Since arriving at Disney World in Orlando in early July, the shorthanded Nets proved their resiliency and toughness with a 5-3 performance in the seeding games. But the loss of Joe Harris, who left for personal reasons, was one blow too many for the Nets to absorb as they saw the air begin to leak out of their “bubble” in a 117-92 Game 3 loss to the defending NBA champion Raptors on Friday afternoon.
The Raptors put together a 23-6 fourth-quarter run to eliminate all doubt and take a 110-81 lead on consecutive three-pointers by Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry before coach Nick Nurse called off the dogs with 5:23 left and replaced his starters. The Nets trail the first-round playoff series, 3-0, and will elimination in Game 4 on Sunday evening.
No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win in playoff history, and the Nets hardly are equipped to become the first. But coach Jacque Vaughn said it’s important for them to maintain their standards in Game 4.
“I hope our group accepts that challenge,” he said in a postgame video conference with reporters. “This is an unprecedented time. I didn’t think I would be talking to you through a video cam with a mask on. I hope our group embraces the now, the moment that they’re in. We don’t know what this thing is going to look like a month, a year, two years from now. We can embrace this time, and you never know what happens if you win one game.”
Tyler Johnson, who replaced Harris in the starting lineup, responded by leading the Nets with 23 points, Caris LeVert added 15, and Chris Chiozza scored 14. Center Jarrett Allen had 17 rebounds, but he scored only four points while failing to record a field-goal attempt. The Nets shot only 33.3% from the field (30-for-90).
Pascal Siakam paced the Raptors with 26 points, VanVleet scored 22, including a 6-for-10 performance from three-point range, Serge Ibaka added 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Lowry had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Not surprisingly, the Nets’ lack of firepower without the long-range shooting and the driving of Harris was evident early as the Raptors jumped out to a 16-5 lead and led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter.
Describing the impact Harris’ absence had on the Nets’ offense, LeVert said. “When Joe’s out there, you have to keep an eye on him, so, the court was a little more spread out and [Allen] got a lot more easy looks at the rim. I got a couple more easy looks. Tyler took advantage of his opportunities for open shots, but when Joe’s out there, it’s a different game.”
The Nets were outscored in the paint by a whopping 46-22 margin. Vaughn said it was his plan to shoot 50 three-pointers, but they made only 16 of a Nets playoff-record 51 attempts (31.4%), while the Raptors hit 47.4% from three-point range (18-for-38). The Nets never got closer than nine points in the second half.
But Johnson expressed confidence in the Nets to show their trademark toughness in Game 4. “We’ve been shorthanded since we’ve been in the bubble, and I’m pretty sure we shocked some people by winning five games down the stretch,” he said. “We have so much turmoil in the country, we have so much craziness surrounding politics. We’re just fortunate and blessed to be able to put on a uniform and play basketball. We’ve got to show in this next game that we’re going to leave it all out there on the floor. It’s not up to anybody else. It’s up to us.”