TORONTO - Stewing in the frustration of a Game 1 loss, DeMar DeRozan imprisoned himself in his room following a disappointing playoff debut on Saturday.
His first postseason experience was something he had been dreaming about, something he had been preparing for, but it didn't go as he had planed. Reflecting on what went wrong, DeRozan spent the duration of the evening in solitude.
He didn't turn on the television and he didn't speak to any of his friends around the league. He thought about returning to the Air Canada Centre at 1am to get up some shots, but decided against it. He needed to regroup, to recalibrate.
The next day he went back to work.
"I'm a student of the game," said the Raptors All-Star. "I went back, watched the whole game two or three times."
Fast forward to Tuesday night's sequel. DeRozan, finally getting into a rhythm, picked up his fifth foul with just over seven minutes remaining the final quarter. After pleading with coach Dwane Casey to keep him in the game, he was wisely subbed out, finding himself on the bench as his team clutched onto an evaporating lead.
They had been up by as many as 11, but the Nets were closing in and the sell-out crowd, electric again, was getting deja vu. The Raptors were wilting under the pressure, succumbing to the veteran savvy of a Brooklyn team that owned the fourth quarter three days prior, or so we thought.
There was DeRozan, in solitude once again on the bench, head down while his teammates and coaches convened during a timeout.
"It was just my competitive spirit," he said. "I was a little frustrated, just calming myself down. I was a little frustrated that I couldn't be out there with my team, especially at that critical moment. Just staying focused."
Two minutes later, he re-entered, the game tied at 83. Almost immediately, he drained a 20-foot jumper to put Toronto on top. Moments later, he knocked down a fadeaway, padding the lead. He never looked back.
"It was just me taking advantage of the mistakes I made in the first game and not doing the same thing in this game," said DeRozan after leading the Raptors to a 100-95 win, evening their series with Brooklyn at one game apiece. "It's everything that you dream about, especially when you become a professional athlete, [play] at the highest level."
After being held to 14 points - failing to make a shot until the third quarter - in the series premiere, the fifth-year guard scored 17 of his game-high 30 points in the final frame Tuesday, hitting four of his five field goal attempts and nine of his 11 free throws.
"I'm just happy for him because a lot of people said he had a bad game [Saturday]," said Kyle Lowry, who scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2. "Every one has a bad game once in awhile. Tonight, he just showed what he can do. He did an unbelievable job of attacking, being aggressive and he got his rhythm going. Once he gets his rhythm going, he is a hard guard."
The playoffs, as we know, are about adjustments from one game to the next and, despite another patchy performance through the first 36 minutes, DeRozan gave the Raptors new life in this series, one that few are expecting them to win.
DeRozan was far from perfect and neither were the Raptors. After committing 19 turnovers Saturday, Toronto threw the ball away 21 times. They hit just two of 16 attempts from three-point range and had to overcome quiet outings from both Lowry and Terrence Ross, who shot 1-for-8.
Perhaps they were fortunate that the Nets looked nothing like the team that thoroughly outplayed them in Game 1. Paul Pierce, Saturday's hero, was just 2-for-11. He didn't make a shot until the fourth quarter, but couldn't recapture last weekend's late-game magic, misfiring on a couple wide-open looks from beyond the arc in the final 30 seconds.
The win wasn't pretty, but it was one they needed - a hard-fought game resembling the style of basketball Casey expects to see from his team.
"Earlier in the year, we wanted to be the Freddy Krueger of the NBA," said Casey. "Not give up, not give in. I think our guys have done that. We won against a very veteran team like Brooklyn and that is very difficult to do because they seem to find a way to challenge you and keep you on your toes. I thought our guys did a good job of making sure they kept the pedal to the metal."
"We weren't going down 0-2," stated Amir Johnson, who also enjoyed a bounce-back performance, scoring 16 points to go along with nine boards. "We were the desperate team and we had to play desperate. There was no way we were going to lose that game. It was a must-win for us."
Now, it's a brand new series, a best of five that will shift to Brooklyn's Barclays Center for Friday's Game 3 and Sunday's Game 4. Despite the statement win, the Raptors are still expecting be overlooked as they head on the road.
"For us to go through the struggles and start from the bottom," DeRozan said, sounding awfully like Drake, the team's global ambassador, seated courtside Tuesday, "and work our way up and still don't get the respect we deserve, we understand we still have a long way to go."
"We don't want no attention, at all," added Greivis Vasquez, who scored 11 off Toronto's bench. "We're fine with that. We let the people talk, but we do the talking on the court and that's just who we are, really. We lost the first game and everyone was talking. Everyone was killing DeMar because he couldn't do anything, now they're going to love him for a couple more days. It's just basketball, man."
"Everyone is doubting us, which is great," Casey said. "We look at their minutes in playoff play, they have a couple Hall of Famers on the team. We are the underdog, but the way our guys competed and fought tonight, I was proud. Now the series starts."
Quiet contribution from Fields
As practice was letting out on Monday, Vasquez inadvertently let the cat out of the bag; Landry Fields had been involved in the team's preparation for Game 2 and could be used to try and slow down Pierce or Joe Johnson.
Sure enough, Fields entered the game in place of John Salmons late in the first quarter. Although 12 Raptors saw the floor in Game 1, Fields was relegated to the bench, where he's spent most of the season. However, the fourth-year forward has stayed ready and has been a reliable source of energy when called upon. Tuesday was no different.
Without attempting a single shot, Fields, an active player on both ends of the floor, made an impact with his defence. After Johnson scored 12 points in the third quarter - mostly against DeRozan - Fields held him to just two points in the final period.
"It's just human nature, we always talk about who scored the most points, who carried the team," Vasquez pointed out. "Credit to Landry, because he wasn't playing at all and look at what he does. He was the MVP tonight. It wasn't anyone else but him because he didn't score, but he played great defence and that was contagious."
Casey tightened his rotation, using just eight players, splitting minutes in the frontcourt amongst Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson
- Toronto had a 52-30 advantage on the boards, including a 19-11 edge on the offensive glass. Their 52 rebounds was the most the Raptors have ever tallied in a playoff game.
- Valanciunas recorded his second straight double-double in the series - 15 points and 14 rebounds - becoming the first NBA player to total at least 30 points and 30 boards in his first two career playoff games since Ralph Sampson and Sam Perkins in 1985.
- DeRozan became the fourth player in Raptors history to score 30 points in a playoff game, joining Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Antonio Davis.
"We've been here when people just thought you could come to Toronto and get a win," DeRozan said. "We've been though all that, frustrating seasons and we want everyone to know that when you play against the Toronto Raptors, you're going to have to fight, you're going to have to bring your game."