For the first time in their playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets the Toronto Raptors have the lead. They won game 5 115-113, taking the 3-2 edge in the showdown, mostly thanks to Kyle Lowry leading them all through the game and especially to stop the collapse in the fourth quarter and secure victory.
The Raptors held a 21 points lead early in the fourth but their offense went completely numb for a long time, mostly with Jonas Valanciunas on the bench for some reason. The Nets tied the game at 101 after a Joe Johnson 3-pointer with 3:16 left on the clock. The teams traded shots until Kyle Lowry, with a three-pointer and a big hook shot over Deron Williams gave them a five point lead, but the Nets managed to come back to a one point game again (113-112) with less than 10 seconds left.
The Raptors hit two free throws (DeMar Derozan) and then sent Andray Blatche to the line. Blatche made the first but purposely missed the second. He grabbed the offensive rebound but then made a weird decision to kick the ball outside, wildly missing Deron Williams, resulting in a half court violation and time expiring. You expect a team with that much experience to keep something of a cool head in the final moments of a big game.
Lowry has been having problems with the bigger Deron Williams in the series, but game 5 completely changed the look of their in-game rivalry. Lowry scored 36 points, hitting 6-of-9 from beyond the arc in what is undoubtedly the biggest game of his career. Trick shots, clutch 3’s – anything you would have thought of, Lowry made the right play. Lowry is averaging five more points per game than Williams in the series, while shooting a lot better from the field and beyond the arc.
The point guard wasn’t alone in the huge game and eventually close win for the Raptors, as DeRozan continued his struggled from the field but made up for them by being excellent from the line (12-of-13) to finish with 23 points. Valanciunas wasn’t flawless, but he did score 16 points and dominance paved the way for building the big leads. Amir Johnson was excellent defensively and the lineups that included Greivis Vasquez (15 points) usually looked a lot better than anything the Nets put on the floor.
Brooklyn are far from over in the series. Despite going down by one game, this team has shown all through this season that it’s never wise to disregard them. But there are problems. Williams hasn’t been dominating Lowry after the first three games, and there’s the Boston twosome. Joe Johnson led the team with 30 points and Mirza Teletovic had some huge moments off the bench with 17 points and a +31 during his minutes. But Paul Pierce was terrible on both ends of the floor, and Kevin Garnett looks like someone who shouldn’t be starting for anyone at the moment.
It’s been a very long time since the Raptors have won a playoff series, and they’re one win away from it now. The fourth quarter stagnation showed that this team has its ups and downs during games, but if they remain on the path and course, which means playing quickly on offense instead of long, tedious half court possessions, while attacking the Nets’ weaknesses in the paint, they are probably the better team.