Brooklyn’s playoff hopes aren’t officially dead yet. But their odds are even longer than Fred VanVleet’s three-quarter court backbreaking buzzerbeater that summed up how this Eastern Conference first-round series is going.
The Nets fell 117-92 to Toronto in Game 3 at The Field House in Orlando, and trail the series 3-0. They didn’t lead for a single second against the defending champion Raptors, and could get knocked out of the postseason on Sunday.
Only three NBA teams have ever forced a Game 7 after being in a 3-0 hole, and none have ever completed the comeback. These shorthanded Nets aren’t showing any signs of becoming the first.
Brooklyn was decimated long before arriving at the Orlando restart. But after Joe Harris left the NBA campus to deal with a family emergency, their roster attrition has reached an event horizon there’s no coming back from.
It showed in falling behind by double-digits right out of the gate, and when they stopped playing on a 52-foot heave by VanVleet (22 points) to beat the halftime buzzer, and in their lack of defensive resistance in the fourth quarter. Game 4 is Sunday, but this had the feel of finality.
Tyler Johnson replaced Harris in the starting lineup and had a season-high 23 points – his best in a playoff game – as Jacque Vaughn went with three guards. But without Harris’ gravity to stretch Toronto’s league-leading defense, this was a mismatch from the start.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Jacque Vaughn had said beforehand. “Overall, the challenge with our group, we’re missing a key cog in Joe not being here, but we’ll provide some support from some guys off the bench and then rely on Caris (LeVert) and Jarrett (Allen) to carry us.”
It didn’t exactly happen. Harris’ absence chopped Brooklyn’s Bubble Big 3 to a Bubble Duo. And while LeVert rose to the challenge with 15 points, six assists, and three steals, Allen was all-too-invisible offensively. He had 17 boards but finished without a single shot, and was scoreless until 6:23 left in the third.
Toronto had put it away long before that, behind VanVleet, Pascal Siakam (game-high 26 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Serge Ibaka (20 points, 13 boards off the bench). The Raptors hit 18-of-38 from deep.
“You know you really can’t (replace Harris). It’s going to have to be a team effort. It sounds cliche, but what Joe was able to bring to us obviously a team they’re going to play us a little differently. That was one of the guys that they couldn’t leave open,” said Garrett Temple. “Guys are going to have to step up, make shots.”
Temple and the previously-hot Timothe-Luwawu-Cabarrot combined to shoot 5-of-30 overall and 3-of-20 from deep.
Brooklyn let the Raptors hit six of their first nine shots, and four of their first five from behind the arc, to fall behind 16-5 right out of the gate.
LeVert had to deal with traps and blitzes, and even when he did penetrate he found Toronto sagging and crowding the lane.
The Nets got good looks early but couldn’t buy a basket, shooting 30.4 percent in the first quarter and just 3-of-13 from deep. They trailed 24-17 after one, their lowest-scoring opening quarter since a Feb. 26 stinker at Washington according to Elias.
If the Nets weren’t out of it at that point, they were after a three-minute span early in the second. They were within 24-19 after a Rodions Kurucs reverse :26 into the period, but coughed up 11 unanswered points. OG Anunoby pushed Toronto’s lead to 35-19, and Brooklyn never challenged the rest of the way.
The deficit was still 19 before ten unanswered Toronto points padded the Raptors lead to 110-81 midway through the fourth.
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