Down 2-0 but not out, Nets look to prove doubters wrong
Series vs. Raptors continues Friday
When they showed up in Orlando, Florida for the NBA’s restart following a four-month pause due to the novel coronavirus, hardly anyone gave them a chance to maintain the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
But with a makeshift roster decimated by injuries and positive tests for COVID-19, Brooklyn thrived during its final eight regular-season games, going 5-3 and punching its second straight trip to the postseason.
Now that the Nets find themselves down two-games-to-none in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors, they’re looking forward to proving everyone wrong again.
That quest begins Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., in Game 3 at the league’s bubble site within the fanless confines of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
“We weren’t likely to be the seventh seed once seven of our players didn’t come down to the bubble,” Nets guard Garrett Temple noted after Wednesday’s heartbreaking 104-99 Game 2 loss to Toronto.
“We weren’t likely to beat the teams we beat down here in the bubble. We enjoy being underdogs. None of those stats mean anything to us. We’re going to come out and play the game that we know how to play and try to get a win on Friday.”
The Nets almost had one Wednesday evening.
After getting bombarded by the Raptors’ 3-point assault in Monday’s series-opening 134-110 rout, the Nets clamped down on defense and carried a six-point lead into the fourth quarter of Game 2.
Temple scored a playoff career-best 21 points, including 15 in the third quarter, but Brooklyn faltered down the stretch as Toronto outscored the Nets 30-19 over the final 12 minutes.
Despite the late collapse, the Nets had a chance to draw even in the final stages of regulation after Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot buried a 3-pointer with 39.8 seconds left to shave Toronto’s lead to 102-99.
The Brooklyn defense forced the Raptors into a 24-second violation on their ensuing trip, giving the Nets an opportunity to force overtime.
Following a timeout with 15 ticks left on the clock, Joe Harris took an inbounds pass and attempted an ill-fated handoff to Temple that wound up getting deflected by Raptors guard Kyle Lowery, who got the ball to teammate Norman Powell for a game-sealing dunk.
“I take blame on that, if you ask Joe he’ll say he takes blame,” said Temple. “On a handoff it takes two. We just have to complete it. There was nothing else that should have been done.”
Regardless of who was at fault, the result was the same.
The Nets must now win four of the final five games in the series to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Though that possibility might seem far-fetched at best, so has this entire Season 2.0 run for Brooklyn, which landed in Orlando without the services of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and several other notable contributors.
After seeing his team battle and almost the best the champs, interim head coach Jacque Vaughn intimated that the Nets must reset and reload ahead of a critical Game 3.
“We gotta embrace it and make the discomfort – make the 2-0 – seem like that it’s comfortable,” he said.
“You’ve got to embrace it, open up to the challenge of getting one game at a time. Our group will respond, we’ll watch film together again, we’ll make more adjustments. But a lot of good from today that can carry over to the remainder of the series.”
Fred VanVleet, who torched the Nets for 30 points in the opener, again led the Toronto attack with 24 points and 10 assists in Game 2.
“There is no situation we haven’t been in before,” VanVleet said of Toronto’s fourth-quarter comeback. “[The Nets] are a tough team and they are well-coached.”
Luwawu-Cabarrot finished with 17 points, LeVert added 16 points and 11 assists and Harris and Jarrett Allen each scored 14 for Brooklyn, which limited Toronto to 25 percent shooting from beyond the arc just two days after the Raptors hit a franchise playoff-record 22 3s in Game 1.
“I like the adjustments that we made,” said Vaughn. “I think it put us in the ballgame as a group. You look at the stats, they shot a low percentage. They shot a low percentage from three.
“So we made the adjustments that way,” he added. “We outrebounded them (46-44), had more assists (25-22) than them. So the adjustments we did make put us in a position to even be in the final minutes and seconds of a game against the defending champs.”
But being in a position to win isn’t the same as actually winning, and the Nets are quickly running out of chances to prove that their unquestioned resiliency will carry over into this playoff series.
“We gave ourselves a chance … and in the playoffs, that’s what you want to be able to do,” Temple said.
“So it’s tough to take, but we understand we can play with these guys and we’ll try to go get the next one.”
Nothing But Net: The Nets’ playoff chances took another hit Wednesday when Harris had to leave the NBA bubble in Orlando for what the team listed as a non-medical personal matter. Even if Harris is able to return quickly, he won’t be eligible to participate in the remainder of the series due to the league’s quarantine rules.
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