Toronto didn’t prevail, but its fourth-quarter performance in Friday night’s Game 3 loss to the Brooklyn Nets could serve as a building block for future late-game success. The Nets hung on to take the contest, earning a 2-1 series lead, but not before the Raptors rode an 18-4 run to turn the affair into a one-possession game toward the end. Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan managed 30 points, continually getting to the line as the Nets’ ancient defense often broke down.
It was Toronto’s defense through the first three quarters that did in the team. The Raptors were repeatedly victimized on routine pick-and-roll moves by the Nets, Deron Williams (22 points, eight assists) was allowed to dash into open spaces throughout the night, and when that move broke down, Brooklyn’s isolation game continued to be on point. Swingmen Joe Johnson (11-of-17 shooting, 29 points) and Paul Pierce (18 points on only nine shots) mixed pick-and-pop work with well-positioned one-on-one moves, as the Nets kept the younger Raptors at arm’s length.
Meanwhile, DeRozan received little support on the other end. The Raptors played better with Greivis Vasquez on the floor in a small backcourt, but he missed four of his six shots. Terrence Ross continues to be a no-show – he missed three of his four shots on Friday and has missed 10 of 12 total in the series – and though Kyle Lowry (15 points on nine shots) and Jonas Valanciunas (a double-double with two blocks) turned in solid performances, it wasn’t enough for the comeback win.
That said, Toronto was right there. The team has always played better from behind, and once the pressure was off deep into the fourth quarter the Raptors started moving better on both ends of the floor, nearly retaking the home-court advantage along the way. Brooklyn clearly has the edge in this series, just as long as Johnson and Pierce stay potent and set good screens, but the Raptors are more than capable of stealing Game 4 on Sunday, evening this series and heading back to Toronto with the home-court advantage.
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