Nets unable to take command against Toronto
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Despite being manhandled on the boards, yielding an unfathomable 36 fourth-quarter points and enduring another difficult night of long-range shooting, the Brooklyn Nets had the Toronto Raptors right where they wanted them with 25 seconds to go Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre.
With the visiting team trailing by two points in the waning moments of regulation, the ball found its way into the sure and capable hands of Paul Pierce, Brooklyn’s Game 1 hero in this opening-round playoff series.
The former NBA Finals MVP hoisted up a potential go-ahead 3-pointer which almost certainly would have spelled doom for a Toronto team that had yet to win a playoff game since 2008.
But the ball rimmed out and the Raptors held on for a much-needed 100-95 victory before 20,382 fans who were in full throat throughout as Toronto got the win it so desperately desired before heading to Downtown Brooklyn for Games 3 (Friday night) and 4 (Sunday evening).
For Pierce, who struggled through a brutal 2-of-11 shooting effort after scoring nine key points down the stretch in Saturday afternoon’s series-opening win, the Game 2 loss certainly stung.
“We were soft tonight,” Pierce insisted, referring to Brooklyn’s stunning 52-30 disadvantage in rebounding and porous fourth-quarter defense. “We had them on the ropes.”
First-year head coach Jason Kidd took a softer approach following his first career playoff defeat at the helm of the team with the NBA’s largest-ever payroll.
''There's a lot of positive things that we've done in these first two games,'' he noted. “But they executed better down the stretch in this game.”
Brooklyn, which won a franchise-record and NBA season-high 15 consecutive home games earlier this season, will have to do just that to avert a second straight first-round disaster.
The Nets won Game 1 at home last year in impressive fashion before dropping three in a row to the Chicago Bulls. Though Brooklyn rallied to force a Game 7 at Barclays Center, it was unable to get past the beat-up but battle-hardened Bulls on that disappointing night.
The Raptors, who are admitted postseason novices, may not have recovered from an 0-2 series deficit, but Pierce’s big shot didn’t go down and now Toronto has some wind in its sails at it prepares for what should be a hostile crowd on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri assured that Brooklynites would be out for blood in Game 3 when he uttered his infamous "F-- Brooklyn!” during a pre-game prep rally outside the Raptors’ arena on Saturday morning.
But the Raptors, heartened by their gritty win, aren’t backing down from the challenge.
“We want everybody to know when you play against the Toronto Raptors you are going to have to fight, you are going to have to bring your game,” said Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan after torching Brooklyn for 30 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, Tuesday night.
“That's the passion every single guy on this team has, this organization has,” he added. “For us to go through the struggle and start from the bottom and work our way up and still don't get the respect that we deserve, we understand that we still have a long way to go."
Amir Johnson scored 16 points, including a wild no-look, over-the-shoulder layup and game-sealing dunk, while center Jonas Valanciunas completed his second double-double with 15 points and 14 boards for the rejuvenated Raptors.
“It was a must-win for us,” ceded Johnson.
Nets All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson finished with a team-high 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, but Brooklyn went 7-of-24 from 3-point range, adding to its horrific 4-of-24 effort from beyond the arc in Game 1.
Deron Williams added 15 points, Mirza Teletovic had 14 off the bench and Kevin Garnett finished with 13 for the Nets, who know full well what they must correct entering their first home playoff contest since last season’s Game 7 disaster against Chicago.
"We didn't do a good job protecting the boards, keeping them off of the boards and then we allowed 36 points in the fourth quarter, which is way too high for us as somebody that prides themselves on getting stops, especially down the stretch,” said Williams. “We didn't do that [in Game 2]."
One thing the Nets did do in Game 2 was put Andrei Kirilenko, who was not utilized at all in the opener, back into the rotation. The Russian power forward collected four points, three rebounds and four big steals in 20 minutes off the pine.
Brooklyn will need more of that end-to-end effort Friday night, when the Raptors invade Brooklyn in the hopes of stealing back home-court advantage in this best-of-7 series.
''Now we've got to go home and protect home,” Kidd emphasized.
Now, more than ever.
Nothing But Net: Valanciunas is averaging 16 points and 16 rebounds per game in the series. … Ujiri will be $25,000 lighter when he arrives in Brooklyn on Friday as the GM was fined that amount by the NBA for his profanity-tainted speech to Toronto fans prior to Game 1. … Kidd, who led the Nets back from a dismal 10-21 start, did not get any votes in the NBA Coach of the Year balloting. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich took home the honor for the third time in his career while Toronto’s Dwayne Casey came in fifth. … The Raptors’ back-court tandem of DeRozan and G Kyle Lowry combined to hit 7-of-8 shots in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and also went 10-of-14 from the line over the final 12 minutes.