Hoops over hoopla: Raptors get even
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan couldn't wait to get back on the court. It had only been three days since Game 1, but for him it felt much longer. The Raptors swingman had a rough playoff debut, and he'd answered questions about his struggles since Saturday. After the "F--- Brooklyn" drama and the endless talk about experience, inexperience and officiating, he could finally make a point with his play.
In the locker room before the game, there were more extracurriculars to discuss. DeRozan was informed that notorious Toronto mayor Rob Ford had made a bet on the series with the Brooklyn borough president. He also learned Ford would be in attendance.
"I hope Rob Ford's got my jersey on," DeRozan said to laughs, but he'd made the more important statement earlier: The Raptors were anxious to get out there and play, and the first-game jitters were gone.
The game played out as many Raptors games have this season. They won 100-95, and DeRozan scored a game-high 30 points and made 12 of his 14 free throw attempts. Feisty point guard Kyle Lowry finished with 14, plus nine rebounds, six assists and excellent defense on the Nets' Deron Williams. Toronto's frontcourt of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas combined for 31 points and 23 rebounds, bullying Brooklyn on the inside. Three bench players contributed meaningfully. For a team that wasn't featured on ESPN, ABC or TNT in the regular season, this was the Raptors' proper introduction to the spotlight.
"We let the people talk, but we do the talk on the court," backup point guard Greivis Vasquez said. "That's just who we are, really. We lost the first game, everybody was talking, everybody was killing DeMar, 'cause he couldn't do anything. Now they're going to love him for a couple more days. It's just basketball, man. This is the business of the NBA."
No one came up bigger than DeRozan. He scored 17 of the Raptors' 36 fourth-quarter points, including a savage left-handed dunk to start the period and two contested jumpers to break a tie with less than three minutes left. The Raptors never relinquished that lead, with DeRozan making all six of his free throw attempts in the final minutes to seal it.
Named an All-Star reserve in his fifth season, DeRozan made his jump by playing a smarter brand of basketball. He's never been the greatest outside shooter, nor the best ball handler, but he's made incremental improvements. He has become much more aware of where help is coming from on defense, and is willing to make the right passes. He's lethal when defenders fall for his fakes, and he gets to the line more frequently than any guard not named James Harden.
DeRozan looked like a younger version of himself in the first game; in the second, he demonstrated his ascension. "I'm just happy for him," Lowry said. "A lot of people were saying he had a bad game. But everyone has a bad game once in a while. And for us, he's had a bad game, I've had a bad game, but the fact that he's an All-Star and he knows how to get his thing done, tonight just showed what he can do. And he just did an unbelievable job tonight of attacking, being aggressive and he got his rhythm going. Once he gets his rhythm going, he's a hard guard." Paul Pierce to seven points on 2-for-11 shooting, and made Brooklyn pay for playing him at power forward. The Nets' lengthy lineup causes a lot of problems for opposing offenses -- the Raptors had 21 turnovers -- but puts Brooklyn at a disadvantage on the boards. Toronto made up for its giveaways by earning offensive rebounds on half of its misses and outrebounding the Nets 52-30 overall.
"That was our goal this game, to just pound 'em on the glass," Johnson said. "They've got Pierce at the four, coach was telling me, 'Go to the glass every time, offense and defense.'"
Before Masai Ujiri was handed a microphone on Saturday afternoon, Johnson and Pierce's contrasting styles was more of a talking point. Despite all the hoopla, Toronto's ability to take advantage of the Nets' lack of size up front could still swing the series. Without home-court advantage, the Raptors are still in a hole, but now they've shown who they are.
"We actually felt like we played Raptors basketball tonight," Vasquez said. "We didn't do it the first game. For some reason, we didn't do it. But that's in the past, where the past is. Nothing you can do about it. But now we go to New York and I have no doubt that we can steal one. And maybe two, who knows?"
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