BROOKLYN - There are more than a few self-inflicted ways to explain the Raptors' Game 3 loss, a contest they deserved to lose, but when it was all said and done the conversation surrounded a familiar quandary.
How much did a series of questionable late-game calls derail Toronto's comeback bid?
"I mean, is that something new," Patrick Patterson asked rhetorically on the heels of Friday's 102-98 loss to Brooklyn, giving the Nets a 2-1 series advantage. It's not the first time he's made this point. It's not the first time he's had to.
"In regards to calls not going our way or us feeling a certain way about referees, it has been taking place all year long," he continued. "For us to think it is going to change in the playoffs, we are fooling ourselves."
The Raptors were making one final push, flirting with what would have been another unlikely comeback - which has become something of a specialty - when a couple of poor calls shifted the attention from their wretched play to the men in grey.
They were down by as many as 15 points midway through the fourth quarter as they began to chip away at their well-earned deficit.
Patterson hit a triple, his first of two during the run, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both converted three-point plays. A disappointing Barclays Center crowd went from apathetic to pathetic in a hurry and before long, the Nets lead was down to four.
Surprised by the comeback?
"No," Patterson exclaimed. "We have done that all year long."
That they have. Unfortunately, procrastination is a dangerous thing, especially in this league, especially at this time of the year. More often than not it renders you vulnerable to the elements.
With 47 seconds remaining, Greivis Vasquez was whistled for a foul, one he and his team vehemently disagreed with. Moments later he was slapped with a subsequent technical foul, a rare late-game penalty - especially in the playoffs - for the fairly pedestrian protest that took place.
"I wasn't really cursing or anything like that," Vasquez told reporters after the game. "I was just saying he pushed me off a little bit and they called a tech. That's just the way it is."
"I can't remember one [being called at that point of game]," DeRozan added. "It's tough, especially during that time."
From that point on five fouls were called, three on the Nets, two on Toronto, one of which was intentional. The officials had put their stamp on the game.
"Let's let the game be dictated by [the players]," urged Dwane Casey, who is frequently tight-lipped after his team gets jobbed by the officials, a disturbingly consistent occurrence. This night was no different.
Casey began his post-game address by using whatever voice he had left to apologize for his warn out vocal cords.
"Again, I like my money but I've got to go back and look at the tape," he said, pleading the fifth. "I had a different view of [those calls] than [the officials] did."
The Raptors' coach was barely audible but his face said it all. This is a topic he's grown tired of dodging.
"I don't want to talk about the referees," said Vasquez, another Raptor who would rather not write a cheque to the league office Saturday morning. "The referees are going to go to sleep fine, I'm not going to go to sleep because we lost."
"That wasn't really dictating the game or anything like that. Can't blame it on the referees. We're not going to make excuses. It was just a play and I got a tech. It's part of the game."
Therein lies the unfortunate reality. The officials didn't do them any favours, they rarely do, but the Raptors can and should only look inwards.
Following a hot start, carrying over from Tuesday's spirited fourth-quarter run, they were outplayed, outmuscled and outworked for the bulk of the evening. The Nets outscored Toronto 58-43 in the second and third quarters, shooting 58 per cent and holding a 20-point advantage in the paint during that stretch. Brooklyn was the aggressor on both ends of the floor and naturally that physical style of play favoured the home team.
"They picked up their defence, they were a lot more aggressive," said DeRozan, who led the Raptors with his second straight 30-point outing. "We've just got to continue to play through the hits, be more aggressive in games. We've just got to be more conscious of doing that."
That's playoff basketball for you and no one does it better than a veteran, battle-tested team like the Nets. Want proof? See Lowry, as he hobbles out of the visitor's dressing room, taking most of the borough's ice along with him.
"He's been in a 15-round bout," Casey said of Lowry, who tweaked his right knee injury late in the first quarter, limiting him throughout the game, and needed one stitch to close up a cut - still bleeding after the game - on his lower lip.
"It's part of the playoffs, man," he said. "I'm happy, I'm excited to be icing up at this time [of year]."
Any doubt he'll be in the lineup when the Nets host Game 4 on Sunday?
"Is that a trick question," Lowry asked. He'll be ready to go and his team will need him. They'll need Amir Johnson - seven points in 28 minutes Friday - to be better. They'll need something, anything from Terrence Ross, who was held to five points, struggling in his third straight playoff contest. They'll need to move the ball, protect it and engineer a more efficient and cohesive offence. Most of all they'll need their defence, they'll need to match Brooklyn's physicality.
"It's 2-1," Vasquez pointed out. "[There's] no need to panic at all. This Sunday is going to be a must-win for us. We can't go home [down] 3-1."