The Brooklyn Nets have captured a 2-1 series edge following a 102-98 Game 4 victory over the Toronto Raptors Friday at the Barclays Center.
The Raptors were led by DeMar DeRozan, who went for a game-high 30 points. Patrick Patterson added 17 off the bench, and Jonas Valanciunas posted a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Key Player Grades: Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry, Point Guard
Toronto's emotional leader struggled against D-Will, going 4-of-9 from the field on the way to 15 points and just four assists.
And he didn't just have a hard time getting himself and his team going offensively. On the other end, Kyle Lowry tried to play physical D on the bigger Williams, but he fouled out and was routinely beaten off the dribble.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey even opted to put Lowry on non-threat Andrei Kirilenko a couple of times in an effort to hide him defensively.
As bad as he was, Lowry might have a built-in excuse for his bad game, though he's not likely to use it. He appeared to hurt himself on a drive in the first half but played through to the end of the game.
Casey said Lowry banged knees, had a knot on his elbow and a busted lip. "He's been in a 15-round bout, but he's going to be OK."— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) April 26, 2014
DeMar DeRozan, Shooting Guard/Small Forward
It took him quite a few shots to get to his 30 points, but you can't blame DeRozan for feeling like he had to carry the load on offense. As he wasn't getting much from his teammates, he hoisted up 22 attempts, making just eight.
You can question if he was doing too much, though. Not necessarily just with the amount of shots he took, but in the fact that the Raptors had him running the offense.
Former NBA assists leader Vasquez and Lowry, a damn fine point guard, both on court, yet DeRozan is handling ball on all plays. Why?— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) April 26, 2014
He already had enough pressure to score on one end and defend Johnson on the other. Putting the entire offense on him was a tough move to understand.
Jonas Valanciunas, Center
Toronto's biggest mismatch is undoubtedly at center, where Valanciunas has been dominant. That edge was neutralized Friday due to foul trouble.
He sat long stretches of the game due to five fouls but was still very effective when he was on the floor. He went for 10 rebounds and 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting.
The Raptors desperately need him on the floor if they want any shot to win this series.
Amir Johnson, Power Forward
As has been the case in most of this series, Amir Johnson was basically a non-factor in Game 3. He played 29 minutes and posted seven points and four rebounds.
Considering the super-small lineup Brooklyn plays—with Pierce at power forward—the 6'9" Johnson should be feasting.
Even if he's not getting touches within the offense, Johnson should be able to get a few buckets from offensive rebounds and putbacks.
Terrence Ross, Small Forward/Shooting Guard
Terrence Ross struggled even worse than Johnson. He played 22 minutes and struggled to do anything positive with his playing time. He went 1-of-4 from the field and turned the ball over three times.
Several Raptors worked through the postseason jitters after Game 1. Ross isn't one of them.
Patrick Patterson, Power Forward
Patterson did what he could to make up for the lack of impact Toronto's starting power forward had. He shot 6-of-7 from the field, scoring 17 points.
What he provides that really helps Toronto is floor spacing. Like Johnson, the 6'9" Patterson didn't do a great job of using his height advantage, but he has the perimeter game to make up for that. He hit 3-of-4 from three-point range and forced his defender to guard him outside the paint.
The only other reserve who got much time off the bench was Greivis Vasquez, who went 2-of-6 from the field for seven points. He also chipped in six assists.
Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough and John Salmons combined to go for seven points on 3-of-9 shooting
Key Player Grades: Brooklyn Nets
Deron Williams, Point Guard
Vintage, throwback, old-school. Whatever you want to call it, Williams played the kind of game that made him a superstar in Utah. He scored 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting and dished out eight assists.
Deron Williams wants to beat Kyle Lowry as much as I've seen him want to beat any player this side of Jeremy Lin in three years covering him— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) April 26, 2014
He was attacking all game long, putting a ton of pressure on Toronto's defense. One such drive came in the final minute of the game, when he drew a critical foul on Vasquez. When it looked like the Raptors might pull off a miracle comeback, Williams knew he needed to make a play.
If he plays with this kind of energy and mentality over the remainder of the series, Lowry and the Raptors could be in real trouble.
Another aggressive move for Deron Williams. Him in attack mode = good things for the Nets.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) April 25, 2014
Joe Johnson, Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Brooklyn's best scorer was giving it to the Raptors, particularly in the second half. His hot shooting in the third quarter helped the Nets build up to a 15-point lead. He finished the game with 29 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Johnson is a matchup nightmare for Toronto. Against smaller defenders, he can dominate in the post. When the Raptors put someone bigger on him, he used his slow, controlled drives to get to his spots. Either way, his runners and floaters were on point. And when his jumper's falling too—which it was—Johnson's a top-notch scorer.
Joe Johnson's floater game has been unreal in this series. Smooth as can be.— Beckley Mason (@BeckleyMason) April 26, 2014
Paul Pierce, Power Forward/Small Forward
Down the stretch, Williams and Shaun Livingston missed some critical free throws that would've sealed the game for the Nets.
When the lead dwindled all the way down to two, Pierce went to the line with a chance to make it a two-possession game with under 20 seconds left. He drilled both.
All game long, he played with steel nerves, hitting several shots when Brooklyn needed them in the worst way.
He finished the game with 18 points on 5-of-9 from the field and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line.
Shaun Livingston, Shooting Guard/Point Guard
Ever since he was inserted into the starting lineup, Livingston's been an X-factor for the Nets. That just hasn't really been the case in this series.
He did a good job in the rebound and assist departments, posting six and four, but his overall game was limited by foul trouble.
In 29 minutes, he went 1-of-3 for three points.
Kevin Garnett, Center/Power Forward
Kevin Garnett played just 16 minutes and managed to foul out in the process. He scored two points on 1-of-3 shooting to go along with four rebounds and three assists.
He's horribly outmatched in this series against Valanciunas, who's dominated every time the two are head-to-head.
Andray Blatche, Center/Power Forward
With Garnett spending a lot of time on the bench due to fouls and age, Brooklyn needs backup big men Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee to pull their weight.
Friday, Blatche did just that. He scored 12 points on just three shot attempts, thanks to his going 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.
The rest of Brooklyn's bench went just 6-of-18 for 16 points.
Plumlee was limited by foul trouble, and Marcus Thornton was limited by, well, something.
Marcus Thornton with some majestic airballs.— Eddy Rivera (@erivera7) April 26, 2014
With Brooklyn's age, the bench may need to have bigger games if the Nets get past the Raptors and advance later in the playoffs.
The Raptors could really use bigger games out of starters Johnson and Ross going forward. Contributions from them would go a long way toward relieving DeRozan of some pressure.
For the Nets, play down the stretch has to be better. They managed to get a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter and almost coughed it up. The veteran team is supposed to be the one that rises in those situations.
Game 4 will be Sunday in Brooklyn at 7 p.m. ET.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.