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Apr 25, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce (34) fouls Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) during the first quarter in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors: Reasons For Optimism Despite Losing Game 3

There is no denying that the Toronto Raptors were beaten fair and square by the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night at the Barclays Center.

However, I wouldn’t say the 102-98 result played out in a straight-forward manner and it certainly left the door open for the Raptors to feel good about their chances of evening up the series in Game 4.

For the third consecutive game, the Raptors — a team that hasn’t won a playoff game on the road since 2001 — turned the ball over way too much. They have now coughed up the rock 59 times in the series, leading to 50 points by the Nets.

I can assure you that is not a typing or calculation error, nor is it a typical formula for winning. Yet, somehow, the Raptors have managed to keep the scores close and even came away with a 100-95 victory in Game 2.

The Raptors also continued to fire and miss from beyond the arc in Game 3, connecting on seven of 22 attempts for a rate of 31.8 percent. Believe it or not, this was actually an improvement from Game 2 when they managed to drain a mere two 3-pointers in 16 tries.

CENTER OF ATTENTION

What has worked for the Raptors overall in this first-round series, though, is their ability to crash the boards to the tune of a 132-96 advantage.

Much of the credit for that discrepancy is due to the efforts of sophomore center Jonas Valanciunas. He alone has hauled in 42 rebounds over the course of the first three games.

Apr 25, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Mason Plumlee (1) defends Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) during the third quarter in game three of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Furthermore, according to a post on the Raptors’ Facebook page, Valanciunas became just the eighth player since 1986 to record a double-double in each of his first three playoff games, joining distinguished company that includes Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Paul Pierce.

BETTER STARTS

Another positive note for the Raptors is that they are showing steady signs of improvement to how they start games as the series goes on.

The jitters of a young and experienced team were certainly on display in Game 1 as they trailed 29-21 after 12 minutes of play.

In contrast, the Raptors held leads of 21-19 and 23-19 and the end of the first quarter in Game 2 and 3. This was especially encouraging in Game 3, considering they were playing on the road against a Brooklyn team that was eager to feed off the energy of the home crowd.

Led by Joe Johnson (29 points), Deron Williams (22 points) and Paul Pierce (18 points), the Nets took back control of the game and had the Raptors on the ropes several times, eventually building up a 90-75 lead with 5:43 remaining in the final frame.

With the way the Raptors had been playing for the second, third, and bulk of the fourth quarter, there was no indication that they would be able to make a game of it in the end and fans were understandably frustrated.

 

Indeed, the Raptors looked nothing like the team that turned the 2013-14 season around with a group of players who were committed to making the extra pass and finding the best shot available.

It also didn’t help that the Raptors couldn’t find any answers at the defensive end of the floor.

CAN’T GET ANY WORSE

The Raptors arguably hadn’t looked as bad all season as they did in the middle 24 minutes of the game. Over that time frame, they were out-muscled, outworked, and ultimately outscored 58-43, by no means a formula for success in the playoffs or really under any other circumstances.

Despite the vacation that the Raptors took for much of the game, they suddenly returned with a sense of purpose in the final five minutes.

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan — who scored a game-high 30 points just like he did in Game 2 — and Patrick Patterson saved their best basketball for the final moments.

Apr 19, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) reacts after hitting a three-pointer against the Brooklyn Nets in game one during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. The Nets beat the Raptors 94-87. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

However, there was somewhat of a caveat to Patterson’s 17-point night. After drawing a loose-ball foul underneath the Raptors’ basket following a missed free throw by Shaun Livingston, Patterson stepped up to the free throw line with 19 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game.

Excitement quickly turned to despair as Patterson failed to connect on either attempt, all but putting an end to a comeback that fell just short.

STAYING FOCUSED

For what it’s worth, the Raptors played gritty, tough, and focused basketball down the stretch of the game when they could have easily caved to a more experienced opponent. That the Raptors buckled down and outscored the Nets 23-12 over the last five-plus minutes should be as encouraging to Raptors fans as it is discouraging to Nets fans.

Somewhere in what transpired on Friday night lies a confidence booster for this young Raptors team. Taking into account some of the glaring issues on the stat sheet — most notably in the turnover department — the Raptors have still managed to make life difficult for the Nets despite their 2-1 series deficit.

The Raptors woke up too late in Game 3 to get the result they wanted, but if they can carry that momentum into Game 4, then there’s a chance that it’s not too late for them to get the result that they want in the series.

Tags: Toronto Raptors

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