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Raptors drop first game in playoff return

A learning experience for young club

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TORONTO — For a young Toronto Raptors squad that had almost no playoff experience, Saturday’s Game 1 had a little bit of everything — from a faulty shot clock, to a GM hollering a profanity and a deliriously loud crowd dying for a post-season victory.

It was a loss. But it was also a learning experience.

Deron Williams and Joe Johnson had 24 points each to lift Brooklyn to a 94-87 win over the Raptors, making their first playoff appearance since ’08.

"I thought we played a little bit as expected as it is our first playoff game," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "But still as bad as we played, we put ourselves in position to win and that’s the approach we have to take. The series is now at only one game, there is still a lot of basketball to be played."

Kyle Lowry, whose locker had a sign overhead that read "Good luck dad," had 22 points for Toronto. Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 18 boards in his first post-season appearance —period.

"Just keep playing," was Lowry’s message to his teammates after the loss.

Greivis Vasquez added 18 points while DeMar DeRozan finished with 14 on an afternoon punctuated by Raptors GM Masai Ujiri’s apology for dropping an F-bomb when addressing a crowd, and the shot clock that malfunctioned midway through the third quarter.

The Raptors might be the Atlantic Division champs and No. 3 seed in the East but they’re considered underdogs in this series based on experience — or lack thereof. The Nets’ starting five came in with a combined 417 post-season starts. Toronto’s starters: zero.

But if they felt any pressure, Valanciunas and Lowry certainly didn’t show it. The 21-year-old Valanciunas became the first Raptor since Tracy McGrady in 2000 to record a double-double in his playoff debut and also set a record for rebounds (Keon Clark’s 16 boards versus Detroit in 2002 was the previous mark).

"I tell you what, I thought Jonas played big-time, he really did," Casey said. "He grew up today, that was huge for us."

Paul Pierce added 15 points for the Nets and was especially lethal down the stretch, scoring nine points in the final 2:58. Shaun Livingston had 10 points as Brooklyn had 17 points off 19 Toronto turnovers.

The Raptors rallied from an early 12-point deficit to take a one-point lead early in the third, but it was short-lived as Brooklyn led 67-62 heading into the fourth quarter.

A basket by Lowry, then a three-pointer by Vasquez gave Toronto a 76-75 lead with 5:13 to play, but Brooklyn responded with seven straight points — capped with a Pierce three-pointer — to take a six-point lead with three minutes remaining.

Pierce raised his hands and gestured to the crowd after his long bomb.

"It was just emotions flying high, playoffs, close game, taking some shots, making some shots," Pierce said. "I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road... I think it’s more gratifying than winning at home, I love those moments."

The Raptors pulled to within five points several times over the final couple of minutes but could come no closer, sending the series into Game 2 on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre with the Nets leading 1-0.

The series shifts to Brooklyn for Game 3 on Friday.

Toronto forward Amir Johnson said turnovers proved costly for the Raptors.

"Tough game. Our turnovers really hurt us," he said. "They really beat us in the third quarter. All around we played good basketball, there were just a lot of turnovers."

Emotions ran high even before this series started, with talk the Nets tanked down the stretch — losing four of their last five — to purposely drop to sixth so they’d face the less-experienced Raptors.

Ujiri took the stage before the afternoon game to address pumped-up fans at Maple Leaf Square. The moment seemed to get to him as he paired an F-bomb and Brooklyn on his way off the stage.

"I apologize to kids out there and to the Brooklyn guys," Ujiri said at halftime. "Nothing against them. Just trying to get our fans going. That’s it."

He offered over his shoulder as he walked away: "You know how I feel. I don’t like them (the Nets), but I apologize."

Casey wasn’t offended by Ujiri’s remarks.

"That’s Masai, that’s why our team plays like that," Casey said. "He’s a fiery guy, and that should represent how we feel. I don’t have any offence of it whatsoever."

Adding to an already strange afternoon, the shot clock went black with 5:57 left in the third, and after a 10-minute delay, it was decided the game would be played without one. Announcer Herbie Kuhn counted down the clock from 10 seconds on every possession.

"It’s not that disruptive, it is what it is," Lowry said. "You can’t make excuses."

The soldout Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800, that included hip-hop artist Drake, former Raptors star Alvin Williams and Toronto FC GM Tim Bezbatchenko, was a sea of white, thanks to a pre-game T-shirt giveaway. They waved white towels. They stood and hollered for much of the game, breaking into random chants of "K-G sucks!" in reference to Nets veteran Kevin Garnett.

"It was unbelievable, the atmosphere of the crowd, the intensity, the noise," Lowry said. "I can tell you the Brooklyn Nets, they were like ‘Speak up, I can’t hear, it’s loud in here.’ So it definitely affected them a little bit."

— The Canadian Press

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