NEW YORK — In the final dramatic couple of minutes Sunday night, offensively-gifted DeMar DeRozan turned into a defensive superstar, sent sprawling to the floor when he took two charges.
Not to be outdone, hobbling six-foot point guard Kyle Lowry dropped a lovely sky hook over 6-11 giant and future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.
The final minutes of the Toronto Raptors’ 87-79 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday could define this young team and their season — fighting to the end, finding a way to win.
“That’s just us, man,” DeRozan said. “We’re resilient. We’re not going to give up until the game’s over, we’re going to fight it through. . . We did it on the defensive end to win this game.”
DeRozan scored 24 points and Lowry added 22 to lift the beaten-up Raptors to their first playoff victory on the road since Game 1 against Philadelphia way back in 2001. After the final whistle, a smiling coach Dwane Casey said it was the most proud he’s ever been of his team.
“(But) we’re on a mission, it’s a marathon,” the coach added. “We can’t get too excited about a win, can’t get too down about a loss. That’s what the playoffs are about.”
Amir Johnson, playing on the wonky ankle that has plagued him all season, finished with 17 points. Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez finished with nine points apiece off the bench, and Patterson grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
The best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series heads to Toronto tied at two wins apiece. Game 5 is Wednesday at Air Canada Centre, while Game 6 will be back at Barclays Center on Friday.
The Raptors led by as much as 17 points — the biggest lead by either team in this series — in the first half, but struggled through the second and third quarters, running into foul trouble and failing to hit shots. Still, the nailbiter went to the fourth tied at 67.
From there, the Raptors dug in with one of their best defensive efforts of the season, holding the Nets to just three baskets in the final 12 minutes. And when the final whistle blew, the Raptors fans in attendance at Barclays Center stood and applauded the Toronto players off the floor.
“I think we’re just encouraged,” Lowry said. “We’re going home 2-2. We’re encouraged by that. We got a split, now it’s a three-game series, now we’ve got to take care of home. Our confidence is high, we’re excited.”
Lowry, who came away from Friday’s game with a bad right knee and a busted lip, was noticeably limping at times.
“I’m OK,” Lowry said. “It’s something that’s controllable, we can do what we’ve got to do to get through the playoffs, it’s nothing where I need surgery. It’s definitely a pain, but I’m not going to worry about it, I’m not going to complain about it, I’m going to go out there and do my job.”
Lowry kept his composure despite playing the entire second half with five fouls.
“He’s dealing with a lot right now, and he came through with flying colours,” Casey said. “Fought through foul trouble, a little bit of adversity throughout the game and still came through.”
Lowry’s teammates heaped praise on their tough-as-nails point guard in the post-game dressing room.
“I am not surprised at all that Kyle is limping around,” Chuck Hayes said. “Man, he was limping all four quarters. He’s a warrior. He’s everything to this team. The guy gives it his all. We just feed off him.”
Lowry and DeRozan — the team’s leaders through this remarkable season — sat side by side at the podium after the game, addressing the media. They talked about the chemistry in this young team.
“We’re a pretty close-knit team, we understand the situation that we’re in, it’s a stepping stone for us,” Lowry said. “We’re getting our feet wet. This man (DeRozan) is becoming a superstar in front of everybody’s eyes. He’s doing it on the defensive end, the offensive end.”
They both chuckled when Lowry was asked about his late-game hook shot over Garnett that gave Toronto a six-point lead.
“I think that was the first time (I’ve done that) in a game,” Lowry said. “That’s something I work on in the summertime. Kevin Garnett is 6-11, he’s a guy who can block shots, and I thought that was a shot I can go to. I took the shot to be aggressive. It looked good. It felt good.”
There was more laughter when DeRozan was asked if the two charges he took down the stretch marked a career high.
“Nah. I don’t think so. I hope it’s not,” DeRozan said. “With Kyle (being injured), I knew I had to pick up the offence early, so I did that, just come out aggressive and I knew they were going to change up and start trying to get the ball out of my hands. . . I knew I could do some things on the defensive end and that’s what I did.”