Loading articles...

Raptors swaggering into Game 3 in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Nets' Paul Pierce, left, and Toronto Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas dive for the ball during first half NBA basketball playoff action in Toronto on April 19, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Seriously, how great is this? The first two games of the Raps-Nets series weren’t pretty, but it’s been a ton of fun to watch these two teams scrap back and forth over the past six days.

Friday night’s Game 3 has massive implications for both clubs, and after the Raptors’ players and coaches effectively counterpunched after the Nets’ game one haymaker, it’ll be fascinating to see how things unfold tonight. Well, maybe not “fascinating,” but you get the idea.

What the Raptors have going for them:

Windex: The Raps have absolutely owned the Nets on the glass. Couple Jason Kidd’s penchant for smaller lineups featuring Paul Pierce at the four and reserve big man Mason Plumlee’s poor rebounding with the fact the Raptors’ bigs aren’t exactly of the plodding variety, and it isn’t surprising that Toronto has pulled down 30 more boards than the Nets so early in the series. That being said, the Raps weren’t able to truly take advantage in Game 2. Despite a out-rebounding Brooklyn 52-30 and pulling down 19 offensive boards, the two teams were even in second-chance points — netting 16 apiece.

His name is… Averaging 16 and 16 in what has been a historically good start to his NBA playoff career, Jonas Valanciunas is building off his strong play down closing stretch of the regular season and turning in his best basketball in a Raps’ uniform. It’s been great to see a concerted effort to establish him on offence early in games, and the aggression with which he’s attacked the glass has been awesome, but he has to take better care of the ball as he’s already given up 11 turnovers. While he’s still fairly green by NBA standards, Valanciunas has a lifetime of experience playing big games in pressure-packed environments with the Lithuanian team. The stage may be bigger, but the script remains the same and JV knows his lines.

Swagger: Winning really does change everything. Even though they played long stretches of ugly basketball over the past two games, the Raptors enter the Barclays Center tonight with a ton of confidence. Just ask Greivis Vazquez:

This group likes being the underdog, which they still very much are. Playing in enemy territory should only fuel that. If they can find the right balance between keeping their emotions in check and unleashing them, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry & Co. will make sure this thing comes down to the wire.
What the Nets have going for them:

Half-court hoedown: The Raptors could run all over the Nets, but they haven’t. Instead they’ve played to Brooklyn’s strengths by submitting to a half-court game that heavily favours the Nets in the long run. Part of it is the pressures and realities of playoff basketball, where teams tend to tighten up and coaches change their approach, but Brooklyn is also making a conscious effort — captained by Deron Williams and the Nets’ ball-handlers — to maintain a pace they’re comfortable with so they don’t get lured into a track meet.

Pouncing: The Raptors have seemed incapable of hanging onto the ball thus far, committing 20 turnovers per game (way up from their regular season average of 14.1). Though some of that has come from avoidable miscues, credit Brooklyn’s defense as well. More importantly, the Nets are taking advantage of those flubs, scoring 17 points per game off those turnovers.

Shaun Livingston: The Nets stars will get theirs, sure, but Livingston’s length and skill created problems for the Raptors throughout Game 2, particularly down the stretch, when he hit a number of key shots near the hoop. Yes, it’s hard for a defender to sag off an all star or future Hall of Famer, but Livingston demands respect from the Raptors’ coaching staff.

Player to watch is Andrei Kirilenko: After watching Game 1 from the bench, Kirilenko had himself an impactful night on Tuesday, recording four steals in 20 minutes. He might not be a make-or-break type of guy for this Nets team, but his length and defence match up favourably against the Raps’ frontcourt, and his ability to guard multiple positions can disrupt Toronto’s gameplan on offense. Like Livingston, the Raptors can’t sleep on AK-47.

Click here for an infographic of the series at a glance.