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:
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:
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):
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:
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:
He had to make up for the rest of his teammates doing very little, including veteran Kevin Garnett:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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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