Before Friday night's Game 6, buy some stock in an antacid company. Doesn't matter which one. It'll be a sound investment.
The way this team wins games -- the way they lose games, even -- makes me feel like I need to consume an entire factory's worth of Rolaids or Tums to quell the stress-induced indigestion. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Nothing comes easy for this team. Nothing. Wins are never routine, and commendably, as illustrated by the near-comeback in Game 3, losses aren't either. While this must be riveting for the neutral, good lord is it ever stressful for fans of this team.
Last night the Raps came alarmingly close to blowing a 26-point lead, and adding the newest and most painful chapter to the sad tome that is the Raps' tortured NBA existence. They came close to writing that chapter, but unlike that early season game in Golden State, and unlike the Grizzlies who blew a similar lead two seasons ago to the Clippers -- a game I felt like I was watching again last night -- the Raps held on. Barely.
In the grand scheme of things, holding on is really all that matters. Winning Game 5 was critical. The Raps achieved what they set out to achieve, and now have two shots to close out the series. But boy oh boy, did they ever make me want to puke in the process.
Of course -- and this was the narrative that every deadline writer was initially cueing up -- through three quarters the Raps played one of the best games in franchise history. No hyperbole, they were great. The team was literally firing on all cylinders. They shot over, or close to, 50% from the field for most of the game, went 12-26 from beyond the arc, and finally did a great job of taking care of the basketball. The ball movement was exceptional, and they seemed to make a concerted effort to play an inside-out game, opening up heaps of space for the perimeter guys
By contrast, aside from Joe Johnson, the Nets were a hot mess of a team through three quarters. They turned the ball over, received very little from their backcourt (credit to the Raps defenders there), and got beaten-up on the glass.
With the game tied 40-40, the Raps blew the proverbial door off, ending the half on a 26-4 run (and a Kyle Lowry buzzer-beating 3), to lead 62-46. Lowry had 21 of his 36 points in the first half. He was amazing from start to finish. The Raps held the Nets at bay in the 3rd, and although Joe Johnson ominously got in rhythm, scoring 18 points in the quarter, the teams were still separated by 22 points entering the fourth.
Well, and then the Nets scored 44 freakin' points in the fourth quarter, and the ACC experienced a collective bowel movement.
It's tough to understand exactly why the Raps imploded so badly in the fourth quarter, except that Johnson continued to score -- he absolutely bullied DeRozan in the post -- and Raps either failed to close out on the Nets' shooters, or closed out on them over-aggresively, fouling the likes of Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson as they drained 3s.
The Raps resembled that frog sitting in the saucepan of water on a stove, slowly being boiled alive. Before they knew what was up, it was a 10-point game, then a 5-point game, then a 3-point game. And then good old, 7-time All-Star, Iso-Joe tied it up with a 3-pointer.
That aforementioned Joe Johnson 3-pointer capped off a 32-8 run by the Nets, and tied the game at 101-101. Free-thows from DeRozan, and a big 3 from Greivis Vasquez gave the Raps some temporary relief, before Teletovic nailed a wide-open 3 to tie the game up again, 106-106.
It was time to jump out of that boiling water. Kyle Lowry time.
If there were any lingering doubts about Lowry's right knee, and his overall health, those were vanquished last night. Lowry's jumper looked great, and he was explosive off the dribble all night long. With the game on the line, he hit a massive 3, and on the next Raps possession, drove and scored in the lane to put the team up, 111-108.
After DeRozan extended that lead to 5 at the free-throw line, Amir Johnson fouled Anderson as he made a 3, because, you know, NOTHING COMES EASY WITH THE TORONTO RAPTORS. One point game.
More free-throws from DeMar, and the Raps were up by 3 with 6 seconds left. Casey made the smart decision to foul the not-so-smart Andray Blatche, who was unable to hand the ball off to Joe Johnson quick enough after the inbounds pass. Blatche missed his second free-throw, the Nets rebounded the basketball, but Andray threw the ball into back-court, over Deron Williams' head. Thank goodness for Andray Blatche.
With one second left the Raps had just time enough to give everyone in the arena another heart attack, throwing the inbounds pass into the backcourt towards their own basket, just daring the Nets to pick it off and tie the game. But that was just a test to see if we were all still awake...or alive.
Rob Ford picked a weird night to stop drinking.
Additional Game Notes
- That Kyle Lowry performance -- 36 points, on 11-17 shooting, with 6 assists -- has got to be up there with the greatest Raptors playoff performances ever. Just sensational.
- Major kudos to Greivis Vasquez, who's been fantastic throughout these playoffs. I've criticized him in the past for his sometimes questionable shot-selection, but the Raps have needed every one of his points off the bench. That 3 at the end of the game was huge.
- Terrence Ross had his best game of the series, which still wasn't great, but it was something. If he can somehow get that 3-pointer falling consistently, it opens up so much for the Raps on offense. The Nets don't even guard him half the time anymore.
- Breaking: Joe Johnson is still a major problem for the Raps. No one on this team can really guard him, but the Raps might just have to live with him scoring, rather than invite the 3-point barrage that comes with doubling.
- Sorry buddy, now is NOT the time for your sloppy romantic advances.
- Patrick Patterson looked off last night. He seemed reluctant to shoot the ball, even when he was open. On one particular play he passed off a wide-open corner 3, giving the ball to Ross at the end of the shot-clock, who was forced to jack up a much tougher shot.
- Casey kept Chuck Hayes in the game way too long in the 4th quarter. It was baffling.
- Yep, these playoffs have been BONKERS.