The dinos are still alive! The Toronto Raptors take Game 4 87-79 to event the series and reclaim home court advantage against the Brooklyn Nets in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final. The Raptors played their best quarter of the series in the opening segment at the Barclays Center Sunday night. Amir Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry all hit double-digits in scoring in the first 12 minutes of play. Toronto led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but the Nets refused to get punked on their homecourt. Brooklyn went on a 14-4 run going into halftime. The veteran team has won every third quarter in this series. It was the same story tonight as the Nets outscored the Raptors 23-16 and knotted the game going into the final frame.
The Raptors ramped up their defensive effort in the fourth quarter. They took the lead on a DeRozan free throw, 80-79, and scored the last seven points of the game. Toronto’s All-Star finished with a game-high 24 points. The Raptors guard tandem of Lowry and Greivis Vasquez poured in a combined 31 points and and 11 assists. Johnson anchored the team’s defence and was especially solid late in the fourth. Paul Pierce tallied 22 points on 9-14 shooting for Brooklyn. The teams return to the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday for Game 5.
The Raptors set the tone offensively early on. They led 13-2 before Nets head coach Jason Kidd called timeout. They poured in 35 points, 16 in the paint, on 63 per cent shooting. More impressively, they only turned the ball over once Johnson led the way will 11 points, while DeRozan and Lowry added 10 points apiece. They were attacking both inside and out. Johnson invited contact and was even able to slice through a double-team. DeRozan was especially effective on the draw and kick. Lowry was aggressive while guarded one-on-one, beating his man to the hole. All of Toronto’s players moved the ball well and sought to make the extra pass. The team was making the “simple plays” head coach Dwane Casey has been preaching about in every press conference. They closed the quarter on a 7-0 run.
The Raptors played sloppier in the second quarter. They rushed on offence, and coughed up the ball four times. It was only when they showed patience that they were able to score. Vasquez found Patrick Patterson for an open jumper. That was the only field goal the Raptors made in the last six minutes. It was just as bad after the half. Brooklyn came out of the locker room with rejuvenated defensive effort and intensity. They double-teamed DeRozan out on the perimeter, and prevented him from scoring a field goal in the half. The Nets smothered the Raptors in the paint. Toronto made a valiant effort, continuing to go inside but missed several bunnies. Lowry remained aggressive, setting up his team mates for wide open looks that just didn’t fall. So the feisty point guard drove inside himself and knocked down a 3-pointer. He scored eight points in the frame.
In the fourth, the Raptors started ice cold from the field. Vasquez and Lowry both stepped up to facilitate and drive during the team’s scoring droughts. Vasquez showed he has onions, triggering and sinking a three with under four minutes remaining to put Toronto up 83-79. The team finished with 87 points on 41.3 per cent and a series-low 10 turnovers.
The Raptors held the Nets to a series-low 79 points. Toronto played outstanding interior defence. They took advantage of their height and length to force the smaller Nets to shoot over them inside. Their zone defence was also effective. Brooklyn shot 20 per cent from three and 41 per cent for the game.
There were spurts when Toronto’s transition defence and communication wavered, allowing the Nets to go on runs. Terrence Ross struggled offensively, but did a good job guarding Deron Williams one-on-one early on. As the game went on, the Raptors did a better job contesting shots and sprinting back on the fast break. Johnson provided strong help defence to limit interior scoring, but Toronto still allowed the Nets to score 10 points in the paint in the second quarter.
Casey emphasized getting back on defence, rotating quicker and protecting the paint. However, out of the half, Brooklyn outmatched the Raptors in physicality and intensity. Pierce was particularly explosive, scoring 10 points in the third, while his team shot 57 per cent and outscored Toronto 23-16. The Raptors brought their A game in the fourth. They didn’t give the Nets any room, holding them to 3-17 shooting down the stretch.
The teams finished with 43 rebounds each. Patterson pulled down nine boards for the Raptors and Andray Blatche led the way for Brooklyn with seven. The Raptors were exceptional on the glass in the opening quarter. They used their athleticism to position themselves and block out well, and fought the old farts for boards. There was a sequence in the third quarter when the Raptors grabbed three straight offensive rebounds. They were active and saved the ball from going out of bounds.
Game Ball: DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan led the way for the Raptors with 24 points, 20 of which he scored in the first half on 7-12 shooting from the floor and 5-6 from the line. He pulled up for mid-range jumpers, got the Nets to bite on the double-fake, and drained them. In addition to creating shots for himself, DeRozan manufactured open looks for his teammates by driving inside and kicking it out to the open man. When his shot wasn’t falling in the second half, he continued to attack and got awarded with free throws. He took it right to Pierce on the fastbreak after getting a steal. DeRozan showed why he’s an All-Star and gets to the line more than anyone else in the postseason. He was active on defence, sticking with his man, and took two key charges with under three minutes left in the game.
All he has to say to the Nets is…