Lewenberg: If Game 2 isn't a must-win for Raptors, it's close

Josh Lewenberg

4/21/2014 9:26:59 PM

TORONTO - In NBA playoff history only 16 teams, of a total 255, have comeback from an 0-2 hole to win a seven-game series.

Teams that have taken the first two games go on to claim the series 94 per cent of the time.

Just as damning, only 27 lower-seeded teams have ever won the first two contests on the road in a seven-game series. 24 of them moved on.

The Raptors know what's at stake going into Tuesday's Game 2, having dropped the opener to Brooklyn three days prior.
"It's a lot better to be 1-1 than 0-2," said Kentucky grad Patrick Patterson, crunching the numbers following a second straight afternoon of practice Monday. "I like to think it is (a must-win).

Listen to Josh Lewenberg and Duane Watson weigh the importance of Game 2 and discuss the keys to evening the series in a playoff edition of TSN 1050's Raptors Report podcast.

 If Game 2 is not a must-win, it's pretty close. Of course, Toronto is not dead in the water should Tuesday's rematch go the way of Saturday's disappointing loss. The Raptors have proven to be resilient all season long, at their best with their back up against the wall, but Dwane Casey knows this is not the time to be tempting fate.

"It's important we win," the Raptors' coach said. "Going down 0-2 is very difficult to come out of. Must win? I don't think that means we're done (if we lose). We want to win (Tuesday) but we still have games to be played. It would make it very difficult. I wouldn't say it's dire. It's tough, but it's not over with if (we lose)."

A second straight defeat on Tuesday would require the Raptors to win at least two games in Brooklyn to advance, a difficult proposition despite their success on the road this season. The Nets have won 22 of their last 26 games at Barclays Center, good for the league's best home record in 2014.

With one postseason game under their belt, Casey and his team are hopeful that any playoff jitters they may have experienced on the weekend have subsided. The obstacles haven't changed. They're still fighting a battle-tested group - and by extension, the officials - but they should know what to expect, and be better prepared as a result.

"We don't feel pressure, man, at all," said Greivis Vasquez, who was the first to refer to Game 2 as a must-win, shortly after Saturday's loss. "We feel like the first game, we were anxious. I haven't been in the playoffs in two years. A couple of guys have been in the playoffs, too, but haven't been out there in a couple years."

"We got it out of our system. Now we're going to play Raptors basketball. We're going to defend, we're going to rebound, we're going to pass, we're going to share the ball, we're going to get the fans involved (and) we're going to have fun. No pressure. This is basketball. This is fun."

The Raptors have had a couple days to regroup, to watch film, to study and make adjustments. At this juncture it would be counterproductive to reinvent themselves, the tweaks that they've made are minor. Ultimately it will come down to execution, on both ends of the floor.

"We're disappointed but we're anxious to get a second chance at it," Casey said. "I think the second time around we'll get the first game jitters away, out of us. We know we're fighting a veteran, crusty team that's been there before. We worked on some things, made some adjustments in certain situations that we know we can do better."

One such adjustment could include Landry Fields, who has fallen out of Casey's rotation - for the most part - since the team acquired four serviceable reserves from Sacramento in early December. In an attempt to neutralize Joe Johnson or Paul Pierce, Casey could turn to Fields off the bench Tuesday.

"We've thought about it," he admitted. "That's one of the match-ups we'll look at, one of the personnel adjustments we'll have to look at. Not only on Joe Johnson, could be on Paul Pierce, could be (Shaun) Livingston. That's what they try to do, get the weak link matchup-wise and go at him, so we might have to use (Fields) on one of those guys."

Fields has played sparingly and is still limited offensively, often hesitant to shoot following mid-season wrist surgery. When called upon he's been ready and reliable, an active body on offence and a versatile defender off Toronto's bench.

Pierce and Johnson were responsible for 15 of the Nets' 27 fourth-quarter points Saturday, as Brooklyn went the entire frame without being whistled for a single defensive foul. The Raptors, on the other hand, were called for six.

"I'm not going to comment on officiating," Casey maintained, "except to say I went back to watch the calls in the fourth quarter and we didn't get any and that's unusual."

"If you're too physical, the refs are going to call fouls and you'll get in foul trouble," Patterson said. "If you're not physical enough, then (the Nets will) take advantage of you on the offensive and defensive end. We have to find the right amount of physicality to have out there as far as defensive pressure and our intensity offensively. The first game is under our belt and we're just concentrating on the second game."