Despite the incredible atmosphere and support, the Toronto Raptors couldn’t get enough minutes of good basketball, while the Brooklyn Nets kept their composure throughout the whole ordeal, getting most of their offense from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson who played to their strengths and made the most of the defensive mismatches in a 94-87 to claim a game 1 win and steal home court advantage.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan tried to do too much, and we saw nothing that resembled a structured, smart offense from the Raptors except for when they tried setting up Valanciunas for buckets on Kevin Garnett. The Lithuanian center had 17 points and 18 rebounds in a big playoff debut for him, but he wasn’t assertive or influential on defense, while the Raptors took the game in the wrong directions as it turned out.
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson might have been those leading the scoring, but the fourth quarter was about Paul Pierce. He finished with 15 points, including nine coming in the final quarter. He did most of his damage when Patrick Patterson was guarding him. Deron Williams finished with 24 points and Joe Johnson finished with the same amount as well, as the Nets did a good job of getting shots near or inside the paint, usually posting up on smaller defenders.
The Raptors were the chasers for most of the game, but they did get the lead (76-75) midway through the fourth quarter. Their bench, especially Greivis Vasquez (18 points) managed to change things up a bit, but it wasn’t enough to counter the awful shooting from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Lowry did score 22 points with 8 assists but took too many bad shots and DeRozan, who relies so heavily on his jumper, was 3-of-13 from the field, including 1-of-9 on jump shots.
It’s not like the Nets played the perfect game of basketball. They simply pushed the right buttons and got momentum in the right moments. Like that 18-2 run early in the game, and forcing the Raptors into bad shots whenever the game got close. Kevin Garnett looked embarrassing on offense, finishing with 5 points and held scoreless in the first half, but he did a decent enough job on Valanciunas and anyone else getting into the paint.
The Nets did do badly on 3-point shots, finishing with 4-of-24. That is tied for the fourth-lowest 3-point field goal percentage by a winning team in the playoffs in the last 25 seasons (16.7%), but those weren’t bad shots. Playing without a shot clock for most of the game the Nets played smart, slow and patient basketball, turning the ball over only 8 times and making the most of any weakness they happened to stumble upon.
Despite not having home court advantage, many saw the Nets as favorites going into the series. Experience goes a long way in the NBA, and the differences here are simply too great. The Nets didn’t shoot all that well but always seemed to be taking better shots than the wild ones we saw from DeRozan and Lowry, and if that dynamic doesn’t change, we’re going to see a quicker and shorter series than anyone anticipated.