The vast majority of the first round playoff series between the Toronto Raptors (3-3) and the Brooklyn Nets has been tightly contested and highly competitive. Game 6 at the Barclays Center on Friday night was neither of those things.
Back on their home floor with their backs against the wall, the Nets jumped out to an early double digit lead that the Raptors were never able to get back into single digits. Brooklyn held the visitors to just 38.5% shooting (30-78) en route to a 97-83 triumph to force a deciding Game 7 on Sunday.
Clearly in desperation mode, the Nets began the game on the attack ("they were throwing haymakers," said DeMar DeRozan after the game), pouring in 34 first quarter points after scoring 44 in the final 12 minutes of Game 5. The Raps showed some life in offering up a 14-2 fourth quarter run, but they had dug themselves too deep a hole by that point (ironically, they trailed by as many as 26) and even the comeback rally left them 10 points back, which was as close as they'd get.
Offensively, struggled to overcome an off-game by Kyle Lowry (11 points on 4-16 shooting, five fouls, four turnovers). While DeRozan stood out (more below), he received little scoring support from teammates. On the other side of the floor, Deron Williams overcame this poster to have his best game of the series, putting up 23 points on 8-16 shooting along with five rebounds and four assists.
Now comes a win-or-go-home Game 7 at the ACC on Sunday afternoon. The Raps will face the pressure of a wild home crowd and the expectations associated with having two opportunities to clinch the series, while Brooklyn is still contending with the weight of 'win-now' mode and how calamitous a first round playoff exit would be for this aging club.
It wasn't one of his best games, but it was a perfectly solid outing in which the club's regular season leading scorer posted 28 points on 8-18 shooting while continuing to produce from the free throw line (he was 10-11 on the night). DeRozan hasn't been performing at his highest level during the postseason (he's shooting just 38.1% in the playoffs, compared to 42.9% in the regular season), but he is finding ways to make his team better, most notably from the charity stripe (he is averaging four more free throws in the playoffs than in the regular season). Plus, it's not like there were many other positives to highlight on Friday night for the Raptors.
The Point Guard Battle
If Williams can outplay Lowry on Sunday in the same way that he handled the match-up during Game 6 on Friday, the Nets will very likely be off to Miami for a second round playoff date with the Heat. D-Will did well to put up his own big numbers while also making those around him better (Williams finished a game-high +25). Lowry, meanwhile, was the complete opposite, scoring a postseason-low 11 points while missing 12 shots and finishing with a game-worst plus/minus mark of -24.
When a team is fresh off surrendering 44 points in their most recent quarter played, you simply can't enter that next game unprepared. And yet, that's exactly what happened in the opening minutes of Game 6, as Brooklyn made 11 of their first 15 shots and the Raps reverted back to the same bewildered defensive team that couldn't get a stop late in Game 5.
The Game 6 celebrity rundown, 'A' list edition: Jay-Z and Beyonce in the house. 'B' list edition: Grey's Anatomy's Ellen Pompeo and Rosie O'Donnell also in the house.
Yeah, Andray Blatche... don't do that.
Is it possible that Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston could be keys to Sunday's deciding Game 7 for Brooklyn? Anderson started on Friday for the first time in the series, posting nine points and nine rebounds. The former Raptor seems to be able to adapt to whatever needs he can fill for his team. Livingston, meanwhile, hasn't had a standout series, but he could be forced into a bigger role depending on the status of Williams' injured right ankle. He does have the capacity to step up for Brooklyn.
Oh, you know - just your standard Game 7, the first deciding contest that the franchise has ever hosted and potentially the last game of a memorable Raptors' season (TSN, 1:00pm).