They were awash in red. They sang, slapped backs and mercilessly booed Vince Carter, all 20,330 of them, in Air Canada Centre. Yes, the Toronto Raptors returned to the postseason after a five-year hiatus, but the lecture on how to strike first in the NBA playoffs was delivered by the team that's been here before.
The New Jersey Nets did not play like outsiders to this stage on Saturday. Not in the way they controlled the game and the Toronto Raptors -- from Jason Kidd's flirtation with a triple-double to four players in double figures. Not in the way they quickly took control of Game One before pulling out a 96-91 victory.
In an arena draped in red, it was the red-clad Nets who stood out.
"The biggest shot for us was how much support we got from the Toronto fans," said Nets swingman Richard Jefferson, as if a game-high 28 points wasn't enough salt in the wound. "I think it was exciting that they all came out and wore red to show us a lot of love. . . . That gave us a jolt of energy to start the game and I'd like to thank all the Toronto people for that."
Carter's shooting performance was just excruciating. Booed each time he touched the ball, the former Raptor was 5 of 19 from the field and finished with 16 points, nine under his average.
"I didn't come here to worry about the crowd and their response," Carter said. "I came here to try and win a basketball game. I knew it was going to be a tough game and I knew they were going to rally behind the crowd and that it what I was worried about more than anything."
Carter's prosaic effort had little effect on the outcome. The Nets didn't trail after Kidd's driving layup midway through the first quarter and led by as many as 15. The strength of the Nets' tenacity blared from Kidd's stat line: eight points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. He led a fast break that the Raptors couldn't slow down. Of course, the Raptors played right into the Nets' hands by launching three-pointers (7 of 19) which led to long rebounds and New Jersey layups.
Toronto coach Sam Mitchell chalked it up to playoff inexperience and lack of execution.
"That's something that we haven't done all year," Mitchell said. "We take a three-point shot, but the ball has to come off ball
movement or go inside to the post first."
So it didn't matter that Chris Bosh scored 22 points while fighting through a cold and T.J. Ford added 21 more or that Kidd and Carter were a combined 8 of 30. Toronto was outplayed on nearly every front by a team with all the answers. For one game, anyway.
"They were definitely more poised than we were," Bosh said.
A late Raptors rush closed the gap to 84-83 in the final three minutes. New Jersey apparently heard footsteps because Bostjan Nachbar immediately hit a three-pointer from the left corner off a pass from Carter. On the ensuing possession, Anthony Parker had a clean look from three for a split second before Jefferson swooped in for a block. Then a free throw by Carter and two more by Nachbar pushed the lead to 90-83.
Toronto still had life with 12.9 seconds left when Parker hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 94-91, but Carter made a free throw and Parker's next three-pointer fell way short.
So the Raptors left Saturday with several questions. How can they handle the pace, if Kidd wants a track meet? What can they do about Carter if his shots start falling? Who's going to score off the bench besides Jose Calderon [13 points, eight assists], the man who ignited the fourth quarter surge?
So many questions and only three days to clean it up.