TORONTO – The Raptors have talked the talk. Now they have to walk the walk in Brooklyn.
Toronto backed up their GM’s two-word foray into the world of trash-talk by evening their first-round playoff series with the Nets at one game apiece via a 100-95 win Tuesday night. The series now switches to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for Game 3 Friday and Game 4 Sunday.
“It’s going to be a new frontier,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Wednesday prior to flying to New York. “We’ve been a good road team in hostile situations, hostile gyms. Our guys have responded.”
Toronto collected 22 wins on the road this season, tied with Miami and Washington for tops in the Eastern Conference (the 22 road wins would have tied for eighth in the Western Conference).
One of those away wins came in Brooklyn, where Toronto was 1-1 this season. The teams also split their two regular-season games at the Air Canada Centre.
Add in the first two games of this series and the teams are 3-3 against each other this season.
The trash-talking in Toronto has essentially been restricted to general manager Masai Ujiri’s out-of-nowhere insult to Brooklyn at a fan gathering prior to Game 1.
But Ujiri’s two-word slur continues to loom large.
Veteran Net Kevin Garnett, no stranger to trash-talk himself, has openly wondered what the Raptors’ reception will be given the GM’s comment.
“I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn,” Garnett said Tuesday night. “So we’re about to see what it’s like.”
Trash-talking is not the 57-year-old Casey’s style. A basketball coach on the court and life teacher off it, he understands talking smack is something that fuels a great player like Garnett. But he gives his young charges different advice.
“I say play basketball. You’ve got to play, stand up for yourself, protect your position and play basketball. Let your game speak for yourself.”
Toronto guard Kyle Lowry was unconcerned about what awaits in Brooklyn.
“Their crowd’s loud,” said Lowry, who points to Portland and Oklahoma City as two of the league’s more hostile stops. “They get real loud, they get chants going.
“When you have a good team, your crowd is always going to give you energy. You feed off of it.”
Does that intimidate you, he was asked?
“No. I love it,” he answered.
In fact, Lowry welcomes life on the road, being on hostile ground, us against the world.
“It’s fun. It’s what you play for. It brings your competitive nature out even more. Because you want to shut the crowd up.”
In the Raptors’ first dip into the post-season waters since 2008, Lowry acknowledged “the lights were probably a little bright” for Game 1.
“After that, the lights were dim,” he said, meaning the team had adjusted its eyesight to the playoff picture.
“Every game we’re going to get more comfortable,” he added.
Raptors star DeMar DeRozan, who went from 14 points in Saturday’s 94-87 Game 1 loss to 30 points including a string of big baskets late in the Game 2 win, also admitted the playoffs have been a revelation.
“Night and day,” he said when asked to compare the intensity.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s the best feeling, to play at the highest level of basketball. But it’s definitely night and day because every single thing matters. Everything.”
Lowry said part of the Raptors’ coming together has been the team chemistry, which he describes as unbelievable.
“I can pick up my phone and call any of my teammates and have a conversation – serious, joking. It’s just cool, it’s just great to have a group of guys who really get along.”
“We really are like a band of brothers,” he said by way of summary.
“It’s just a great group of guys,” echoed DeRozan. “I think it showed with our play throughout the whole season.”
That bond has been helped by the many doubters that have decried the team this season, according to Casey who has taken every opportunity to portray his team as the underdogs.
“We’re all fighting for something … that bonds you when your back is against the wall,” he said. “There’s nobody in the league that gives us a chance against a veteran championship-laden team as Brooklyn, except ourselves.”
Toronto was the beneficiary of a raucous sellout crowd the first two games of the series. Casey said the ACC atmosphere was better than championship series he has seen.
Now it’s Brooklyn’s turn to have home-field advantage.
“It’s a new beginning, a new frontier, a new experience – that the only way you’re going to get it is to go through it,” Casey said of playing on the road in the playoffs.
“We can talk about it, but I have faith in our guys and confidence in our guys that we’re going to go in there, as a group, bonded together, and fight together. That’s all we can do.”