Raptors face tough odds, down 3-1 to Nets
TORONTO - Their starting point guard is ill, they're coming off two of their ugliest performances of the season, and almost no NBA team has ever recovered from digging themselves this deep of a playoff hole.
The odds are stacked against the Toronto Raptors turning around this playoff series that has suddenly gone so wrong.
The Raptors face elimination Tuesday in their Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the New Jersey Nets 7 p.m. ET, yet they said all the right things at Monday's practice - about remaining confident, about being in this position before, about exceeding expectations.
"It's a similar situation to what we've faced all season," said Raptors swingman Anthony Parker. "Obviously this is an elimination game, without a win the season's over. But I feel confident we can come out and get it done. I'm excited to be back home, play in front of the home crowd."
The Nets lead the series 3-1 after handing the Raptors two humiliating losses at New Jersey, including a 102-81 blowout on Sunday.
Bouncing back to win the series would mean becoming just the ninth team in NBA history to do so. Teams taking 3-1 leads in series have gone on to win 158 times, losing just eight.
Making matters worse for Toronto, point guard T.J. Ford spent Monday in bed with the flu.
"He's sick, he hadn't eaten in three days," said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell. "He came in and I sent him home. He's tired, he said he hadn't been able to eat."
When a reporter asked Mitchell if Ford's health was a cause for concern, the frazzled coach snapped: "It's my starting point guard. I would think so. . . if we've got to send him home the day before the elimination game."
Even with a healthy Ford, the Raptors are in tough against a Nets team playing its best basketball of the season. In Game 3, they clobbered the Raptors inside, scoring 38 points in the paint in the first half alone and led 58-39 at the break. In Game 4, when the Raptors did a better job stopping the Nets inside, New Jersey simply took its game outside, scorching the Raptors with 14 three-pointers.
"Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, (former Raptor) Vince Carter, they've outplayed us, " said Mitchell. "You've got to give credit where credit is due. Jason Kidd, he and Vince, the last two games, have just taken it to us."
The Nets have also managed to render Toronto's best player Chris Bosh nearly invisible in his post-season debut, holding the Raptors all-star forward to 24 points over the past two games.
"We're at a point now where we just have to go play, and whatever happens, happens," Bosh said Monday, trying to remain upbeat. "We have a winning mind-frame, we have to stay alive and we know that the only way we're going to do that is stay relaxed and play the basketball that we know how to play."
As the Raptors have shown, that's much easier said than done. The Raptors have yet to show the free-flowing form that earned them 47 wins in the regular season and their first Atlantic Division title. Their ball movement has stalled under the Nets' stifling defence, plus their own uncharacteristic sloppiness (they turned the ball over 23 times in Sunday's loss).
Slow starts have also been killing them. The Nets raced out to a 9-0 lead in Game 3 at New Jersey, and were up 32-15 at the end of the first quarter of Game 4.
"When things are going bad, we have to have that bounce, that energy to turn it around, and get that momentum back," said Parker. "When you're leading and your shots are going in, it's easy to have that energy and that bounce in your step."
In the Raptors' first post-season appearance in five seasons, Mitchell said inexperience plays a big role.
"I believe in them. I believe," Mitchell said. "We're asking a lot from our young guys. We're asking a lot. It's their first rodeo, it's different."
If there is any consolation, it's that the Raptors are back at the Air Canada Centre, where they've won 30 games this season, and where Carter hates to play. The Raptors will have a rowdy crowd of 20,000 at the ACC for Tuesday's game, and they're sure to boo Carter all night long.
The former Raptor struggled here in Games 1 and 2, averaging 17.5 points on 30 per cent shooting.
"Our job is not even close to being done," Nets swingman Richard Jefferson told reporters in New Jersey. "We are going into a very hostile environment. One of the hardest things to do is closing out a team on its home court."
A Raptors win Tuesday would send the series back to the inhospitable Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., for Game 6 on Friday.