EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—The Toronto Raptors are talking about their return to the playoffs as a learning experience—and the Nets sure are teaching them a lesson.
Vince Carter scored 27 points, Richard Jefferson added 23, and the Nets took a 3-1 lead over the Atlantic Division champions Sunday night with a 102-81 victory—their second-biggest ever in a playoff game.
Two nights after never trailing and leading by as much as 21, New Jersey was behind for all of 15 seconds in this one and was ahead by 33 at one point.
“When you jump on a team, your goal is to continue to attack and take them out of it,” Carter said.
Jason Kidd added 17 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds for New Jersey, which can advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a victory in Game 5 on Tuesday night. If the Raptors win that one, Game 6 would be back in New Jersey on Friday.
Toronto’s first postseason since 2002 is shaping up as a short one. Teams taking 3-1 leads in series have won 158 and lost only eight.
“We got it handed to us. It was tough for everybody in the organization,” Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. “I told all the guys this is where you grow. You can’t focus on how bad it was. You’ve got to focus on what you’re going to learn. It’s a waste to play this way and not learn anything from it.”
Andrea Bargnani scored 16 points for the Raptors, who have lost eight straight road playoff games since beating Philadelphia on May 6, 2001, in Game 1 of Eastern Conference semifinals.
Kidd, who missed practice on the eve of Game 3 with a sore knee that Mitchell doesn’t seem to believe he had, sat the entire fourth quarter. That’s probably all that prevented him from a second straight triple-double, leaving him with 10 in the postseason, tied with Larry Bird for second on the career list.
The Nets punished the Raptors with their fast break in the first three games, outscoring them 49-25. New Jersey did its damage from the 3-point line Sunday, making a franchise playoff-record 14 in 27 attempts. Carter and Kidd each made five.
“We’re going to have to find a way to try to stop Jason and Vince,” Raptors forward Chris Bosh said. “Vince, he’s come out aggressive in both games. It is tough, they’re both All-Stars, they’re both great players, so we’re going to have to find a way to try to stop them.”
The first round in the East is looking like a brief one. Detroit and Chicago both swept their series, and Cleveland is up 3-0 on Washington in the other.
New Jersey, which rolled into the postseason with 10 wins in its last 13 games, is doing its part to keep up. The Nets took home-court advantage by winning Game 1, and never gave the Raptors any hope of regaining it this weekend.
“We did what we are supposed to do,” Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. “We were able to get home-court advantage by winning in Toronto. Once you have it, you have to win both games at home. We took another step closer, yet it only gets harder from here.”
After three straight poor starts, Mitchell inserted Bargnani into the starting lineup in place of Joey Graham—even though Bargnani, the No. 1 draft pick, hadn’t been playing well, either, since returning from a 14-game absence after an appendectomy late in the regular season. He shot only 5-of-18 in the first three games of the series.
But he opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, giving the Raptors their first— and only—lead in the last two games. Jefferson made one 15 seconds later, and it wasn’t long before the Nets blew it open.
Carter shot 6-of-8 and had 15 points—as many as the Raptors—as New Jersey led by 17 after one. The Nets were up 31-19 after one quarter of Game 3.
“We just we felt that if we can get off to a good start and put some pressure on them that they might start to panic a little bit,” Kidd said.
The Raptors are averaging just 18.3 points in the first quarter.
New Jersey led by 21 in the second before the Raptors closed to 47-36 on Bargnani’s jumper with 3:47 remaining. Kidd answered with consecutive 3s, pushing the lead back to 17, and the Nets were ahead 56-37 at the half.
Jefferson ensured there would be no comeback, scoring 16 points in the third. The Nets shot 65 percent in the quarter and opened an 86-56 bulge after three.
Bosh had 13 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 5-of-12 in another shaky game at Continental Airlines Arena. He came in averaging 12.3 points and making 34 percent of his shots in Toronto’s first three games here, all losses.
New Jersey’s most lopsided postseason victory was a 107-83 rout of New York on April 17, 2004. … Kidd is averaging 13.8 points, 13.5 assists and 11.3 rebounds, keeping him on pace to become the first player to average a triple-double for a playoff series since he did it against Boston in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals. … The Nets are 3-0 against Atlantic Division teams in the playoff since Kidd arrived, beating Boston twice and New York once.