TORONTO (CP) _ Kyle Lowry scored 28 points, but was blocked on a shot at the buzzer as the Toronto Raptors lost Game 7 of their playoff series 104-103 against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, ending their season.
Lowry got possession of the ball in the dying seconds of the game an drove to the rim as three Nets players clogged the lane, preventing him from scoring.
“The play was to get me the ball, but they did a good job of trapping me, and I didn’t get that shot off that I wanted to get off,” said Lowry.
Amir Johnson had a playoff-high 20 points plus 10 boards before fouling out of the game with 7:53 to play.
DeMar DeRozan added 18 points for the Raptors, who were hoping to see the second round of the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s 19-year history. Patrick Patterson finished with 16 points, while Terrence Ross had 11.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “Nobody gave them a snowball’s chance in you know where to be here. Each game (in the series), a young player grew and learned something.
“This group has a lot of stuff in front of them, a lot of basketball in front of them, this organization’s in a great spot. They’re going to be good.”
Joe Johnson led the Nets with 26 points, while Marcus Thornton finished with 17. Deron Williams had 13 points, Kevin Garnett had 12, and Paul Pierce 10.
Toronto, desperate to keep its season going, played like it was feeling the pressure for much of the afternoon, trailing by as much as 12 points in the third quarter in front of an Air Canada Centre crowd that was hungry for a playoff series win.
The Raptors trailed 81-73 going into the fourth, but a Toronto team that has been so strong down the stretch all season long, pulled within five on a basket by Lowry with 7:20 to play.
With the fans on their feet for the final couple of minutes left, the Raptors kept their foot on the pedal and pulled within two points with 25 seconds left, after two free throws each from Patterson and Lowry. Williams went to the line draining one for Brooklyn and it was a three-point game with 22 seconds left.
Lowry drove to the hoop for a basket to cut the deficit to a point, but Shaun Livingston made two free throws to put Brooklyn back up by three with 13 seconds to play. Ross answered with a basket, and the Raptors regained possession but Lowry was blocked at the final buzzer.
Fans chanted “Let’s go Raptors!” as the dejected players left the court.
The Raptors were making their first playoff appearance in six years, despite a season that begun with low expectations. The remarkable turnaround started in December when the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento and they went on to win the Atlantic Division and earn the No. 3 seed in the East.
The Nets, on the other hand, built their roster with an NBA title in mind, acquiring Pierce and Garnett in the off-season. The remade roster is costing them more than US$180 million in payroll and taxes.
Vince Carter led the Raptors past the New York Knicks and into the second round of the playoffs in 2001, where they lost the Philadelphia 4-3.
“It means a lot, it shows our improvement throughout the year, a lot of people didn’t expect us to be here,” said Lowry. “But we did. We’re only going to get better. This is only a start for us. . . it was a good start for us, but unfortunately we came up short when we put ourselves in a position to win.
The Air Canada Centre and its 20,457 fans resembled a massive Maple Leaf _ fans in the end sections wore red “We The North” shirts for fans, while fans in the middle sections wore white. Drake, former Raptor Charles Oakley _ who was a part of that 2001 playoff team _ and Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and his wife Elisha Cuthbert sat courtside.
Coach Casey was forced to take the subway to the game. He got stuck in traffic due to road closures for the Toronto Marathon, and did a U-turn and headed for the subway. Pictures of Casey _ dressed in a black Canada Goose bomber jacket with black Raptors T-shirt _ surfaced on Twitter soon after.
It was a spirited series since before the first game even tipped off, beginning when the Nets sat their starters at the end of the regular season in order to drop to sixth in the East to face the Raptors _ whom they saw as easier prey than Chicago.
Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri fired a shot back, dropping his famous F-bomb about Brooklyn when addressing the Maple Leaf Square crowd prior to Game 1.
Sunday afternoon, some 10,000 fans packed the sunny Maple Leaf Square and spilled into roads leading into it to watch the game on the giant screen outside the ACC.
Ujiri addressed the fans once again. This time he would only say: “You know how I feel.”
Tim Leiweke, the president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, also addressed the crowd.
“The other night the whole team, they put you in the locker-room before the game so we could understand what we’re playing for,” Leiweke told the fans. “Tonight, today, we play for you. God bless you.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted his good luck, posting: “Let’s show Brooklyn what #WeTheNorth are made of. Good luck in game 7 (at)Raptors! #NorthernUprising #RTZ.”
A fan in the square held a sign that read: “We’re coming 4 U LeBron.”
Toronto missed its first three shots but then calmed down and a driving Vasquez jumper with two minutes to go in the first quarter gave the Raptors a six-point lead. They went into the second up 28-26.
The Raptors allowed the Nets to shoot 67 per cent in the second, and Brooklyn went up by 10 on long pullup jumper by Shaun Livingston with 29 seconds left. The Nets led 61-53 at halftime.
Toronto pulled to within six points on a driving layup by Lowry with 6:10 left in the third, but couldn’t build any momentum, and the Nets were back up by 12 less than three minutes later. The Nets took an eight-point lead in to the fourth.