By: Daniel Reynolds
Game 1 was not a great look for the Raptors. DeRozan struggled, Amir struggled, even the shot clocks struggled. I’m not sure Terrence Ross was still on the team by the end. Valanciunas threw himself around (franchise playoff record 18 rebounds), but the team turnovers were bad. And momentum? Forget about it. Heading into Game 2, it was clear the Raptors would need to show that their offense wasn’t always going to resemble a newborn deer on ice. Skittish, slippery and unsure of itself.
To assist, I made my way to Game 2. I hadn’t been to a playoff game since the 2000-01 season, during that magical second round run. I went to every playoff game that year, a personal fact of history I still revel in to this day. But I’ll spare you the details. We all remember how that went down.
Regardless, the subway southbound was buzzing, Union Station exploding. Nothing could ruin the good vibes. Until I saw him. Yes, in the scrum right outside Gate 1, was Rob Ford. I won’t lie: this was not encouraging news. To me, Ford radiates bad mojo, the wrong kind of attention. He hijacks narratives and distracts attention. The tone of the night was now ominous.
Still, with our top row seats claimed, bedecked in our Northern Uprising T-shirts, I settled in with my pal Antonio. The anthems were sung.
Game 2 begins.
Game 2 started much the same way as Game 1, with the Raptors appearing overly jumpy and Brooklyn calmly making plays. The 8-1 opening score was not promising. The crowd was looking for a reason to cheer. And it still felt like the Nets’ collective inability to make shots was the only thing keeping the game close. Not a good sign.
Biggest takeaway from the quarter: the Jonas pump fake jumper is just not working. Seriously guy, when that ball swings to you either a) take the shot immediately, or b) make the pass. No one is leaping to block your jumper. They want you to shoot your jumper.
Like any wise fan knows, it is a marathon not a sprint. Somehow the Raptors eventually take a lead and end the quarter up two. I cheer with restraint.
The game continues with more ugly shooting. The Raptors’ 3-point game is non-existent. Then, a truly disquieting sight: Landry Fields checks into the game. Has someone on the bench died? Things go from bad to worse: Rob Ford is shown on the screen. Large cheer. I worry about the fate of the team AND the city. At this point, I am largely catatonic. And the Raptors, somehow, are still winning. Not even a Garnett technical and our first Drake appearance (complete with lint roller!) can rouse me from my anxiety.
Now, bear with me here for an old man aside.
We, as a society, need to say something about the incessant music currently being played during NBA games. I understand it during breaks in play, the demands to “Make Some Noise”, the chants of DEFENSE, etc. I can even make allowances for it, perhaps, during certain in-game moments (a jump ball, a slow inbound up the court). But right now the Raptors employ an in-house DJ and actually cut to him during the game to announce that he’s there. The music drones on and on during possessions. People, we don’t need a DJ at a basketball game. We need a basketball game at a basketball game. That’s the entertainment. The soundtrack should be us.
We convene on the concourse, and are joined by fellow contributor Dave “Game6ix” Osubronie. The discussion turns to the offense. What can be done? The Raptors are up by six but it looks and feels tenuous. A lot of rebounds and lucky plays are going our way and the Nets are just not making shots. Also, the Nets have been relentless in jumping out on the pick-and-roll to deny Lowry any kind of space. The long arms of Livingston and Johnson and the like are making it hard for him to turn the corner or make any kind of effective pass.
Meanwhile, DeRozan still hasn’t quite shown up. And Ross may as well be deceased. Bright sides: Amir is productive, Jonas is hanging tough (even with more turnovers!), and Fields hasn’t done anything embarrassing (yet). Still, I won’t lie, it got fairly gloomy. And that’s even before we notice the half-time show involving a lumpy middle aged couple magically changing clothes in the blink of an eye. Playoff basketball, everybody.
In disappointing fashion, the fans are slow to return to their seats and in the new found quiet of the arena the Nets press their advantage. The lead evaporates. Lowry is T-ed up. I write this down in my (digital) notepad: “Somehow 7 minutes pass without the Raps making a noteworthy play.” That’s verbatim. I was on the edge of my seat.
As if to just make the already angry Nets even angrier, the arena people choose now to run a montage of “Brooklyn’s Most Famous Athletes.” It’s a montage of random people hurting themselves doing physical activity, like an off-Broadway version of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I swear, couple this with Rob Ford, the lint roller, Jay-Z fondue jibes and “Fuck Brooklyn” and every bit of bad karma now feels stacked against us. Remarkably, immediately after this display, Lowry gets called for a, um, “discursion” (??) penalty during some Mason Plumlee free throws. I still have no idea what that infraction is and I just spent way too much time scouring the rule book to find out. It earns Plumlee an extra free throw, which he makes.
But they rebound! No, literally. There’s an inspiring sequence of offensive rebounding that reminds me the Raps still have a mega size and athleticism advantage over the Nets. They are down by five at this point. Joe Johnson still glumly goes about his business. The giant screen plays the Pacino speech from Any Given Sunday. Now that’s more like it, arena people. In response, the Raptors successfully run a pick-and-roll for an Amir layup. The heavens rejoice. The place is ready to explode.
The Raptors respond with two straight turnovers. Nets by two heading into the fourth.
It bears repeating: somehow – somehow – the Raptors are only down two to start the final quarter. I don’t want to sound overly incredulous here but my goodness they are not doing themselves any favours. We are impelled to make some noise, and the overused “Seven Nation Army” beat gets played. Alan Anderson, cast off former son of the Raptors, hits a 3-pointer. I should mention that the Raptors only managed to hit two 3-pointers all game. Yikes.
The costly turnovers continue but now, oh yes, now DeRozan has come to life; he throws down a dunk, draws some fouls… and then promptly upsets the momentum by getting called for a charge (and his fifth foul). Dwane Casey continues to troll us by putting Fields back in the game. No sightings at all of Hansborough, Hayes, Salmons or Nando. Short bench. This is probably prudent.
For all those who think basketball is a game that only comes down to the last two minutes, I suggest an analysis of this final quarter. What basketball actually is, is a game of moments and momentum. The trends set in this game (for the Raptors: lucky breaks, rebounding advantage, shaky offense; for the Nets: stout play calling, poor shot making, lack of front court size) are notions that develop and change as the game moves along. Suddenly, not immediately, you find yourself in the fourth quarter and wonder if these concepts will matter. Will the trends remain? Will something upset the balance of narrative?
Out of a time out, there is a bunch of standing around, some hopeless dribbling and then Greivis Vasquez throws up an awkward prayer that barely qualifies as a shot. It misses. The narrative holds fast. That’s, um, the beauty of basketball. Paul Pierce proceeds to stab Toronto in the heart with a timely 3-point play. I want to die. BUT THEN.
DeRozan checks back in. He’s got five fouls but he is ready to buck some goddamn trends. Two straight jumpers later I’m wondering if we can elect him mayor of the city. The arena people play “YMCA”. I’d complain but the Raptors are SOMEHOW up by 4. I don’t know how we got here. 2:10 left.
The final two minutes really beggar belief. I poured over my notes trying to make sense of what happened. Remember what I said earlier about trends and narrative? Sometimes – and this is where basketball is fun – the whole script gets flipped. We end up with a key Landry Fields steal, a soul crushing 3-point play by Pierce, and some serious questioning of the existence of God by me. Then, just then, when despair is ready to kill a nascent spirit, when the Raptors are clinging to a two point lead with less than 30 seconds to go, is when basketball will kiss you on the forehead and send you happily into your future. Pierce misses two wide open 3-pointers. Amir gets a dunk on an out-of-bounds play (the first in what feels like an eternity). And the Raptors win 100-95.
We didn’t cheer for the pizza but the confetti was probably a bit much. The series is tied 1-1. See you in Brooklyn.