With their dramatic first-round playoff series tied at two games apiece, the Toronto Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets in Game 5 Wednesday night after the Raptors wrestled back home-court advantage with their 87-79 victory on Sunday. Here are some things to watch for in the next instalment of this highly physical series:
How will the Raptors perform in the third quarter?
The Raptors have outplayed the Nets in the fourth quarter of every game in this series. But, they have also struggled mightily in the third quarter of each of those four contests, being outscored by a combined 27 points. Toronto squandered a 17-point lead in Game 4 thanks to a worrisome third-quarter performance, and had to make up for it in the fourth. "The third quarter has been our nemesis," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who insists he's tried everything from rants to raves at half-time to fix the situation. "We can't wait until the fourth quarter to come out and play like that. We're not coming out with the same focus or desperation in the third quarter, and it's been like that the entire series."
How will the Raptors defend Joe Johnson?
Joe Johnson has been Brooklyn's top scorer in the series, averaging 19.5 points per game, and 78 in total. But the Raptors were able to hold him to seven points during Game 4. Toronto has tried various different defenders on Johnson as well as numerous schemes – blitzing the star, double and triple-teaming him. "If I'm not making them pay for double-teaming me and triple-teaming me, then I'm not doing my job," said Johnson. "So I need to make them pay."
How will Terrence Ross be used and how will he respond?
Toronto's athletic young shooting guard has struggled in the playoffs. He has just 10 points in four games on and is just 3-of-17 shooting from the field, 2-of-12 from three-point land. His minutes have fallen as the series endures. At just 76 minutes, he's played less than Toronto's other four starters. While he's expected to still start, it's tough to predict how many minutes he will play, particularly if his offence doesn't turn around. "I'm not going to do anything to crush that young man's confidence or what he's brought to the table thus far," said Casey. "The spotlight should not be on him. Has he struggled for a couple of games? Yes. We didn't win or lose because of what Terrence Ross did or didn't do. In that win, Terrence Ross did a lot of good things to set the tone defensively."
How big a factor will Paul Pierce be for Brooklyn?
The 36-year-old veteran of 15 NBA seasons has been both stellar and invisible at times throughout this series so far. With 62 points through the four games, he has the third-most points on his squad. He was the hero when the series opened as his nine points in the final quarter carried Brooklyn to a Game 1 victory. But he was then held to seven points in Game 2, bounced back with 18 points in Game 3, and 22 in Game 4. Yet on Sunday, he was 5-for-5 for 11 points on drives in the first three quarters, but did not have a field goal attempt on a drive in the fourth quarter. Monumental plays in the final stanza of playoff games have been the hallmark of Pierce's career.
How much could the Raptors struggle due to injuries?
As Casey attests, there isn't a Raptor who doesn't have at least one ailing body part at this point in the season. The most worrisome though is Kyle Lowry's sore knee. The star point guard was having treatment on the bench during Game 4 yet willed himself to a 22-point night. He said he had a productive day of treatment and rest Monday. "I'm okay, it's an everyday process," said Lowry. "It's the playoffs though. Don't matter how I feel. I'm going to give it my all when I touch that floor."
Who will win the turnover battle?
Toronto had 59 turnovers through the first three games, but controlled the ball far better in Game 4, finishing with just 12 on the night. On the other hand, Brooklyn's six steals and 16 turnovers in that game were both series-worsts for their team. Lucky for the Raptors, the Nets missed all 10 of their field goal attempts outside the paint in the fourth quarter. "We have to get good shots and we can't afford to turn the ball over as many times as we did late in the games," said Nets point guard Deron Williams. "We've had great success in the last five minutes of games - it's kind of where we turn it up and are able to execute, but that game was kind of the opposite."