Game Two of the best-of-seven series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets goes down tonight at the Air Canada Centre. Brooklyn claimed the first matchup 94-87 with key contributions from the ancient duo of Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson. Deron Williams, the man who had been searching for redemption all season long, stepped up for his team when it mattered the most. On the losing side, Toronto saw stellar performances from Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, yet DeMar DeRozan failed to produce his usual numbers. The Raptors’ defense struggled mightily early on, and their typical second-half offensive push wasn’t enough this time around. The Nets had an answer for everything their opponents threw down.
Chalk it up to nerves. Before Saturday, three of the Raptors’ starters (DeRozan, Valanciunas, Terrence Ross) had never played in an NBA playoff game. Additionally, Lowry and Amir Johnson had minimal postseason experience of their own, as they were both bench players on their previous teams. Ross found himself in foul trouble the entire game (the guy could barely spend two minutes on the court without being charged with a foul). Johnson recorded just two points and three rebounds in 21 minutes of action. DeRozan never really got into a rhythm offensively, shooting 3-13 from the field for just 14 points. Tonight, Toronto must find its composure before the game and come out strong on both ends of the floor. If not, it will be the same result as Game One and Brooklyn will head home with a major advantage. It’s a must-win situation. Let’s get into the Cage’s Keys to the Game:
Stop that man
Pierce absolutely killed the Raptors down the stretch on Saturday. The veteran forward made clutch shots in the fourth quarter and ruined Toronto’s chance at a comeback. The key for tonight is to shut him down right from the opening tip. As Ross sat out most of Game One, John Salmons was assigned the task of defending “The Truth”, but even he could not prevent the late-game heroics. Pierce was just too much to handle for the young Raps. There’s talk of Landry Fields getting playing time tonight to integrate his solid on-ball defense in the effort to slow down Pierce. It doesn’t matter how Toronto does it- just find a way to get it done, because the old man’s still got it.
Stop that other man
Williams showed shades of his former self in the first game of the series. He poured in 24 points and three assists, and turned the ball over just once. This was a concern for Toronto going in. Williams has the capability to explode on the offensive end, and he proved it in Game One. Whether it’s Lowry or Greivis Vasquez defending the nine-year guard, they must limit his drives to the basket and contest his mid-range jumpers. Williams can score from start to finish, so it’s important to maintain a consistent defensive effort for all 48 minutes.
Don’t sleep on KG
Kevin Garnett was a non-factor in Game One. He scored just five points in 20 minutes of play, shooting 1-5 from the field. Don’t assume this will happen again. The big man has 132 playoff games under his belt and knows what it takes to succeed in the postseason. Despite his season-long struggles, Garnett is still a legendary forward who preys on young teams like Toronto. He’ll try to get in your head to leverage himself and his team. The Raps need Johnson and Valanciunas to lock down the paint and ignore the mental game played by Garnett. He’s a threat in more ways than one.
X-Factor: DeMar DeRozan
Toronto needed DeRozan to produce in Game One, but nerves got the better of him. It’s all in the past now, and he must come out firing and score at his regular season level. The Raptors need to win this game before heading to Brooklyn. DeRozan isn’t the type to fall into a multi-game slump, so he should be composed and ready to produce tonight. If we see his usual production along with the prior performances from Lowry and Valanciunas, Toronto should be in a good position to pick up the W.