The Toronto Raptors were trying to send a message that they have been overlooked all season, but the experience of the Brooklyn Nets helped the road team win Game 1, 94-87.
Paul Pierce came through with big shot after big shot for the Nets, scoring nine of his 15 points in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. Pierce coming through in the clutch is nothing new, as Seth Greenberg of ESPN tweeted:
Pierce back to the future. Once a closer always a closer.— Seth Greenberg (@SethOnHoops) April 19, 2014
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson also had big games, scoring 24 points apiece.
The Raptors remained in the contest throughout thanks to strong backcourt performances from Kyle Lowry (22 points, eight assists) and Greivis Vasquez off the bench with 18 points and eight dimes. Center Jonas Valanciunas also had a huge night, registering 17 points and 18 rebounds, but Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report noted the Raptors' main problem:
Jonas has dominated KG and other Nets bigs, as I expected. Didn't expect DeRozan to look so nervous.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 19, 2014
DeMar DeRozan went just 3-of-13 from the field while Terrence Ross only managed three points in the loss for Toronto. Add these poor showings to the 17 team turnovers and the home squad was unable to pull out a win.
Early on, the fans in Toronto were certainly fired up to host a playoff game for the first time in six years. ESPN captured a view of the crowd outside of the stadium:
General manager Masai Ujiri really got the fans fired up with a NSFW declaration at the end of his speech at a pregame rally (WARNING: The following video contains NSFW language):
Ujiri later apologized for the profanity (via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post):
Masai Ujiri: "You know how I feel. I don't like them, but I apologize."— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) April 19, 2014
Unfortunately, the Raptors couldn't feed off the fans' pregame passion in the early going. Brooklyn got out to a 25-13 start in the first nine minutes, looking as though it was ready to pull away.
The young Toronto squad rallied back in the second quarter thanks to 10 points from Vasquez off the bench. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today noted the impact of the backup point guard:
Raptors G Greivis Vasquez causing havoc and annoying Nets.— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) April 19, 2014
Williams did his part to ensure the Nets had the 50-46 lead at halftime. The point guard was much more aggressive than usual in the first half, as noted by Mike Mazzeo of ESPN:
Deron Williams averaged 14.3 points and 11.2 shot attempts per game in regular season. 18 points on 17 shots - in the first half today #Nets— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) April 19, 2014
He had to make up for the rest of his teammates doing very little, including veteran Kevin Garnett:
Kevin Garnett was held scoreless in a 1st half for the first time in his playoff career (132 games). #BKNvsTOR— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 19, 2014
Garnett only finished with five points but his eight rebounds were tied for a team high.
The two sides stayed locked in a close contest after halftime, but a strange situation occurred midway through the third quarter. The shot clocks went out at the Air Canada Centre, forcing a delay in the action. ESPN captured an image of the bizarre moment:
When arena officials could not get the technology to work, the game began using stopwatches to time the 24-second clock. The public address announcer was then required to post updates on the situation.
Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York was enjoying the situation:
The clocks are out here so we're going old school. PA guy will call out the shot clock time. Sweet.— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) April 19, 2014
Meanwhile, DeRozan was not having a much better day than the people who run the clocks. He missed his first eight shots from the floor, drawing criticism from Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:
DeMar DeRozan's forced shots are the worst shots.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) April 19, 2014
He earned some points by getting to the free-throw line, but his poor day allowed the Nets to build up an eight-point lead late in the third quarter. The home team needed a Lowry three at the third-quarter buzzer just to remain in the game.
Lowry's critical shot appeared to fuel the Raptors at the start of the fourth quarter, as they tied up the game with just under 10 minutes remaining. Toronto then took the lead at 76-75 with just five minutes left.
Brooklyn also helped out by missing almost everything from beyond the arc, as noted by John Schuhmann of NBA.com:
Nets started 3-for-4 from 3-point range. 0-for-19 since.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 19, 2014
However, Pierce ended this run with a three as the Nets scored seven points in a row to pull away. The veteran continued to hit huge shots in almost every possession down the stretch to keep Brooklyn in front, eventually ending with a seven-point win.
After the game, Pierce explained the enjoyment in the victory, via Rob Abruzzese of Brooklyn Eagle Sports:
Pierce: "It's fun going on the road and beating a team. I think it's more gratifying than winning at home."— Rob Abruzzese (@RobAbruzzese) April 19, 2014
Both squads will have two days of rest before taking the court for Game 2, which will also be played in Toronto, on Tuesday, April 22. Those days off are a big deal for the Nets, as their much older lineup could use as many days of rest as possible.
On the other hand, head coach Jason Kidd was proud of his team's depth heading into the series:
Kidd: "We're deeper than anyone in the playoffs." He reiterates that he won't tighten rotation.— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) April 19, 2014
Toronto proved in Game 1 that it has a tough team with excited fans, but it will need to find a way to finish out games. Otherwise, this will be a short series with the No. 6 seed winning easily.
If the Raptors cannot earn a win in Game 2, this series would pretty much be over, as the series heads back to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4.
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