Raptors pull away in fourth quarter to beat Nets, tie series at 2-2
The most pressure-packed moments of playoff basketball, when the legs get heavy and the palms sweaty, seem to suit those young Toronto Raptors just fine.
Instead, it’s the veteran Brooklyn Nets who are fizzling at the finish.
DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points, Kyle Lowry added 22, and the Raptors beat the Nets 87-79 on Sunday night to even their Eastern Conference first-round series at two games apiece.
When a fourth-quarter rally fell just short in Game 3, the Raptors just shook it off and handled the final period even better this time.
"That’s just us, man," DeRozan said. "We’re definitely resilient. We’re never going to give up until the game’s over."
Amir Johnson had 17 points for the Raptors, who started fast, gave up all of a 17-point lead, then shut the Nets down over the final 5 minutes to snap a 13-game road losing streak in the playoffs that went back 13 years.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Toronto, with the series now guaranteed a return to Brooklyn on Friday for Game 6.
Paul Pierce scored 22 points for the Nets, who were 3 for 17 in the fourth quarter and didn’t have a field goal after Pierce’s basket with 6:13 left gave them a 77-73 lead.
It was baffling for a team that assembled a star-studded roster that will cost more than $180 million in salaries and taxes for a shot at a title, and now faces a huge fight just to get out of the first round.
"You get in a playoff situation, one guy, or two or three guys, wants to do it on their own instead of just running our offense, executing. And I think we got caught up into that," said Pierce, adding that the Nets were rushing and pressing.
Kevin Garnett had 10 points for the Nets, but Joe Johnson and Deron Williams were mostly non-factors in getting outplayed by Toronto’s backcourt. Johnson had only seven points on seven shots after averaging 23.7 points in the first three games, and Williams was 4 of 12 for his 10.
Pierce nearly carried the Nets without them, but Toronto put it together down the stretch to pull it out.
Garnett gave the Nets their last lead with two free throws with 4:58 left, but DeRozan made two free throws before Greivis Vasquez made a 3-pointer for an 83-79 advantage. The Nets had a series of offensive fouls along with their missed shots, and Lowry made a high-arching basket over Garnett with 1:13 to go before closing it out with a pair of free throws.
"This is where we should be at our best, those late-game situations," Williams said. "We’ve been there before. They’re a younger team that doesn’t have as much proper experience, but they ain’t playing like it."
Lowry bounced back nicely after the Nets banged him around in their Game 3 victory. He was still sore Sunday and a couple other Raptors were hurting beforehand but probably feeling a lot less pain by the time they went home.
"We’re really nicked up right now, so it was huge courage, really courageous by those guys," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.
Toronto nearly came from 15 down in the final 5 minutes to win Friday, and carried that momentum into a quick start Sunday.
The Raptors scored a franchise playoff-record 35 points in the first quarter, then managed just 32 combined in the second and third as the Nets surged ahead with a 22-4 run.
The Raptors were 4 for 21 in the third, but then turned to their defense down the stretch for their first road victory in the postseason since winning at Philadelphia in Game 1 of the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Now they won’t need to win on the road again, with home-court advantage back in their favor.
"That’s our team," Lowry said. "We’ve got a full team of guys who just want to win."
The Raptors scored the first six points during a 13-2 start, extended it to 33-18 after five straight points by Amir Johnson, and were ahead 35-22 after one.
The lead grew to 47-30 after DeRozan scored eight straight Toronto points, but Lowry picked up his third foul and had to go to the bench with the Raptors leading 47-34, and Brooklyn cut it to 51-44 at the break.
Pierce opened the second with a 3-pointer and a layup. After Shaun Livingston’s free throw, Garnett added another basket to make it 52-51, giving Brooklyn its first lead.
The game was tied at 67 after three.
Notes: Actor Michael K. Williams, a Brooklyn native, announced the Nets’ starting lineups again. He began by saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, there is no room in the NBA for Donald Sterling."