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Raptors ousted from playoffs in heartbreaker


TORONTO — DeMar DeRozan leaned over Kyle Lowry after the final buzzer sounded to end the Toronto Raptors’ season — Lowry was laying distraught on the floor, his face in his hands. DeRozan was above him, speaking with urgency.

It was a moment that said volumes about this young Raptors squad: their unexpected record-breaking season and their thrilling run through the playoffs, and the bonds they built along the way.

“That’s my man,” Lowry said of DeRozan. “He said, ’If anybody is taking that shot, I’m living and dying with you taking that shot, or trying to attempt to get that shot off.’ It was a great brotherly moment.”

Lowry, who led the Raptors with 28 points Sunday, had just been blocked on a shot at the buzzer, giving the Brooklyn Nets a 104-103 Game 7 victory and ending the Raptors’ first playoff run in six seasons.

“The play was to get me the ball, but they did a good job of trapping me, and I didn’t get that shot off that I wanted to get off,” said Lowry.

Amir Johnson had a playoff-high 20 points plus 10 rebounds before fouling out of the game with 7:53 to play. DeRozan added 18 points for the Raptors, who were hoping to see the second round of the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s 19-year history. Patrick Patterson finished with 16 points, while Terrence Ross had 11.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said afterward. “Nobody gave them a snowball’s chance in you-know-where to be here. Each game (in the series), a young player grew and learned something.

“This group has a lot of stuff in front of them, a lot of basketball in front of them. This organization’s in a great spot. They’re going to be good.”

Still, it was a heartbreaking ending to a season that began with low expectations but ended with such high hopes, the remarkable turnaround coming after the seven-player trade in December that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento. The Raptors went on to record a franchise-high 48 wins, claim the Atlantic Division title and earn the No. 3 seed in the East.

“It’s definitely tough to take this loss, but we had a helluva fight, man,” said DeRozan, holding his infant daughter Diar, clad in a tiny No. 10 jersey with a big red bow in her hair. “Nobody picked us to make it this far, to win these many games.”

A one-point game was a fitting ending to a season-long battle between these two teams. The total scores were identical — 1070-1070 — over the 10 games played.

Toronto, desperate to keep its season going, played like it was feeling the pressure for much of the afternoon, trailing by as much as 12 points in the third quarter in front of an Air Canada Centre crowd that was hungry for a playoff series win. They trailed 81-73 going into the fourth, but a Toronto team that has been so strong down the stretch all season pulled within five on a basket by Lowry with 7:20 to play.

With the fans on their feet for the final couple of minutes left, the Raptors kept their foot on the pedal and it was a three-point game with 22 seconds left.

Lowry drove to the hoop for a basket to cut the deficit to a point, but Shaun Livingston made two free throws to put Brooklyn back up by three with 13 seconds to play. Ross answered with a basket, and then stole the ball off Livingston with six seconds left.

Lowry drove to the rim on the Raptors’ final possession, but three Nets players clogged the lane, and it was game over.

“I just told him, ’Don’t worry about it,”’ said DeRozan, who ran to Lowry after buzzer. “I can sleep at night knowing he took that shot. I can live with that. Don’t be down on yourself, that’s what I was telling him. I told him without him we wouldn’t even be in that situation.”

The capacity crowd of 20,457 chanted “Let’s go Raptors!” as the dejected players left the court.

Joe Johnson scored 26 points to lead the Nets, who will face the two-time defending champion Heat beginning Tuesday in Miami. Marcus Thornton finished with 17. Deron Williams had 13 points, Kevin Garnett had 12 and Paul Pierce 10.

“It feels so much better when you do it on the road because you know you earned it,” said Pierce, who was acquired along with Garnett in the off-season in the Nets’ plan to win an NBA title. “Everybody is against you. I can’t say some of the things they were calling me out there. You were against not only 15,000 in the building, you were against the 15,000 outside. Nobody is with you.”

Lowry lingered long at his locker after the game. He arrived at the press conference still dressed in her jersey, his two-year-old son Karter at his side.

Asked what was going through his mind he said: “What’s not? It’s a lot of things that could have been done differently, but this season has been a great season. I’ve had the best core group of teammates that I’ve ever had in my life, in my career. . . it’s just a lot.

“Mad, frustrated. But understanding that this is only a stepping stone for my growth.”

The Air Canada Centre and its fans resembled a massive Maple Leaf — fans in the end sections wore red “We The North” shirts, while fans in the middle sections wore white. Drake, former Raptor Charles Oakley, and Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and his wife Elisha Cuthbert sat courtside.

Coach Casey was forced to take the subway to the game. He got stuck in traffic due to road closures for the Toronto Marathon, and did a U-turn and headed for the subway. Pictures of Casey — dressed in a black Canada Goose bomber jacket with black Raptors T-shirt — surfaced on Twitter soon after.

Casey, whose contract expires after this season, said his players will draw inspiration from the series, saying they’ll be in the gym on warm summer nights thinking about how close they came.

“We would have loved to have been there. We put ourselves in a position, one shot, one free throw, one offensive rebound here or there. That close,” Casey said, holding up two fingers. “That’s what I told the team. We were right there.”

Lowry becomes a free agent on July 1, but when asked about his future, he said his mind was still on the series and its ending.

DeRozan said he hasn’t talked to Lowry about his future.

“I don’t need to say nothing to him,” DeRozan said. “I’m not worried about that, the relationship Kyle and I have, he knows. I don’t have to say much. Why would he leave? That’s my opinion, that’s how I look at it.”

 
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