Toronto Raptors' Greivis Vasquez (21) defends Brooklyn Nets' Shaun Livingston (14) during the second half of Game 6 of the opening-round NBA basketball playoff series Friday in New York. The Nets won 97-83.

Raptors lack bite, Nets send series back to Toronto tied 3-3

Dwane Casey admitted he’d been concerned about his young Raptors team who had zero experience playing in close-out games — what awaited them with the vastly-experienced Brooklyn Nets, and how they’d react.

Brooklyn 97 Toronto 83

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Dwane Casey admitted he’d been concerned about his young Raptors team who had zero experience playing in close-out games — what awaited them with the vastly-experienced Brooklyn Nets, and how they’d react.

It turned out, the Toronto coach had good reason to be.

The Raptors couldn’t overcome a horrible first quarter — their worst 12 minutes of the series — en route to a 97-83 loss to Brooklyn Nets on Friday, sending the series back to the Air Canada Centre tied at three games apiece.

“Any Game 6, a team is going to come out with a desperate mindset,” Casey said. “This team they built to win a championship this year. They’re going to come out and give you their best shot. . . knew that coming in and tried to warn our team.

“Guys who haven’t been in Game 6 before, it’s one of the toughest things to do. Again, experience is the best teacher. Now we’re going into Game 7, it’s our first time at that. Luckily we have it at home.”

DeMar DeRozan scored 28 points but got little help from the rest of the Raptors who trailed 34-19 at the end of the first quarter against a Nets team that was facing elimination.

Now it’s down to one game for Toronto to make the second round of the post-season for just the second time in the franchise’s 19-year history, and a date with the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

“Yeah, it’s Game 7,” Kyle Lowry said. “We all grew up watching Game 7s and want to be a part of Game 7s. We’ve still got to go out there and not be too over anxious. We’ve still got to go out there and do what we need to do.

“Me personally, I’m not going to be all amped up. It’s going to be a game that we have to go home and win.”

They’ll clearly need a better effort than they gave Friday.

Lowry was the only other Raptor to score in double figures with 11 points. Jonas Valanciunas had nine points and nine rebounds, while Greivis Vasquez added nine points.

“We just didn’t come out with the competitive nature that we needed tonight,” Lowry said. “They did an unbelievable job of forcing their will on the game tonight, but we have to find a way to match that intensity.”

Deron Williams, playing on a bad ankle for the better part of the second half, led the Nets with 23 points, while Joe Johnson added 17 points, Kevin Garnett finished with 13 and Paul Pierce added 12.

Coming off victories in Games 4 and 5, the Raptors were outhustled and outplayed by the Nets from the outset Friday, looking much like the fourth-quarter Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday that coughed up a 26-point lead yet still managed to hold on to win.

The Nets — who assembled an all-star squad this season, trading for Pierce and Garnett with sights set on an NBA title — played easily their best basketball of this series.

“We started the game out with the opposite disposition that we wanted to, I thought they came out in a desperate mode and we didn’t,” Casey said.

“We didn’t start to play that way until we got knocked down in the second half. That’s what the playoffs are about, your start probably tells you how you’re going to finish. And tonight, they got their foot on the pedal a lot quicker than we did.”

Toronto trailed by 26 points midway through the third and went into the fourth down 79-59. The Raptors pushed back in the fourth, opening with a 17-7 run to pull within 10 on a three-pointer by Lowry with 5:02 to play.

With the fans at the Barclays Center on their feet, Williams drained a three with 1:13 to play that put the Nets up by 13 and secured the victory for Brooklyn. The fans chanted “U-S-A!” as the final seconds ticked down. A grinning Garnett high-fived Jay-Z.

DeRozan who, along with starters Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, had never played in the post-season before this, said the Raptors weren’t ready for the intensity of a Game 6.

“We didn’t really realize, we had Brooklyn against the wall and we didn’t take advantage of it like we should have,” he said. “We should have known they were going to come out throwing haymakers, and we weren’t ready for it until the second half.”

Outside the Barclays Center, there were tongue-in-cheek missing person posters taped to posts of Williams, that read: “MISSING Have you seen this person?” above Williams’ mug shot. Reward was listed as $63,128,400 — the amount remaining on the point guard’s contract.

Williams showed up Friday, but the Raptors didn’t. Despite spraining his left ankle early in the third quarter, Williams made good on 8-of-16 shots from the floor and dominated his matchup with Lowry, who shot 4 for 16. The Nets shot 47 per cent from the field, while the Raptors shot 38 per cent on the night. Toronto was outrebounded 45-42.

With the Nets cobbling together their star-studded lineup with its payroll plus taxes of more than US$180 million, experience was a theme early in the series — Pierce alone had almost as many post-season appearances as the entire Raptors roster prior to Game 1. And it reared its head again Friday with the Raptors’ response to Game 6.

Pierce said he can’t wait for Game 7.

“It’s going to be fun,” Pierce said. “This is what the NBA is all about — these pressure-type moments. These are the types of games that elevate good players to great players. We have so many of them coming up this weekend, it’s an exciting time, and we’re going to enjoy it. It’s a hostile environment — win or go home.

“Hey, this is the type of situation that I love and want to be in. I love our chances.”

Casey, however, doesn’t believe this loss will affect his team’s confidence in its win-or-go home game on Sunday.

“To listen to some of this (talk of losing momentum), we may as well not play Game 7,” Casey said. “Every game is different and I know our team will bounce back. We’ve got to come out of the gates a lot fresher, a lot harder, especially starting on the defensive end of the floor.”

The sellout crowd of 17,732 included Drake, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen Pompeo — Meredith on “Grey’s Anatomy”, New York Giants receiver Mario Manningham, and Brooklyn rapper Fabulous, who announced the Nets lineup. There were numerous pockets of red-clad Raptors fans who stood out against the Nets fans, wearing white T-shirts as part of a giveaway.

This series has been drama-filled since Game 1 when Raptors GM Masai Ujiri dropped his famous F-bomb about Brooklyn — earning him a US$25,000 fine — and the shot clocks malfunctioned at the Air Canada Centre.

There was Drake and his lint roller, and the huge crowds that packed Maple Leaf Square for every game, home and away. Several thousand braved the chilly temperatures again Friday to watch the game on the big screen outside the Air Canada Centre.

Nets coach Jason Kidd was fined US$25,000 earlier Friday by the NBA for public criticism of officiating. The New York Daily News’ back cover photo Friday morning was of the Brooklyn coach, under the headline “Whiny Kidd.”

When asked about the fine prior to tipoff, Kidd replied: “Fine? It’s a beautiful day today isn’t it? Did it rain?”

The Raptors trailed by double digits less than eight minutes into the game. DeRozan scored 10 points in the first, but got little help from his teammates, and the Raptors trailed 34-19 heading into the second.

It was more of the same in the second, a putback layup by Andray Blatche giving the Nets a 21-point advantage with four-and-a-half minutes left in the half. Former Raptor Alan Anderson drained a 17-foot step-back jumper with less than a second on the clock to put the Nets up 60-41 heading into the halftime break.

A three-pointer by Pierce gave the Nets a 26-point lead five minutes into the third quarter, and the Nets took a 79-59 lead into the fourth.

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