One day after the Bucks and Lakers, the top seeds in the East and West, were upset in their playoff openers, the Nets were on the verge of springing yet another upset over the defending NBA champion Raptors in Game 2 of their first-round series Wednesday afternoon at Disney World in Orlando. But after taking a six-point lead to the final period, the Nets went ice-cold at the offensive end, shooting 7 of 20 in the quarter as the Raptors came back to secure a 104-99 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
The Raptors opened the fourth period with a 19-5 run to build their biggest lead at 93-85. Despite their cold-shooting, the Nets hung tough as Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot buried a three-pointer with 39.8 seconds left to cut their deficit to 102-99. The Nets forced a shot clock turnover by the Raptors with 15 seconds left. Garrett Temple inbounded to Joe Harris, who tried to hand it back to a cutting Temple. He lost the handle, leading to a clinching dunk by the Raptors’ Norman Powell.
Describing that critical play, Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said, “We got the ball in the hands of our shooter. Good defense by Kyle Lowry. The ball was intended for Joe; it got to Joe.”
Temple led the Nets with a playoff career-high of 21 points, including 15 of their 27 second-quarter points as they grabbed a 53-50 halftime lead. But when Harris tried to hand the ball to Temple, it slipped from his grip, rolled down Temple’s leg and his diving attempt to regain possession was thwarted by Powell.
“I take the blame on that,” Temple said. “If you ask Joe, he’ll say he takes the blame. We just have to complete it.”
Luwawu-Cabarrot added 17 points for the Nets, Harris and Jarrett Allen each had 14 points and 15 rebounds, and Caris LeVert totaled 16 points but had a miserable 5-for-22 shooting effort that contributed to the Nets 38.8% from the field. Fred VanVleet topped the Raptors with 24 points and 10 assists, Powell added 24 points, Lowry had 21 points and nine assists, and Pascal Siakam scored 19.
Coming off a 24-point Game 1 loss in which the Raptors shot 50% from three-point range, including an 8-for-10 performance by VanVleet, the Nets made the necessary adjustments to get off to a fast start, scoring on eight of their first 12 possessions of the game to build a 26-12 lead, including two threes by Luwawu-Cabarrot, who moved into the starting lineup after a 26-point effort in Game 1.
But the Raptors responded with a 13-0 run, including a pair of threes from Powell to cut their deficit to one. The Nets had a late one-point lead late in the third when Temple hit back-to-back threes to start a 9-3 burst that gave them an 80-74 lead heading to the final period.
That’s where the Nets’ shooting failed them as the Raptors took control by concentrating on getting to the rim. They outscored the Nets in the paint by an 18-6 margin during the final period.
“They got into our paint, and they were able to finish,” Vaughn said. “We had to take the ball out, which slowed our pace a little bit. We did have a few good shots, good looks that didn’t go in for us.”
Coming back from a 0-2 deficit against the champs is a tall order, but Vaughn took solace from how well the Nets adjusted in Game 2. “Anyone watching these past two games felt our team — the energy, the effort, their hard play, their togetherness, never doubting each other, being extremely resilient. Definitely proud of that group. We put ourselves in a position to win a ballgame, so, that’s all you can ask.”