounds, while Greivis Vasquez added nine points.
Deron Williams led the Nets with 23 points, while Joe Johnson added 17 points, Kevin Garnett finished with 13 and Paul Pierce added 12.
The Raptors were outhustled and outplayed by the Nets from the outset, looking much like the fourth-quarter Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday that coughed up a 26-point lead yet still managed to hold on to win. The Nets were facing elimination and looked like it, with easily their best basketball of this series.
“We started the game out with the opposite disposition that we wanted to, I thought they came out in a desperate mode and we didn’t,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey.
“We didn’t start to play that way until we got knocked down in the second half. That’s what the playoffs are about, your start probably tells you how you’re going to finish. And tonight, they got their foot on the pedal a lot quicker than we did.”
Toronto trailed by 26 points midway through the third and went into the fourth down 79-59. The Raptors pushed back in the fourth, opening with a 17-7 run to pull within 10 on a three-pointer by Lowry with 5:02 to play.
With the fans at the Barclay Center on their feet, Williams drained a three with 1:13 to play that put the Nets up by 13 and secured the victory for Brooklyn. The fans chanted “U-S-A!” as the final seconds ticked down.
DeRozan said the Raptors squandered their momentum after winning the last two games.
“We didn’t really realize, we had Brooklyn against the wall and we didn’t take advantage of it like we should have,” he said. “We should have known they were going to come out throwing haymakers, and we weren’t ready for it until the second half.”
The Nets assembled an all-star squad this season, trading for Pierce and Garnett, with their sights set on an NBA title, for a payroll plus taxes of more than US$180 million.
Outside the Barclays Center, there were tongue-in-cheek missing person posters taped to posts of Williams, that read: “MISSING Have you seen this person?” above Williams’ mug shot. Reward was listed as $63,128,400 _ the amount remaining on the point guard’s contract.
Williams showed up Friday, but the Raptors didn’t. Williams made good on 8-of-16 shots from the floor while the Nets shot 47 per cent. The Raptors shot 38 per cent on the night, and were outrebounded 45-42.
The sellout crowd of 17,732 included Drake, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen Pompeo _ Meredith on “Grey’s Anatomy”, New York Giants receiver Mario Manningham, and Brooklyn rapper Fabulous, who announced the Nets lineup. There were numerous pockets of red-clad Raptors fans who stood out against the Nets fans, wearing white T-shirts as part of a giveaway.
This series has been drama-filled since Game 1 when Raptors GM Masai Ujiri dropped his famous F-bomb about Brooklyn _ earning him a US$25,000 fine _ and the shot clocks malfunctioned at the Air Canada Centre.
There was Drake and his lint roller, and the huge crowds that packed Maple Leaf Square for every game, home and away. Several thousand braved the chilly temperatures again Friday to watch the game on the big screen outside the Air Canada Centre.
Nets coach Jason Kidd was fined US$25,000 earlier Friday by the NBA for public criticism of officiating. The New York Daily News’ back cover photo Friday morning was of the Brooklyn coach, under the headline “Whiny Kidd.”
When asked about the fine prior to tipoff, Kidd replied: “Fine? It’s a beautiful day today isn’t it? Did it rain?”
The Raptors trailed by double digits less than eight minutes into the game. DeRozan scored 10 points in the first, but got little help from his teammates, and the Raptors trailed 34-19 heading into the second.
It was more of the same in the second, a putback layup by Andray Blatche giving the Nets a 21-point advantage with four-and-a-half minutes left in the half. Former Raptor Alan Anderson drained a 17-foot step-back jumper with less than a second on the clock to put the Nets up 60-41 heading into the halftime break.
A three-pointer by Pierce gave the Nets a 26-point lead five minutes into the third quarter, and the Nets took a 79-59 lead into the fourth.