When the three-point shot finally fell for Terrence Ross Wednesday night, it was as if the loud and frenzied faithful inside the Air Canada Centre wrapped him in a ferocious bear hug.
The murmurs and hang-wringing had increased throughout the first four games of this playoff series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets. What was eating Terrence Ross? The second-year Raptors small forward had just 10 points in the first four games. But he showed some signs of life in Game 5, with an eight-point performance.
Much of the night, Ross was wide open and alone out on three point land – largely ignored by all Nets defenders. The ball rarely came his way.
When the ball did come his way late in the second quarter, Ross pulled up and launched a three-point attempt, which bounced off the rim. Toronto's star point guard Kyle Lowry – who was draining threes during his own 36-point night like it was the easiest thing in the world -- immediately ran to Ross and took his teammate's face in his hands in an attempt to cheer the 23-year-old.
Then Ross got another big opportunity. With an open lane, he drove in for what looked like a sure-fire dunk, the kind that would surely light a fire under the youngster and instantly jolt the Toronto faithful. But the athletic Raptor slammed it off the hoop. It was starting to seem like Ross was jinxed, at least on the offensive end. He had been just 3-of-17 shooting from the field in the first four games, 2-of-12 from three-point land.
He had seemed a far cry from the lean, high-leaping player who back in December made seven three pointers versus the New York Knicks. Or the one who, in January, swished 10 of them en route to a 51-point night against the L.A. Clippers that tied a Vince Carter franchise record for points in a game.
Yet, Ross started Game 5, despite having just 10 points total in the previous four games.
And finally, in the second quarter, a monster three fell for Ross. It wasn't lost on the home fans, who jumped to their feet and bellowed in one of their biggest cheers of the night.
"That shot felt good," said Ross, quietly slumped in a chair before his locker, a towel over his lowered head, thumbing his iPhone as he softly spoke, still the very sight of a player struggling through something.
"I'm trying to get out of a slump, so bit by bit. It takes time. It felt like I was trying to get at least a little rhythm back tonight."
Ross, who has often drawn the assignment of defending the opposing team's toughest players this season, has often been charged with sticking to speedy, sharp-shooting Brooklyn point guard Deron Williams in this series. The Nets floor-leader was held to three points and a trio of assists through three quarters of play before breaking out for 10 fourth-quarter points as the Nets staged a late-game charge for the win, but fell just shy.
"Terrence is doing a good job of keeping in front of him," attested Lowry.
It was Ross in the game with one second on the clock, intercepting a pass intended for Williams, which denied him a game-winning shot and put the game away for good. Small steps, but it seemed to bring some life to Ross.
"Yeah, when you can't do one thing, you better make sure you can do something else," said Ross. "When your offence isn't going, you better do something on defence."
Still Ross had blunders – a turnover, a shot that was blocked right back in his face. He hit just three of nine field goal attempts, two of five three-pointers.
But he also had some things fall his way – an easy layup off a breezy pass from Kyle Lowry also fell for him, as did another jumper.
"We'll take it how we can get it, it's' not the way we wanted to win, but we'll take it," said Ross. "Yeah, it did feel like a step forward for me I guess."
A sign of unity
To show support for the NBA's severe punishment of long-time Clippers owner Donald Sterling for recently-exposed racist remarks, the Raptors wore black socks for the game.
The action came after NBA commissioner Adam Silver handed Sterling one of the harshest penalties in the history of U.S. sports on Tuesday, fining him $2.5-million (U.S.), banned him for life from any association with the NBA and urging league owners to vote in favour of forcing Sterling to sell the team.
"It's big, it shows the NBA how unified we are," said Amir Johnson earlier this week. "The NBA is like one big family."
Lint rolling. It's a thing
In Toronto, rolling the lint off your clothes at a Raptors game has become trendy, thanks to Drake.
The Toronto recording artist and Raptors ambassador was seen vigorously lint-rolling his pants courtside during Game 2, and video of the scene went viral on Twitter. So the Raptors played got into the fun, giving out 1,200 lint-rollers with Drake's logo on them at Wednesday's game.
Fans played into it as well – broadcasters were lint rolling one another's suit jackets on the big screen, fans were following suit outside while gathered in thousands to watch the game in Maple Leaf Square.
IKEA also got in on it, handing out lint-rollers on nearby streets with a slogan that ended "GO T.O".