Raptors to face familiar foe in Brooklyn Nets in first round of the post-season

After six seasons of missing the playoffs, Masai Ujiri heralded the Toronto Raptors' return to the post-season in 2014 by hollering "(Expletive) Brooklyn!" to the delighted crowd in what would become known as Jurassic Park.

It was one of the very memorable moments of an entertaining playoff series that saw the Raptors lose to the Nets in seven games.

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The Raptors will face the Nets once again in first round of the playoffs of the NBA's restart at Walt Disney World at Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Nets clinched their spot against the defending NBA champions with Sunday night's 129-120 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

With three games to go in the seeding round, including Monday's game against Milwaukee, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he hadn't had much time to think ahead to Brooklyn.

"I'm kind of knee-deep in the Bucks here as the ball's going up shortly," Nick said in his pre-game Zoom availability. "I think (the Nets) are playing really well. I've seen 'em a little bit. Obviously, they're winning and playing good, got a lot of energy and stuff going, but I don't really have a lot to give you yet until I dig into them a little bit."

The Raptors won all three regular-season meetings with Brooklyn by scores of 110-102, and 121-102 and 119-118.

But Brooklyn's confidence is high after going 6-2 under interim coach Jacque Vaughn.

"As far as going into Toronto, you know what to expect," Tyler Johnson said after scoring 21 points Sunday against the Clippers. "But then again, there's no home-court advantage. You play a basketball team in the same spot for however many games it takes to advance.

"So for us, it's continue to play our style of basketball and at this point we understand that if we continue to do that we’re capable of beating anybody and we've shown it."

The Raptors faced Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, losing in six games. But the 2014 series was far more memorable, and sparked a run of seven consecutive seasons and counting of playoff appearances.

The series featured super-villain Paul Pierce who told ESPN he wasn't worried about Toronto because the Raptors didn't have "it" — the comment that prompted Ujiri's outburst.

Pierce blocked Kyle Lowry's shot at the buzzer of Game 7 to eliminate Toronto with a 104-103 win.

Lowry was excellent throughout most of the series, scoring 36 points in Game 5 and 28 in Game 7.

And Jurassic Park was born, the fan viewing section outside the then-Air Canada Centre that saw people camp out in line overnight last season to get into it for Toronto's thrilling run to the NBA title.

The Raptors (50-19) clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with Sunday's 108-99 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, and achieved 50 wins on the season for the fifth consecutive year.

Nurse said he doubted he'd tailor anything for the Raptors' final three games of seeding specifically in preparation for Brooklyn.

"It happened kind of late (Sunday) night that we found out it was going to be them. Still kind of focused in on ourselves," Nurse said. "We've got a good week yet before we start thinking about who we're going to play. So not quite yet, I don't think."

Nets guard/forward Caris LeVert praised Toronto's ball movement and defence.

"But for us, we feel like it's about us," LeVert said. "If we move the ball well, if we play good defence, if we're locked into the game plan, we can win that series. We truly believe that. So we're going to go into that playoff matchup all the way locked in."

While there is no traditional home-court advantage in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World, Nurse said recently that he wasn't writing it off entirely. The league has been tinkering with game presentation, he pointed out.

It includes 300 of the team's fans appearing digitally on courtside video screens and manufactured crowd noise piped into the arena. During the exhibition scrimmages in the early days of the bubble, it had been so quiet Nurse said the opposing teams could hear him calling plays.

"There's crowd noise (now), you can see family members and coaches' family members and players' family members (on the giant video screens), there is a sense of personal touch to it," Nurse said. "It seems like they're tweaking a little bit more and more as they go here in the games, as they're learning things about how to put the game on in this setting.

"We're seeing familiar faces on those screens, and who knows what it'll evolve to here two months from now. So I don't want to discount the home court thing quite yet."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2020.

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