It's tempting to lean on the sunny truism that Game 3's 102-98 loss by the Toronto Raptors (1-2) offered a great learning experience and provided some encouraging signs for a club that came within two missed Patrick Patterson free throws of coming all the way back from a 15-point deficit with four minutes of game time remaining.
But for a Raptors squad that doesn't want to hear about the future and believes that it can win now, it's too late for learning experiences and encouraging signs. Friday night's game in Brooklyn represented a missed opportunity, a chance squandered away as Toronto's nerves got the better of them down the stretch.
That's not to say there weren't positives for the visitors, as they can feel pretty content in knowing that the Nets' Deron Williams (22 points on 7-14 shooting, eight assists) and Joe Johnson (29 points on 11-17 shooting) were better than any Raptor on the floor and, yet, Toronto's late charge kept the game in doubt just shy of the final buzzer. However, turnovers (19) and shooting droughts (the club made just 31 field goals on the night) dug the team a hole and Patterson crumbled under the pressure of the moment, costing the Raps a chance to climb out.
Toronto's loss aside, the game was a bit of an all-around dud. Sure, the comeback made for an exciting finish and there was some spirited, physical play, but 74 combined free throws stretched the game to nearly three hours in front of a jarringly quiet Barclays Center crowd.
Yes, I realize I just singled out Patterson for having cost his team a chance to tie the game by missing two freebies in the dying seconds, but he also served as Toronto's most consistent performer on a night where the Raptors lacked consistency. DeMar DeRozan posted his second straight 30-point night, but needed 22 shots in order to do so and is now averaging 35.7% shooting and four turnovers per game in the postseason. Meanwhile, Patterson collected 17 points on 6-7 shooting (including 3-4 from three-point range) and added five rebounds for an efficient effort off the bench. Though Patterson was responsible for the late free throw misses, he had a major hand in giving the Raps a chance to win, keying their rally with a pair of threes in their 18-4 run.
The SF Position
In plain speak, Terrence Ross has been a liability for the team during this playoff series. He played just over 21 minutes on Friday, the seventh-most on the Raptors, and still found a way to amass a club-worst plus/minus mark (-15) en route to missing three of his four shots and committing three turnovers. On the series, he is shooting 18.8% (3-16) with 10 points and six turnovers. In Game 2, his ineffectiveness was at least partially masked by Landry Fields' defensive prowess, but Fields was a non-factor in Game 3 as the Nets created open looks for Johnson and helped him secure 29 points on 17 shots, including 11 fourth quarter points.
Conventional wisdom would hold that it would be the aging Nets who begin to show signs of breaking down as the series progresses. But while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (nine shots and three shots, respectively) were surprisingly quiet on Friday night, the series seems to be taking a greater toll on the Raptors thus far. Amir Johnson entered the postseason banged up and continues to soldier on, even as he doesn't appear to be operating at 100%. Joining Johnson among the hobbled-but-active is Kyle Lowry, who had a rough night in Brooklyn that included a bruised knee, a bruised elbow and a busted open lip that required some stitches. Both men are expected to play on Sunday, but that's an awful lot of the club's heart and soul that may not be operating at full force going forward.
Yeah, I know. But just as the Nets can't seem to heed Jason Kidd's words about stepping up their fourth quarter defence (the Raps are averaging 31 fourth quarter points in the series), the Raps haven't figured out a way to respond to Dwane Casey's emphasis on protecting the ball. They've now committed 54 turnovers across three games (18 per).
How close have things been between these two teams this season? They have now met seven times since the 2013-14 campaign tipped off, with Toronto scoring 678 points to Brooklyn's 677.
In the battle of celebrity fans, Brooklyn went big with Rihanna sitting courtside, but the scene was fairly quiet otherwise ("The Wire" star Michael K Williams did player intro's and Jay-Z was apparently in the house somewhere). Neither Toronto nor NYC is a stranger to the pretty and famous, so it's surprising to see precious few Hollywood stars at the first three games (none of Drake, Rob Ford, Andrew Wiggins or Jimmy Goldstein count in that regard).
After his season is over, is someone going to have the guts to tell KG that it might be time to hang 'em up? Garnett has been reduced to little more than a glorified mascot role with this Nets team, playing 16 impact-less minutes and only standing out in emphatically grabbing a loose ball - well after the whistle sounded, I might add - in an over-the-top, showy manner to get what was a rather muted crowd amped up. The reality is that on a team that likes to go small despite solid big man depth (Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Collins - and that doesn't even include the injured Brook Lopez), the Nets no longer need KG.
The first 48-hour turn-around of the series sees Game 4 go down on Sunday night (TSN, 7:00pm).