Terrence Ross started this. He’s having second thoughts.
“Everybody took it out of context and ran with it. But, whatever,” the sophomore forward said Thursday, pinned up against a wall outside the Raptors’ practice court after trying to slip away unnoticed.
A month ago, Ross – a goofy, borderline adorable presence on the team – did one of those Reddit chats that tend to catch famous people in a disastrously sharing mood.
“Who do you want as a first round matchup in the playoffs?” someone asked.
“I want Brooklyn, personally,” Ross replied.
This caught the irritated attention of Nets forward Andray Blatche.
“You better be careful what tree you bark up,” Blatche told the New York Daily News. “[I] don’t think that’s really what he meant or what he really, really wants.”
Ross was anxious to defuse the cautious biliousness that’s attaching itself to the looming Raptors-Nets series. Well, sort of.
“I said I wanted to have Brooklyn because of looking up to those guys when I was younger. Paul Pierce, KG [Kevin Garnett], Joe Johnson,” Ross said, chin buried in his shoulder. “I guess I did kind of ask for it.”
Yes, he did. Thank God someone did.
Over the last few days of the season, Brooklyn plainly blew its tanks in a race down the seeding depth chart designed to optimize playoff matchups. After going 34-17 in the calendar year, the Nets lost four of their last five games. On the final day of the season, they benched all five starters.
Though they could not have predicted exactly who they’d end up with, this was initially undertaken to avoid the Chicago Bulls, but was always likely to slot them with Toronto.
After their cynical bottoming out, the Nets made no effort to hide their pleasure.
“I like right where we are,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “A good place.”
Blatche was keeping his own counsel, or maybe just hoarding his mixed metaphors for future eruptions.
“I don’t know [if they wanted us]. Everybody says that. It would tick me off if that was the case,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “If they did, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.”
The Nets wished for it. That was clear a month ago, after the last meeting between these teams (an aggressive Nets win), when Pierce said with evident relish, “This could be the team we meet in the first round.”
There’s no other way to take this than as an insult. Yet, no one was willing to directly confront the Nets’ provocations.
“Good for them,” GM Masai Ujiri said. “I haven’t lost one second of sleep worrying about the Brooklyn Nets.”
By Ujiri’s urbane standards, that’s a slap. Urbanity is a deflationary linguistic currency in the NBA.
(He did later fall back on one of his favourite requests of Toronto fans, asking them to turn the Air Canada Centre into “a living hell” on Saturday’s Game 1. A quick thought on that: dynamite the bathrooms.)
“They can do what they want. [Ed. Note: They have] They can say what they want. [See earlier] At the end of the day, we have all the motivation – and that’s to win games,” said Kyle Lowry. Then he stared at the person who’d made the mistake of asking that question like he was trying to light them on fire with his mind.
Lowry at least seems in a brawling mood. Everyone else was anxious to keep their powder wet.
This is the point when you begin thinking about exploitable advantages. The Nets have all of them. With a roster padded out by experienced campaigners and future Hall of Famers, they’ll get all the calls, all the benefits of the doubt. Three days rest between games will suit their creaky core.
The Raptors’ only potential edge is in swagger.
The Nets finished strong, but only after stumbling into the season like a man in high heels. They’ve succumbed to the alluring tactical error of thinking a round ahead. Their entire raison d’être is cynical. They are not a team, in the organic sense. They are one monstrously rich dilettante’s construction.
By contrast, Toronto exists in a moment. And what a moment for this city and this country. It is shot through with the potential to seismically alter the sports landscape.
They should come in to this angry and crowing. They should expect to win, because they have the luxury of not needing to in order to justify their existence.
The Toronto Raptors should feel affronted by the assumptions of the Brooklyn Nets. If they want the entire country behind them, they can speed the process by telling us that.
Follow me on Twitter: @cathalkelly