If I knew, after a jittery Game 1 from the Toronto Raptors, that Landry Fields was going to play a reasonably prominent role in Game 2, I would have said that there was desperation in the air and dim prospects, to say the least, for the remainder of the series with the Brooklyn Nets.
Surprise! While “prominent” is painfully relative, Fields played 18 minutes and the Raptors used a 36-point fourth quarter to win 100-95 and even up the series. Fields’ action was his first since March 31 and while he didn’t shoot, he was active on defense and may have a role defending Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson going forward. If Fields’ rebirth was one of the tweaks that Dwane Casey and the Raptors staff implemented for Game 2, then I have to give them credit for that, because they looked a little more like a playoff team in that game.
Following a Game 1 that left me unconvinced that the Raptors would grit out any game in this series, they came back with an inspired effort behind a fourth quarter that I frankly didn’t think they were capable of. They gritted out the win behind DeMar DeRozan’s 17 fourth-quarter points. Really, they did everything that the Nets did in Game 1 that made me assume would pull out each game when it counted. I’m a little surprised that the Raptors were able to flip the script.
In my review of Game 1, I thought the most telling trend was the Nets ability to go on a run when the Raptors pulled close. The immediate 6-0 runs were like clockwork in that game, forcing the Raptors to need to continually counterpunch and making for some sloppy, turnover-laden offense. In Game 2, though, it was the Raptors that went on runs when the Nets closed the gap. The Raptors erased an early five-point deficit in the fourth quarter and answered at every turn, going on 6-0, 4-0, and 4-0 runs at points in the quarter when the Nets pulled near. These are hardly big runs, mind you, but it was exactly what the Nets did in Game 1 to salt things away.
And if I thought the moment was too big for DeRozan in Game 1, he certainly made up for things in this game. He made all six of his free throws in the final minute to seal the win. Earlier in the season he claimed that never being in the playoffs was wearing on him. He said he was willing to make any sacrifice to get there this season. Even though the start of his playoff career was woeful, this was redemption. It has to feel good.
But I don’t suddenly have warm feelings about this series for the Raptors now, either. I’ll admit, I thought it would be a contested but clear series for the Nets, perhaps ending in a sweep. I’m thrilled that they won and gave the rabid Toronto fans, and an over-aggressive Masai Ujiri, some hope, but the numbers still tell a pessimistic story.
I said in the last column that the offense was tight in Game 1 and it led to too many bad shots and turnovers. There were plenty of contested shots in Game 2 also, but DeRozan just happened to make them down the stretch. And the turnovers are still telling the story of a team that isn’t as equipped to handle playoff pressure as their opponent is. I said the Raptors would probably lose the turnover battle in every game of the series and they doubled up the Nets in Game 2, 20-10. Simply put, they aren’t going to win any more games in this series with that margin. Throw in the fact that the Raptors outrebounded the Nets by a 52-30 number (yes, a team can apparently be outrebounded by that much!) and I just can’t foresee whatever success they had being sustainable.
I really hate being a wet blanket on a tied series that elicits a lot of excitement from a starved fan base. I very much like this team and think they have a big time future. I have abandoned the thought of this franchise wallowing in competitive purgatory. The thought of Jonas Valanciunas’ first two career playoff games should be a source of great optimism for any Raptors observer. I just feel those wily veterans gave ‘em one, and now Pierce, Deron Williams, and Co. will refocus and take control. Unless of course Dwane Casey has even bigger plans for Landry Fields this week.