Nets unshaken by Game 1 loss to Raptors
Brooklyn eager to draw even with Toronto on Wednesday
The defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors delivered a sinus-clearing punch in the nose to the Brooklyn Nets in the opening game of their first-round playoff series in Orlando, Florida on Monday afternoon.
But it wasn’t a knockout blow by any means.
“I think you give Toronto credit,” Nets interim head coach Jacque Vaughn readily ceded after the Raptors’ 134-110 rout of Brooklyn kicked off the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals within the fanless confines of the ESPN Sports Complex.
“They are champions and have played on the big stage before and seemed like they were trying to deliver an early message to the group,” added Vaughn. “I did like the way our group responded after halftime and accepted that first punch from Toronto, and the rounds will continue.”
Round 2 is Wednesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., when the Nets will try to draw even and remind the Raptors that they won’t be walked over after battling to hold onto the seventh seed in the East despite a makeshift restart roster that was decimated by injuries and positive tests for COVID-19.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, one of Brooklyn’s heroes during their surprising 5-3 run through the eight-game regular-season run-up to the playoffs, led the Nets with a career high-tying 26 points in Game 1.
Caris LeVert amassed 15 points and 15 assists despite a poor shooting performance, Joe Harris added 19 points and Jarrett Allen finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Nets, who fell behind by as many as 33 points in the first half before outscoring Toronto, 35-22, in a bounce-back third quarter.
“It’s going to be a long series, we know that,” LeVert insisted after going 5-of-14 from the floor and missing both of his shots from 3-point range.
“We’re not thinking too hard or too long about one game, but there’s definitely things we can take into Game 2 that we learned from today. Things that will make our job a lot easier out there on the court. We just gotta go out there and do those things.”
Fred VanVleet spearheaded a sharp-shooting Toronto attack with 30 points and 11 assists, including an eye-popping 8-for-10 performance from beyond the arc.
Serge Ibaka contributed 22 points off the bench and Pascal Siakam added 18 points and 11 assists for the Raptors, who played brilliantly in their first postseason contest since topping the Golden State Warriors in the clinching Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals.
“I thought we hyped ourselves up,” VanVleet said after burying nearly half of Toronto’s franchise playoff-record 22 3-pointers. “I thought this is the most locked in we’ve been all year. It felt like guys were amped up and energized.
“Having won one [title], it kind of puts you at a peace throughout the year, and now it’s time to kick it into gear,” he added. “I thought we were pretty engaged. I loved our energy, our attentiveness and focus. That’s all you can ask for.”
Harris, who made 8-of-14 shots, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range, believes the Nets learned enough from the humbling loss to find their way back into the series Wednesday.
“It’s an adjustment for everybody down here, but at the end of the day, the level of basketball we play — I wouldn’t say it’s drastically different from what we’re used to, but everyone’s locked in,” he noted.
“We’re focused. This is all we have to do down here is prepare to play against the Raptors right now. Everybody’s locked in. We watch a considerable amount of film. We don’t have a ton of distractions. Not a lot of other stuff going on.”
Counted out before they even showed up in Orlando for Season 2.0, the Nets have already proven how resilient they can be in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
They’ll have to begin doing so again Wednesday against the reigning champs.
“So I know the rest of the games when we come in we know the type of mentality that we have to play with on offense,” said LeVert after the Nets fell behind quickly and never came close to catching the Raptors in Game 1.
“And defensively, play with more force because they’ll kind of turn their backs a bit and think about what they were doing. The first quarter they were just coming off freebies making shots, feel like they were just warm-up practice shots. So we can’t play that way.”
If they do, they won’t be playing much longer.
Nothing But Net: Monday’s series opener was the first playoff meeting between the Nets and Raptors since Brooklyn stunned Toronto in the opening round of the 2014 postseason with a thrilling 104-103 Game 7 triumph, highlighted by Paul Pierce’s game-saving block on Kyle Lowry. Lowry is the only player on either roster remaining from that memorable series. He had a solid game with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists Monday. … The Nets were without replacement signee Jamal Crawford in Game 1 as the 40-year-old veteran sat out with a left hamstring strain suffered soon after he joined Brooklyn in Orlando last month. “We’ll continue to assess him and see where he’s at, but he is progressing toward getting back on the floor,” Vaughn said of Crawford prior to the series opener. … Game 3 is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., on Friday.
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