TORONTO - As the Raptors locker room cleared out following a failed comeback attempt at home to the Nets Tuesday, Rudy Gay was nowhere to be found.
Minutes removed from another poor shooting performance, the Raptors' forward had gone straight to the team's practice facility on the third level of the Air Canada Centre, where he put up shot after shot.
He shot until he made 500 jumpers, undoubtedly tortured by the nine he missed during the game and the one he chose not to take at the end of it.
Trailing by 15 with just over three minutes remaining, the Raptors mounted a furious comeback to set up one final possession, giving them a shot to send the game into overtime or win it outright with a three. With 10.7 seconds on the clock, the ball in Gay's hands as Dwane Casey intended, the forward drove into the lane, Paul Pierce forcing him left. As Kevin Garnett came over to help, the driving Gay found Amir Johnson open in the left corner.
"The look was for Rudy," Casey maintained after Johnson's three hit the side of the rim, sealing Toronto's 102-100 loss to the struggling and undermanned Brooklyn Nets. "They did a good job of double teaming, getting the ball out of his hands."
Once the whistle was blown and DeMar DeRozan inbounded the ball, the power shifts from Casey to Gay, who was given full autonomy to make a decision on the fly in that situation. Facing the Nets' double team and shooting just 3-of-12 on the night, Gay made his decision and it was one the Raptors can live with.
"Rudy could have had a shot, didn't take it and Amir had a clean look," Casey continued. "It was straight, right on line and he works on that shot every day in practice. He had other options but he made that decision and we've got to live with it."
"I trust Rudy in that situation."
Although Gay has far more shot-making experience in end-of-game situations, the Nets forced his hand leaving Johnson in the corner. Given the coverage on the play, Johnson had the best look and his teammates remain confident in his ability to knock it down.
"[Gay] made the right decision," said DeRozan, who led the Raptors with 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting. "Amir was open and that's a three he can make. We will leave it at that. It was a good look, if he hits it we win."
"[Gay] is one of our stars and he made a decision," Kyle Lowry reiterated. "They pushed him left and he hit Amir. Everyone has seen that Amir can hit that corner three, he was open and he [took] a good shot. He just happened to miss it."
After beginning the season 5-for-14 from beyond the arch, Johnson had missed his last five attempts, going seven games without hitting a three. Johnson already has five triples this season, matching his career-best total from last year. It's a shot he works on every day.
Still, as Casey would point out - and he did - the game shouldn't have come down to that final possession.
Under-manned and with just three wins in their first 13 games, the disappointing Nets came to play on Tuesday, catching the division-leading Raptors off guard from the get go. Without Deron Williams (ankle), Brook Lopez (ankle), Jason Terry (knee) and Andrei Kirilenko (back) in the lineup, Brooklyn got off to a quick start and out-muscled the hosting Raptors for most of the night, while Toronto relied mostly on the long ball.
"They had us on our heels on both ends of the floor," Casey said, his team outscored by 20 in the paint and allowing the Nets to shoot 51 per cent from the field. "It started on the defensive end. They had us on our heels, they were in attack mode, they made shots and we shouldn't be surprised by that. They have Hall-of-Famers on their team and against those types of teams you've got to throw the first punch. You can't wait to get hit like we did tonight."
"They just out-toughed us a little bit," Lowry said. "They are experienced inside and they roughed us up. We fought hard and we have to do a better job at getting their field goal percentage down."
Lowry, who had 24 points and six assists, sparked the fourth-quarter rally with his opportunistic defence and play making in transition. Gay knocked down a three - only his third field goal of the night - with 24 seconds left to cut Toronto's deficit to one. But for Gay and the Raptors it was too little, too late.
Battling the flu for the bulk of the last week, Gay added seven turnovers to his team-leading total of 48, to go along with just nine points in 32 minutes.
Along with Gay and Tyler Hansbrough, Johnson had also been getting over a bout of the flu. The forward finished 2-of-7 with six points and give rebounds also in 32 minutes of action.
The Raptors have a league-mandated off-day Wednesday before returning to practice Thursday, where they will prepare for Friday's home game against the defending champion Miami Heat.