Game 1 is officially in the books. The bad news, for fans of the Toronto Raptors at least, is that their team's first playoff action in six years resulted in a loss at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets. The good news is that we can finally stop talking about the Raptors' lack of playoff experience. They're here, they've played a game, what more do you need? I joke, of course, but it does seem to be a storyline that gets somewhat overemphasized, in my opinion. Onto the game, which wasn't pretty by any basketball standards, but to the credit of the Raptors' organization, the playoff atmosphere from a franchise perspective was on par with any game held south of the border. I'm not sure if it was worth the ridiculous ticket prices that I've heard through the grapevine, but it sure looked like a ruckus crowd having a dandy of a time. The contest itself was close throughout and ended with a final score of 94-87 in favour of the Nets.
So where did this game go wrong for the Raps?
Well, there were moments scattered throughout the game where it seemed as though the Raptors had enough momentum to pull away for the win on home court, but Brooklyn continually found some way or another to reciprocate every punch thrown their way. One of the reasons being an almost non-showing from the teams two longest-serving players, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson. As a result, Toronto just lacked the firepower to keep up with a team full of skilled veterans.
Johnson has been given a tough assignment in this series, being challenged to guard a much smaller Paul Pierce (likely Hall of Fame member someday), and it definitely seemed to be a mismatch favouring the Nets in today's game. Many have praised Amir this season for his versatility on defense, having had solid games guarding the likes of Kevin Durant and other stretch fours, and that praise is usually more than well-deserved. With that said, at some point there is too big of a speed advantage given up and it seems as though Pierce is an example of that tipping point. Granted, Pierce didn't torch the Raptors but he did lose Amir on screens fairly easily which forced the defense to collapse and he also drew Amir out of his comfort zone in the paint where he anchors Toronto's defence. This will be an interesting challenge for the Raptors' coaching staff to contemplate and hopefully make adjustments to in the coming games.
As for the other Raptors captain, DeMar DeRozan had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night on his playoff debut, going 3-of-13 from the floor. Had it not been for his effort to get to the free throw line, DeMar would've only finished with 6 points. There were instances of missing open looks, but for the most part, a pat on the back should be given to Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston for luring DeRozan into taking contested attempts. As a relatively small consolation, he didn't completely let his shooting funk ruin his impact entirely as he did manage to get to the line eight times and converted on all eight of his free throw attempts. This will pose as another opportunity for Dwane Casey to showcase his gamesmanship in trying to find different ways to get DeMar into space against the lengthy reach of Brooklyn's guards.
Lastly, for the negatives, Toronto fell victim to Brooklyn's defensive bread and butter of turning the ball over. On the year the Raptors have done a respectable job in terms of making smart decisions with the basketball but in today's game, whether it was the hectic atmosphere or playoff nerves, the Raps seemed careless and/or out of sorts on a number of occasions that led to turnovers. In total, the Raptors gave the ball up 17 times, which translated into 17 points off of turnovers for the Nets. Inexperienced or not, this is a death wish for a team looking to win a series and it will be a key area improvement heading into game two.
There were some positives to build on...
There's been a lot of talk leading up to this series about the lack of experience among Raptors players, and how that would play out against a team full of playoff regulars. Surprisingly, however, one of the biggest contributions for the Raps came from sophomore center Jonas Valanciunas. His impact could have been somewhat predicted given the advantage of facing a small-ball lineup, one that the Nets have favoured heavily for the second half of the season, but few would have guessed he'd play this well. On the night, Valanciunas recorded 17 points (7-of-13 shooting) and hauled in a franchise playoff record of 18 rebounds. His matchup against the 37-year old Kevin Garnett is a perfect representation of the experience versus inexperience storyline, and for today's game, it didn't seem like much of a disadvantage.
Overall, the point guard play was what kept this game close. Without the production of Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez, the Raptors may have very well been run out of the ACC. The two combined for 40 of the team's 87 points and also dished out 16 assists. Although Vasquez had a noticeably tough time guarding Deron Williams, his play on the offensive side of the ball mostly made up for it. In Lowry's case, and as has been the case for his entire 2013-14 season, Kyle played with an energy level of 110% and did all the little things to compliment his boxscore numbers. There were a number of fouls drawn on his part, including a technical on Garnett and two charges drawn. Hopefully, we can see these two sustain their form and have the rest of the team match their intensity for the remainder of the series.
Game two of this best-of-seven series is scheduled for Tuesday night at 7:30, and it will once again be held at the Air Canada Center. That will be a crucial game for Toronto to win as a second straight loss would make a comeback nearly impossible heading into Brooklyn. Until then it's back to the drawing board for your Toronto Raptors.
He may not have been part of the game thread but one of our visitors, munniec, posted a link to an Instagram video of the Raptors GM with some choice words for the Brooklyn Nets franchise.
(WARNING; by "choice words" I mean f-bombs unsuitable for children's ears.)