In what was the best first half that the Toronto Raptors could have hoped for, DeMar DeRozan picked up where he left off in each of the last two games with 20 points. Despite the foul trouble that limited Kyle Lowry, the Atlantic Division champs led the Brooklyn Nets by as much as 17 points on their way to beginning the third quarter with a 51-44 edge.
But as the third frame progressed, Toronto’s lead evaporated due in large part to the team shooting an unbelievably horrible 19 percent from the field, and after a stellar first-half, even DeRozan went quiet and couldn’t buy a bucket.
Within the mostly ineffective one-on-one offenses that both the Raptors and Nets continued to lean on, veteran Paul Pierce used a combination of screens, backdoor cuts and crafty head fakes to cut through Toronto’s defense, and was a constant headache for the visitors whether he was scoring or not.
As the contest reached the fourth quarter with the score locked at 67, a sloppy affair ensued and left both teams looking less than worthy of their current positions in the playoffs. But with Brooklyn’s inability to capitalize upon Toronto’s mistakes, it was only a matter of time before the Raptors found a way to tie the series.
Through the first three games, the well-rounded play of lead reserve Greivis Vasquez has been key for Toronto and a blessing considering the offensive struggles currently plaguing Terrence Ross. Fortunately for the Raptors, Vasquez brought his trademark intensity to Brooklyn on Sunday night, and with just over four minutes remaining in regulation, the relentless guard nailed his only 3-pointer of the game to put Toronto up for good, finishing with nine points, nine assists, and six rebounds in 35 minutes of action.
In the end, the duo of DeRozan and Lowry proved too much for the mighty Nets to handle, and although both shot under 50 percent from the floor, they totalled 46 points and sparked Toronto’s offensive engine.
Noticeably absent during the victory, Ross may have finally played his way out of favor with head coach Dwane Casey after failing to do much of anything offensively through the first three games. And while he remained in the starting lineup, the struggling sophomore failed to score a single point in 14 minutes.
In another unpleasant development, Jonas Valanciunas turned in his worst performance of the playoffs with just six points, six rebounds and two blocks, but Amir Johnson saved the day by providing the Raptors with a dependable force in the paint. Physical, frustrating and generally not too pretty, Sunday’s victory contained everything that has made this series so intriguing, and it’s games like this that have become commonplace between the Atlantic Division rivals.
On Sunday night however, the Raptors claimed their first win in the war of the turnovers, equalled their opponents on the boards, and held the Nets to just 41.2 percent from the floor and 20 percent from long-range while overcoming their own awful shooting, which is exactly what playoff teams do.