Nets look to put Raptors on the ropes in Game 4
Toronto Raptors' Greivis Vasquez defends Brooklyn Nets' Paul Pierce (34) during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Friday, April 25, 2014, in New York. The Nets won 102-98. (AP / Frank Franklin II)
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, April 26, 2014 6:53PM EDT
BROOKLYN, NY -- A whopping 59 turnovers in three post-season games.
There've been times the Toronto Raptors' playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets has resembled a kick-ball tournament, with balls bouncing wildly off feet.
The Nets lead the best-of-seven playoff series 2-1 heading into Sunday's Game 4 at Barclays Center, and the Raptors know they desperately need to clean up their act to avoid heading back to Toronto trailing 3-1.
"If we can get it down to 13, 12, somewhere in that area we are happy with that," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "Some of the no-look passes, passes where we think our teammates are going to be, are things we can correct.
"You are not going to turn some of our guys into Magic Johnson overnight but we can make better decisions of things we control in our turnovers."
Giveaways have been a theme of all three games, and each time, the Raptors have come away vowing to do a better job of protecting the ball. Yet the kick balls and the crazy passes continue. They coughed it up 19 times in Game 1, 21 times in Game 2, and 19 times in Friday night's Game 3, a 102-98 loss.
The Raptors practised at Pace University on Saturday, just across the bridge from Brooklyn. It was a long morning of making adjustments on both the offensive and defensive end, said Casey, ahead of Game 4. The Raptors are looking for their first playoff victory on the road since a win over Philadelphia way back in 2001.
At least for part of the practice, Casey addressed turnovers. He said aggression has something to do with it -- players are getting bumped and giving up the ball.
He spoke of working on players' "dispositions," which goes for both their aggression in holding onto the ball, and playing with aggression period. The Raptors were manhandled by the Nets for the better part of four quarters Friday, finally fighting back late in the game to come within a point.
But disposition isn't an easy thing to coach with just a day or two between easy games.
"Well, you have to appeal to the guys' pride, their ego and intelligence and we have some intelligent players on this team," the coach said. "Again, it's playoff basketball. If you can't get a disposition in the right order at this time of year, this is what we play for.
"Our franchise hasn't been there for a while so if we can't get excited now about being tough, physical and fighting through the screens, not complaining about it but fighting through the screens and not letting them hold you and getting to your spot, all those things are disposition plays."
DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas have been Toronto's best two players this series, but they've also turned the ball over more than anyone. Valanciunas has turned it over 13 times, one more than DeRozan.
The Nets have turned the ball over 31 times combined over the three games, and the discrepancy in giveaways is the one glaring statistic in a series that is otherwise so even. The Raptors have outscored the Nets by just a single point -- 678-677 -- in the seven meetings between these two teams this season.
"Man we've just got to be strong with the ball," said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry. "They're definitely physical when we drive the lane but we've got to be a little bit stronger. It's playoff time. We've got to be stronger with the ball when we're driving."
Casey said the previous night that Lowry looked like he'd been through a "15-round bout," and the gritty point guard looked similarly the worse for wear Saturday morning.
Parked on a bench before addressing the media, the team's medical staff inspected his right knee and his busted lip that required a stitch to close Friday night. Lowry's knee was sore from a knee-on-knee collision.
"I'm going to get treatment around the clock to get healthy. Ice, stim (muscle stimulator). . . we've got a great training staff. We did some work this morning, we'll do some work when I get back. Get to as close to 100 per cent as possible right now," Lowry said.
"Right now it's very sore but I have no doubt that I'm going to play."
DeRozan -- who scored 30 points on Friday to become the first player in Raptors history to record 30-plus points in back-to-back playoff games -- likes the quick turnaround between games.
"I can't wait to play (Sunday)," the Raptors all-star said. "Honestly, get back out there and get a game."
"(One day between games) is a lot better," DeRozan added. "I think we could use that to our advantage too, with the quick turnaround. Just come out with high energy knowing we need to get at least one game in their place before we go back home."
While the Raptors expected a hostile crowd in Brooklyn's Barclays Center -- especially after GM Masai Ujiri's now famous F-bomb when mentioning the city -- it was a pretty docile crowd that awaited them Friday.
"It felt like another game to me, like a regular-season game," DeRozan said. "When you talk about atmosphere, honestly, it didn't have nothing on Toronto at all. That's just our fans though, so it was a lot different. Playing out there felt like another game. I felt comfortable out there. We just have to clean up some things."
The Raptors have to hope for better from starters Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson. Ross, who scored 51 points in a game earlier this season to tie Vince Carter's franchise record, has struggled mightily. He has yet to score anywhere near double figures, finishing with five points on Friday.
Johnson, while given the tough assignment of guarding perennial all-star Paul Pierce, has been hit or miss. He had seven points and four rebounds on Friday.
Their teammates continue to be supportive of the two who were key in the Raptors getting to the playoffs this season.
"He's still the same Terrence," DeRozan said, when asked about how Ross fared in practice Saturday. "We all understand everybody's not going to have their best nights. We all understand that. Our job is to keep everybody's confidence high.
"Amir, Terrence, they understand what's at stake in this next game and they're going to definitely come through for us."