Raptors should fear themselves, not Brooklyn

Michael Grange breaks down what went wrong and right for the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 in addition to the anger surrounding the officiating so far in the series.

Brooklyn — His coach said he’d been in a prize fight, and Kyle Lowry looked the part.

Lip puffed up and bleeding, a trailer full of ice to go with him to the hotel.

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“He’s got a sore knee, a knot on his elbow, a busted lip. He’s been in a 15-round bout,” said Dwane Casey. “But he’s going to be OK.”

The Toronto Raptors will too.

A few meters down the hallway was the man himself. Lowry’s lip was still oozing even after getting a stitch. He swore his knee, which he visibly limping on, was fine. But the hard-nosed point guard relished his coach’s description.

“That’s a great analogy right there,” he said as the temperature began to cool after a heated 102-98 loss by the Toronto Raptors to the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.

The young Raptors playoff mission is a work in progress, undertaken with blindfolds on and in the dark. There will be snafus. There have been already.

There were plenty in Game 3, which leaves them trailing the series 2-1 before Game 4 here Sunday night.

But it was hard to attribute many to the crowd or the opposition or the environment.

Friday night in the eerie black-and-white lair of the Brooklyn Nets was supposed to be another trap for Toronto. In the wake of Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri’s F-bomb taunt prior to Game 1 Nets veteran Garnett put the word out for the hit:

“I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn,” Garnett sneered after the Raptors Game 2 win.

So they approached with trepidation, but no fear. “We went in here tonight thinking we would win this game,” said Lowry. “And I think we’re going to win on Sunday too.”

It’s getting harder to argue against them. The Raptors haven’t played well yet – they made another 19 turnovers to push their three-game total to 59. They shot just 7-of-22 from the three point line and are now 17-of-61 for the series, or 28 per cent. They are getting absolutely nothing from their two guard, Terrence Ross, who was invisible again Friday and all the more conspicuous for it because his counterpart, the Nets 13-year veteran Joe Johnson, scored a very easy looking 29 points.

It stands to reason that a little improvement in any or all of those areas could put the Raptors in position to return to Toronto for Game 5 on Wednesday tied 2-2.

It was shortcomings in all areas that saw the Raptors allow the game slowly slip away from the before scratching and clawing their way back in.

That they were down by 15 points with just less than six minutes to play can’t be overlooked. That they came back can’t be ignored either.

When the game was at it’s tightest the Raptors argued that officiating – which is emerging as a theme in the series, from the Raptors point of view – was the real difference maker.

If there was a call that stood out it was a foul by Greivis Vasquez on a driving Deron Williams with 47 second left and Toronto down four that drew the shrillest complaints. Not only because the foul seemed arguable, but because Vasquez got hit with a phantom technical foul on top of it.

“I like my money but I have to look at the tape,” said Casey, who raspy voice belied an evening of working for calls from the sidelines that never came. “Those type of calls broke our back. They were the difference in the game.”

But the Raptors were holding the pen on their autopsy report. As bad as the Williams call was, he went on to miss three of the five free throws he took in the final minute. He opened the door.

Meanwhile DeMar DeRozan was put on the line twice and made all three – he got to the line 15 times on the night, making 13 on his way to another 30-point game, albeit on 7-of-22 shooting.

With all of that the Raptors had a chance to tie the game with 19 seconds left after Patrick Patterson got the benefit of the doubt on a loose ball situation. He wasted an otherwise outstanding evening – he finished with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting – by missing both.

“The first big free throws I have ever missed in my life like that, unfortunately,” he said “Unfortunately it sucks, but all I can do is look forward to the next opportunity.”

It comes Sunday night and it’s clear now that the Raptors have a chance to change the nature of the series.

From a distance the Nets moving to Brooklyn from New Jersey last year was supposed to be about a concentration of Jay-Z inspired cool in New York’s overlooked borough, as the home of Prospect Park and Flatbush Avenue and the curving, art installation called the Barclays Center was a step up from a from lifeless East Rutherford, New Jersey.

It was supposed to be a franchise with street cred.

The only catch was that it wasn’t all that dangerous feeling. At all. The crowd arrived late, and armed only with glow sticks. Once in a while they piped up with a slow ‘Brooklyn’ chant. But the rest of the time?

It wasn’t even Friday night at the ACC rowdy and there was only a hint of the energy that crackled through the ACC in Games 1 and 2. Toronto can relax: they do this playoff basketball atmosphere very well. I’m confident the few hundred souls who braved a cold damp night at Maple Leaf Square had more edge.

The result aside, the Raptors know now they can come into the belly of the not-so-beastly beast and live to tell about it. If they play their cards right they can even brag about it.

“I love the way our team is playing,” said Casey. “This team tried to throw haymakers at us and we did a good job of staying in the game. … I love our resolve, they never give up, they never give in. They give everything.”

The Raptors have their issues. They need to protect the ball. They need something out of their two guard spot, but they can take heart in this: When Kevin Garnett was warning about the risks of coming to Brooklyn, he wasn’t threatening; he was pleading for a home crowd response that never really came.

The Raptors have nothing to fear but fear itself, and in not-so-scary Brooklyn there is not even that. If they’re going to be dragged into a fight, they just need to come out and land the first blow.

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