Three-Pointers: DeMar DeRozan, Raptors hold off Nets to lock series at 1-1
Following a close loss in the final moments of Game 1, Toronto rallied behind 30 points and a pair of gutsy shots from DeMar DeRozan to take Game 2, 100-95, from Brooklyn in similar fashion. Five other Raptors -- including a resurgent Amir Johnson (16 points on 10 shots, nine rebounds, two blocks) and an unshakable Kyle Lowry (14 points, six assists, nine rebounds) -- scored in double figures to help tie the series at 1-1.
• DeMar DeRozan made up for lost time. The DeRozan of Game 1 was crowded, pressured and frustrated to inefficiency. The DeRozan of Game 2 was all of those things as well, but moved beyond them. In time DeRozan stabilized while working his way through a formidable Nets defense, progressing to the point that he gave the Raptors an invaluable source of fourth quarter scoring.
DeRozan had stumbled in that closing role at various points this season for all the reasons that developing players typically do. He overdribbled. He tried to do too much. He stepped outside himself. But on this occasion DeRozan's final remarks were more or less unimpeachable: 17 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter, including difficult makes and a flawless performance from the free throw line in the closing minutes. With that performance he punched a deadlocked series to a fitting tie, and by the same act avoided the 0-2 deficit heading to Brooklyn that would likely have marked Toronto's postseason downfall.
Instead, every remaining possession of every remaining quarter of every remaining game is up for grabs. Both teams have seen their offenses tripped up and their defenses broken down. Yet their errors have come in almost perfectly equal balance, leaving both games in this series to be decided in the final minute. DeRozan simply had the last laugh in Game 2 in the same way that Paul Pierce had in Game 1. Neither game-clinching performance was so emphatic as to extend beyond that particular contest, though in a series this close swinging the outcome of any one game will come to matter a great deal.
• The Nets very nearly took command of the series through live-ball turnovers. One of the perks of Brooklyn running weirdly constructed lineups of lanky, switchable defenders is the team-wide peskiness that results. Even without overcommitting, these Nets can bottle up ball handlers and take away passing lanes -- two avenues that so gently nudge opponents toward uncharacteristic turnovers.
In both games of this series the Raptors have fallen victim to that design. Consistent pressure on and around the ball has only fueled Toronto's desperation to score, in this case leading to 14 live-ball turnovers and 21 turnovers overall. Most worrisome of all: The Nets' starting lineup was able to turn the Raptors over on a quarter of their defensive possessions. They weren't merely getting stops but taking away the very opportunity to score.
It was through those means that Brooklyn subsisted in its driest spells. When shots weren't falling (a conspicuous trend for the Nets yet again), easier points were harvested in transition. When the offense jammed, the quick push following a turnover might pry loose a favorable matchup. If nothing else Brooklyn created a pivotal swing through which it might outscore Toronto, though that advantage would ultimately be mitigated by the Raptors' surge of offensive rebounding.
Even then the Nets were almost there -- just two points shy with a minute remaining. Had they pulled out the game this series would unquestionably be in their grasp. Instead we can see this matchup for what it truly is: A fair give-and-take hanging by the most delicate threads. May the best team win.
• Welcome back to the playoffs, Andrei Kirilenko. One of the more curious rotation decisions of Game 1 was Jason Kidd's complete omission of Kirilenko -- a valuable defender, cutter and rebounder who could turn a close game with hustle alone. On some level the decision was understandable; shooting at the forward positions would be a crucial tool in fully straining Toronto's defense throughout this series, and Kirilenko is neither a quality long-range shooter nor a willing one.
Kidd found some Game 2 playing time for Kirilenko on the wing, though, at the expense of Marcus Thornton. That individual defensive tradeoff more than justified the move, as Kirilenko blew up several attempted dribble hand-offs just by locking in to the action and jumping it at the perfect moment. By night's end Kirilenko had registered a team-high four steals in just under 20 minutes, along with a smooth drop-off assist to Kevin Garnett for an easy score and a few created baskets of his own. Kirilenko should be a solid rotation asset in this series if Kidd continues to give him the opportunity.
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