After falling behind by 26 points late in the third quarter of Game 5, the Nets easily could have called it a day and relinquished the series. The Raptors acted like a team already in the second round, and then the Nets made a furious comeback.
Despite losing Game 5, the Nets created enough momentum to carry this series home. The Raptors emerged from a Game 5 win talking like a team that had just lost. They could have viewed the win as a win and moved on to Game 6. They didn’t, however.
They sounded scared, they looked scared, and in Game 6 in front of a surprisingly sparse Brooklyn crowd, the Raptors played scared. The Nets jumped ahead by double digits just seven minutes into the game and blew off the Raptors’ doors. The Nets won, 97-83.
While Dwayne Casey exuded a certain swagger every team needs to see from its navigator, DeMar DeRozan sounded like a player whose team is in over its head. Paul Pierce basically agreed.
“We didn’t really realize that we had Brooklyn against the wall, and we didn’t really take advantage of it,” said DeRozan, who carried the Raptors with 28 points. “We should’ve known they were going to come out throwing haymakers, and we weren’t ready for it until the second half.”
“We’re going to go into a hostile environment, win or go home,” Paul Pierce said. “These are the situations I love, I love to be in, and I love our chances.”
Be it age, immaturity, or the massive disparity in payroll, the Raptors looked like an underdog. The varsity trampled the junior varsity, and the Raptors are facing tall odds despite heading home for a Game 7.
“To listen to some of this, we might as well not play Game 7,” Casey said in response to a critical barrage from reporters. “Every game is different ... and I know our team will bounce back.
“Now the next game we know what to expect in the first quarter, but we should have known it tonight,” Casey added.
If they did not realize the enormity of the stakes, then the Nets have the young Raptors right where they want them. Casey tried to send calming waves over the situation, but future Hall of Famers will not be intimidated by a loud crowd. Buckets, and not the cheers, will decide who wins.
“I was concerned,” Casey said about his team’s prospects heading into Game 6.
The raucous Canadian crowd will not attempt one shot, and the fans won’t affect the team’s rotations after a Joe Johnson double-team. They will not play the kind of factor for which the Raptors are hoping. A strong portion of empty seats littered the Barclays Center’s lower bowl, and that served no role in the final decision.
The Nets’ offense simply runs too smoothly. When the Nets defend, they are virtually unbeatable. They played intense defense on Friday night, and the Raptors struggled to even get open shots much less make baskets. Toronto limped into halftime with just 14 made field goals, and the Raptors stopped receiving all those foul calls that had changed the pace of the earlier games.
“I think just the tempo all night was great for us,” Pierce added. “It was unselfish basketball.”
The Raptors played better in the second half, but the outcome was no longer in doubt. To the Nets, the outcome has already been decided. Will the pressure follow them to Air Canada Centre?
“This is what the NBA’s all about,” Pierce said through a smile.