No Time To Sleep In Toronto

#WeTheNorth
Toronto Raptors – Brooklyn Nets

The Toronto Raptors opened up this season’s NBA Playoffs with a home loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

The game was marred by poor shooting performances by players on both teams.  The Raptors shot just 39% for the game; while the Nets shot just 42.5%.  In most games, shooting 42.5% in a game would signal a loss but somehow the Nets were able to pull out the win despite their sub-par performance.  In the end, the game went the way of the dinosaurs.  Not the Toronto Raptors but the other dinosaurs on the Brooklyn Nets.  Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett dug deep into their deep bag of old tricks to pull out an old-school win.

Despite going to a bigger line-up for longer stretches in the game, the Raptors didn’t seem to have a plan for capitalizing on their true advantage versus the Nets.  Deron Williams was able to establish early, the (otherwise shaky) Nets’ backcourt, as a force to be reckoned with in the game by using a series of crafty drives for easy buckets.  On the other end, despite a decent scoring performance, Kyle Lowry ended up coughing up the ball 5 times (offsetting most of his 5 assists) while forcing the issue a few too many times down the stretch.  Williams’ resolve in trusting the Nets’ other veteran players to execute during a critical stretch in the 4th quarter versus Lowry’s (and to some respect Vasquez’s) rushed and forced shots proved to be the deciding factor down the stretch.

The Raptors in totally tallied a solid 22 assists in the game but committed an atrocious 17 turnovers to offset much of the benefits gained from passing the ball.  Demar DeRozan was a ghost in this game as he not only shot a meager 23% from the field (3/13) but much of his 14 points came at the very end when the game had already been decided.  His 3 made field goals came in “garbage time” while the Nets’ were trying to run off the clock by possessing the ball.  Demar also committed 3 turnovers to go with his singular assist.  Terrence Ross played 16 minutes, shooting 25% (all on 3 point attempts), committing 4 fouls and scoring only 3 points.  Amir Johnson had 2 points and 3 rebounds in 21 minutes of play and; John Salmons laid a goose egg to go with 1 rebound in 13 minutes of play.  By any and all accounts, this is the epitome of a forgettable performance by the young upstart Raptors.  A sad performance as the team could not take advantage of the massive out pour of support and encouragement from the sell out crowd that showed up at the ACC.

The Nets stuck to their identity throughout the game by running the game through their 2 man tandem of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.  Joe Johnson, in typical fashion, had a deathly efficient game using his size advantage to milk 24 points out of the makeshift Raptor defense.  Deron Williams played with the patience, trust and resolve that the Nets require from him in order to be competitive for the rest of the playoffs.  The rejuvenated Shaun Livingston was the X-factor in the game as he provided great size, length and experience to round off the solid Nets’ back court.  The 3-man back court combined for just 3 turnovers, 20/39 (51%),  and a whooping 62% of the Nets’ offense in the game.  While most people will remember the heroics of the old guys, the game was really won by the solid performance of the Nets’ backcourt.

All is not lost however for the Raptors.  They do not have to disappear like the creature which shares their team name.   There were some positives they can definitely build upon.  Jonas Valanciunas, despite his team leading 6 turnovers, stepped up big in the game to the tune of 17 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists out of the center position.  Greivis Vasquez poured in a valiant 18 points on 5/11 shooting in mop up duty for the ailing Raptors backcourt.  Patrick Patterson also came off the bench to provide a solid 9 points to the campaign.  There is nothing in these 3 players’ performances that indicates that they can not keep up the production for the duration of this series.  The Raptors can rest assured that the bench will step up in game 2 of the series but they need to figure out how to properly utilize their front court players to create mismatches and advantages for their guards.  The beauty of the game of basketball is that it is a team sport and it still requires production from all five positions to create an advantage in performance.  For the Raptors to get the production they need out of Demar, Terrence and Lowry, they will need to find a way to get the other players involved in creating easy scoring opportunites on offense.  They also need to clamp down on defense and understand how the Nets are attacking their back court defense.  Kevin Garnett is notorious for being able to find ways to get his guys open using deft screens and communicating on offense.  The Raptors have to force Garnett and Pierce to shoulder the bulk of the scoring load for the Nets.

With the home court advantage evaporated, the team of the North has no time to sleep in Toronto.  If the Raptors want to ensure a game 5 in Toronto, they will need to win game 2 or risk allowing the Dinosaurs of the Nets to keep roaming free in the North.

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