The conventional wisdom before the first round series between the Toronto Raptors (2-2) and Brooklyn Nets began held that the older Nets would benefit the added rest allowed by the series' stretched out schedule. But in a gutsy 87-79 Game 4 triumph by Toronto, it was the Raps who left it all on the floor with the knowledge that a two-day break awaited.
A hobbled Kyle Lowry was, as he so often seems to be, the impetus of everything that the Raptors did. Battling a laundry list of physical ailments, he pushed through 34 minutes of floor time, posting 22 points on 7-17 shooting, four rebound and a game-best +14 while also getting the better of counterpart Deron Williams (10 points on 4-12 shooting, including 0-5 shooting from deep and five turnovers).
Lowry's work on Williams was part of the standout defence that saved the game - and quite possibly the series - for Toronto. The two teams entered the final quarter tied, but with Brooklyn holding all the momentum after having snuffed out what was once a 17-point Raptor lead. From there, the visitors held their hosts to just 12 points, hounding them into some poor shooting and a bunch of turnovers (more on that later).
With the win, the Raptors' first playoff road victory since 2001, this tough, physical series becomes a best of three. Wednesday night in Toronto could be something special.
The Bash(ed) Brothers
In the aftermath of Sunday's game, Lowry was asked by Rod Black if there was any part of him that wasn't hurting at the moment, to which the point guard quickly replied, "my heart". You can forgive Lowry for being a little corny in the moment, given how he and fellow injured reserve would-be Amir Johnson had just willed their way through an incredible fourth quarter performance on whatever gas they had in them. While Lowry provided the offensive spark, Johnson overcame some lingering ankle issues to absolutely hound the Nets in the dying minutes.
Fourth Quarter D
Even in light of a successful campaign in which tough team defence was a calling card for the Raptors, the team's D never looked as locked in as it did in the fourth quarter of Game 4. On the road against a momentum-riding Nets side that was looking to dig the Raps a deep 3-1 hole, Toronto held its ground in impressive fashion, holding Brooklyn to 3-17 (17.6%) shooting and forcing six turnovers. Sunday served as the high point of what has been a consistent strength of the team through four games: getting fourth quarter stops.
We all knew that Lowry was going to play on Sunday night so long as he still had a pulse, but the game raised a troubling question: what would've happened if he couldn't go? Sixty three of the team's 87 points came from the trio of Lowry, Johnson and DeMar DeRozan (24 points on 7-19 shooting and 9-11 from the line). Meanwhile, the rest of the Raptors managed just 24 points on 10-28 shooting. While Terrence Ross' playoff struggles have been well documented (he missed his only shot in 14 minutes on the floor), 60% of Toronto's bench (Chuck Hayes, Steve Novak and John Salmons) went scoreless on the night (0-5 shooting).
For anyone who thinks that the Donald Sterling has no business owning an NBA team, the leak of this recording has to be considered great news. His 'alleged' comments in which he warned a supposed mistress against bringing black people to sit in his seats for Clippers games claimed no victims beyond himself (I don't think Magic Johnson is losing any sleep over being slighted by Sterling). Instead, the tape made public what has been an open secret among NBA types for a long time (can you even call it an open secret when he reached a settlement on a lawsuit that held that he had discriminated against black and Hispanic tenants in his apartment complexes?), forcing action to be taken against a league-wide embarrassment. The question becomes what that action will be. In what is commissioner Adam Silver's first true test in his new role, he will have to balance First Amendment concerns (does the NBA have the right to force Sterling to sell his franchise based on something he's said?) with the public pressure to get rid of what currently looms as a black mark against the NBA. Still, how great has it been to see league heavyweights, particularly LeBron James, speak out against Sterling?
This isn't a rivalry thing, this is simply calling a spade a spade: the Barclays Center crowds of Games 3 and 4 were awful. There were consistently swaths of visibly open seats and there was no point at which the crowd could be considered 'raucous'. Where was that Brooklyn crowd that Kevin Garnett promised, the crowd that supposedly wouldn't take kindly to Masai Ujiri's "F@$% Brooklyn" comment? There were way more Raptor supporters in Brooklyn than there were Nets backers in Toronto.
Want to see a truly raucous crowd? Tune in on Wednesday night for a critical Game 5 at the ACC (TSN, 8:00pm).