Midway through the second quarter of Friday night’s game, the camera focused in on Drake sitting alongside the Raptors. His face was thrown up on the big screen.
They turned on a Jay-Z track. These two friends have started a G-rated mix-tape war since the beginning of this series. Hip hop’s elder statesman was seated 50 feet away, alongside the Nets bench, looking only half-interested while sucking up all the oxygen in the room.
Back up on the screen, they superimposed a Brooklyn jersey on Toronto’s painfully involved booster. The crowd began to jeer delightedly. It was the aural high point of the night.
Drake didn’t want to look up. But he eventually did, annoyed. Then he did it again. And again. By the third tilt of his head, he was visibly infuriated.
That was the most emotion shown in the vicinity of the Toronto bench all night.
“They did an unbelievable job of forcing their will tonight,” Toronto’s Kyle Lowry said flatly after a 97-83 loss. “[We] have to find a way to match that intensity.”
How, someone asked.
“By matching it.”
Well, hey, that sounds like a solid plan. Or something.
You stood there waiting for something from Toronto’s emotional centre, some word of defiance or encouragement. Instead, he was planted in ‘never too high, never too low’ mode. Regular-season mode.
He was back to one of his favourite lines: “We’ve got to protect home. Home won’t protect us.”
It’s a great idea, but you have to play like you mean the words. All around the post-game room, no one looked terribly concerned.
During the third quarter of Game 5, it looked as though this series was over.
Five quarters later, it still looks that way, but through a mirror darkly. The Raptors have been outscored 141-107 by the Nets over that time. More important, they have been comprehensively outworked. They are sleepwalking their way into oblivion.
They are suddenly being beaten under the rim. They’ve stopped making shots. They have most disastrously given up on defence.
By the end of Friday night, they were beyond bailing. A few of them looked like they were rooting around inside the boat for life jackets.
There was some small store of defiance from Toronto coach Dwane Casey afterward. He is not a rager. He’s a slow boiler. The intensity of his disappointment popped out only once, when he snapped, “To listen to some of [these questions], we may as well not play Game 7 [on Sunday].”
This series has become about talking yourself into winning. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri did it early.
Nets coach Jason Kidd is doing it now. When it matters.
Kidd ventured that every game in this series has been won by the team that shows up in the most aggressive posture. In all but one case, the team that wins the first quarter, wins the game.
Casey mused that, “Every game is different.” Which is his way of saying that he does not believe in a Unified Theory of Momentum. Well, Einstein would disagree. So would anyone who was watching last night.
These are two ways of talking around the subject of experience, a theme that hadn’t really imposed itself on this series until Friday.
This is its real effect – it’s instinctive to punch up from below, but you have to learn how to finish someone off once you’ve got on top of them.
This callow Raptors group has not yet found that ability. And that lack is in danger of killing the city’s best sports story in years.
All the good that’s been done will be undone if the Raptors go home and play anywhere close to the embarrassingly wide-eyed way they came out here.
It was over after one quarter. At one point early, the Nets had doubled up the Raptors, 32-16. They dominated in every phase, while Toronto wandered around pointlessly trying to get Terrence Ross involved (he was invisible once again).
Somehow, they managed to make plodding Nets forward Andray Blatche look like Bill Russell. In siege terms, they began the battle by lowering the drawbridge.
You do wonder now if they have the mentality to see this through.
Kidd leaned heavily on the ‘Woe is me’ angle heading into this game. If he’d lost Friday night, he’d almost certainly have been fired. So he’s swinging wildly now – mainly at the officials.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” Kidd said. “Somebody [Joe Johnson] shoots 23 [field goals] and only shoots one free throw.”
Kidd on Thursday: “[Joe Johnson] doesn’t complain.”
Johnson on Friday: “I never get calls, man.”
It’s laughable, but it worked. Johnson had only 12 field-goal attempts on Friday. He went to the line nine times.
This wasn’t about Johnson or the officials. Sometimes you go through the media in order to grab your team and give the players a good shake.
Casey declined to do likewise in the post-game presser – as inviting an opportunity as he’s ever had to have an emotionally profitable public meltdown.
“Jason’s got his thoughts,” Casey said ruminatively on the subject of officiating. “Everyone has their thoughts.”
He’s stumbled onto the key there. Casey has less than 48 hours to figure out what his own team is thinking, and then change it.
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