At exactly the four-minute mark in the 3rd quarter, Kyle Lowry drilled a pull-up three to pump the Raptors lead to a near insurmountable 26 points over a deflated Brooklyn team. The scoreboard in the Air Canada Centre read 83-57 with 16 minutes remaining in regulation, which probably seemed like an eternity to the Nets, and a breeze to the Raptors. Seemingly, game five was a rout, Toronto had defended home court, and Brooklyn presumably began inducing itself amnesia serum to block-out a most dreadful game and recuperate for game six.
I distinctly remember thinking after Lowry’s three – Brooklyn will make a run, if not for anything else, at one point their offense scored 53 points on 58 possessions. Brooklyn’s offense is not that bad, and as much praise I’ve given Toronto’s defense at times, Toronto’s defense is not that good. What I didn’t see coming? The Nets ripped-off 60 points on their last 34 possessions. Unbelievably, they outscored Toronto 44-22 in the fourth quarter, with Hall-of-Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett watching from the bench.
Suddenly, Joe Johnson nailed a three with 3:19 left in the 4th quarter and in the blink-of-an-eye the score was all tied up at 101. The electricity the fans had generated in the ACC all game, all series, had been unplugged. Stunned and in disbelief, the Raptors had blown a 26 point lead in about 12 minutes in a decisive game five of a playoff series tied at two, AND it was in their building.
It felt like the type of collapse Toronto hockey fans had experienced only a year ago (and still recovering from), choking away a three-goal third period lead to the hated Boston Bruins in game seven of their first round playoff series. A collapse of epic proportions. The all-too-familiar feeling of, ‘here we go again’ crept into the ACC.
Over the course of the final 3:19, the historical significance of blowing a 26-point lead meant nothing to the young unshaken Raptors. I at the beginning of this series that Toronto’s best asset would be their flexibility with Lowry and DeMar DeRozan down the stretch. In game five, it was Lowry who had the hot-hand, and willed the Raptors with seven huge points over the final 3:19. Lowry’s brilliant 36 points performance joined him in the ranks of Vince Carter and Chris Bosh as the only Raptors to score +36 points in a playoff game.
DeRozan too stepped up and nailed four huge free throws with less than 20 seconds left, and as we’ve seen throughout these playoffs, free throws in crunch time have been anything but a guarantee. Finishing with 23 points, scoring +20 points for his four straight playoff game, gives DeRozan the second longest streak in franchise history (behind Carter with eight) of playoff games scoring +20 points consecutively. Toronto needed its two most important guys to carry them, and they delivered.
Quite possibly, game five’s 115-113 victory might be Toronto’s biggest win in franchise history. That’s no stretch. Momentarily putting itself in the position of being the victim of defeat in an all-time great playoff game, when the game was tied at 101 Toronto had no lifelines. They dug their own grave, but they refused to lay in it.
I’m not so sure there’s ever been a greater moment in Toronto basketball history than last night’s win. Of course, if they end up losing the final two games now up 3-2 in the series, game five will be but a forgotten memory in time. But for now, game five was the type of team-defining win that may have crushed the spirit of the Nets for good, and forced these young Raptors to grow up, for good.