The first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs has already seen some crazy finishes involving everything from four-point plays and buzzer-beaters. The end of Game 5 between the No. 3 seed Toronto Raptors and No. 6 seed Brooklyn Nets nearly qualified as an entirely different level of insane, because it almost featured one of the biggest mistakes in NBA history.
With six seconds left in regulation and the Raptors up 115-112, the Nets inbounded to big man Andray Blatche intending to set up a potential game-tying shot. However, the Raptors intelligently fouled Blatche with his back turned to the basket, ensuring that he could not force up a shot for three free throws and forcing him into either missing the second shot intentionally or having the Nets execute a miracle play on their next possession with no timeouts to move the ball into the frontcourt.
Blatche hit the first free throw and missed the second, apparently by accident. Luckily for the Nets, Shaun Livingston swooped in to grab the rebound and quickly tap the ball out to Blatche, giving the team several options with approximately 4.3 seconds on the clock.
That's when everything got really weird (video via The Brooklyn Game):
To recap, Blatche looked to Deron Williams on the perimeter but airmailed the pass ... by a lot. Williams chased it down in the backcourt, hoping that referees would determine that Kyle Lowry had deflected Blatche's pass. Williams then launched a prayer from about 60 feet, only for Jonas Valanciunas to block the ball a few feet in front of the rim — quite obviously on its way down — in the manner of Russell Westbrook and other players with a distaste for seeing the ball go through the rim even when it doesn't count. Essentially, the second-year center risked a catastrophic goaltending violation that would have won the game for the Nets and gone down as one of the biggest mental errors in NBA history.
Luckily for him and the entire city of Toronto, video showed that Blatche's pass was not tipped — he would be identified as the game's goat, not Valanciunas. Referees put a full second back on the clock, and DeMar DeRozan dribbled out the clock to finish off a 115-113 win that gives the Raptors a 3-2 series lead.
The Raptors probably never should have let the game go down to the final seconds. A 26-4 run to close the first half helped Toronto open up a 62-44 lead that appeared to put them in control. The half ended on this amazing buzzer-beater by point guard Kyle Lowry:
The Raptors only added to that margin in the third quarter and held a 22-point advantage with 11:22 remaining in the fourth. They seemed to have the win sewn up.
The Nets decided otherwise, powering back with a brilliant fourth-quarter offensive display. Scoring 44 points overall in the period (a new franchise playoff record), Brooklyn went on a 29-7 run to tie the game at 101-101 on a Joe Johnson 3-pointer with 3:18 remaining and again at 106-106 with a Mirza Teletovic triple at the 1:23 mark. In a development that no one could have predicted last offseason, the Nets' crunch-time lineup included Teletovic, Blatche and Alan Anderson, but not Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, neither of whom played in the fourth quarter. Jason Kidd's decision to sit both players made sense, given the context of the game, but it was unexpected nonetheless.
Ultimately, the Nets couldn't complete the comeback because they had no answer for Lowry. After Johnson's 3-pointer tied the game for the first time at 101-101, Lowry scored seven of Toronto's final 14 points to complete a terrific line of 36 points (11-of-19 FG, 6-of-9 3FG), six assists and one turnover. It was the biggest performance of what's been a breakout campaign for the eight-year veteran, who has blossomed from a promising but erratic young player into one of the league's best two-way players.
By averting disaster and getting a fair bit of luck in the form of Blatche's awful pass, the Raptors now head to Brooklyn — after the Nets have called out their fans for being too quiet — for Friday's Game 6 with a chance to close out the series and move on face the Miami Heat in the second round. Given how the postseason has gone so far, it's probably best not to make any assumptions.
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