I think that a measure of brevity is necessary in this playoff write-up. I’m simply not in the mood to rehash the very strong feeling that I had before this series about how everything would play out. The whole series has been a predictable exercise in nerves, inexperience, and one-dimensional offense. Game 3 was another inefficient effort, even if their flurry at the end provided some excitement that at least I certainly didn’t see coming.
Now that the Toronto Raptors are down 2-1, Game 4 has to be a must. Let’s analyze a few things that they will have to do differently to potentially make this a series again. I’ve already made my pessimism well known, but it isn’t like the Raptors aren’t doing some good things.
Please find Jonas Valanciunas. I’m asking: For the third time in three games, Valanciunas got off to a hot start and, more importantly, the rest of the guys were looking to feed him. When he’s been aggressive, he’s been unstoppable in this series. Yes, there was a foul trouble excuse in Game 3, but Valanciunas was 3-for-3 six minutes into the game and finished 4-for-4. I’ve said it all year and I have no problem saying it when the stakes are even higher: that isn’t OK and I’m not sure how it’s possible. I have to assume that they know it; it is possible that the whole thing gets a little lost in the shuffle and when the coaching staff looks at the stat sheet after the game they are all after each other wondering how such a thing could have happened.
Watching it was maddening. Too often Valanciunas would roll to the basket with his arms obviously extended, open and in great position to take advantage of the small Nets frontcourt. Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan just couldn’t find him. Then on the other end you would see Deron Williams seeing those opportunities and making those plays. I love DeRozan, but he is trying too hard to take over this series. That was obvious in Game 3.
Joe Johnson is abusing smaller Raptors: Joe Johnson isn’t an overly quick slasher or playmaker. But he’s strong like a bull and can shoot. He looks like prime Shaq out there against DeRozan and Terrence Ross. They look like a much younger, weaker sibling trying to guard him in the driveway. Johnson is averaging 24 points in the three games on 60 percent shooting. The idea of Landry Fields was a cute little story in Game 2, but he hardly put up any resistance in Game 3. If Johnson can be just as adept behind the arc as he has been in the paint (17 of his 26 field goals), it is going to be more of the same for the Raptors, and that’s pessimism.
Quit channeling you inner Rudy Gay, Mr. DeRozan: Perhaps with Terrence Ross’s struggles and some foul trouble from Valanciunas, DeRozan feels like he needs to do the majority of the scoring for the Raptors. But even with back-to-back 30 point games, DeRozan is looking a little bit like Rudy Gay’s black hole out there. I’m not going to nitpick, because they need him to go big, but it would be nice if he waited for Valanciunas a little more often.
As I said, this was going to be a brief little write-up. If my excitement gets juiced a little bit, maybe by a 20 shot Valanciunas outburst in a big Raptors win, I will reconvene in a fun narrative that screams optimism. To say the least, I’m not feeling great about it. Heck, maybe they just need to put Valanciunas on Joe Johnson. It’s not like Kevin Garnett is going to have a renaissance.