Raptors 98 – Nets 102 (Nets lead 2-1)

Joe Johnson’s three-pointer with five minutes remaining was supposed to be the dagger. The proverbial nail in the coffin. The Nets were up 93-78 and not looking back.

But over the next two and a half minutes, the Raptors would go on an 8-0 run. And just 1:25 after that, Jonas Valanciunas hit a free throw to cut the Brooklyn lead to four.

Then, with 34 ticks left on the clock, DeMar DeRozan did his best Mamba impression, hanging in the air more than long enough to draw Kevin Garnett’s sixth foul and bank-in a beautiful up-and-under layup. He hit the freebee.

One-point game.

With 19 seconds left, Patrick Patterson stepped up to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game.

But he whiffed them both.

The Nets survived a big scare, another strong fourth-quarter effort from the Raptors, but most importantly, came out with the 102-98 win.

Patterson could easily be miscast as a scapegoat, but the power forward was one of the main reasons the Raptors were able to make such a furious comeback. Patterson dropped a series-high 17 points on 6-7 shooting and looked unstoppable from the post out to the three-point line.

“[Those were] my first big free throws that I have ever missed in my life like that,” Patterson admitted after the game.

Over 60 fouls were called during the contest, and as one could expect, the game got testy as Brooklyn’s lead narrowed toward the end of regulation. Neither team had a distinct advantage in the foul column, but both teams carefully insinuated that the refs made mistakes.

“They got a lot of calls,” Shaun Livingston said. “But that’s the way the game goes. We have to adjust and play smarter.”

“I like my money, but I’ve got to go back and look at the tape,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Those kind of calls broke our back.”

The fact of the matter is the Nets outworked the Raptors throughout the majority of the game. KG was diving on the floor, jersey popping. A finally effective Paul Pierce weaved his way into the paint for easy buckets. Joe Johnson, somehow rarely double-teamed, dropped 21 second-half points and 29 for the night. A vintage Deron Williams had a game-high 8 assists.

Brooklyn should have easily won, given how poorly the Raptors played at times. The ball often stuck in players’ hands on offense. Valanciunas couldn’t get on the floor because of foul trouble. Terrence Ross had his least effective game of the series, scoring just 5 points with 3 turnovers in 22 minutes. Speaking of turnovers—which have been a problem all series for Toronto—they piled up 19 of ‘em.

“We defended. We executed. We ran our offense. We made extra passes…then it sort of seemed like we wanted to let the clock run out,” Pierce said.

That, and DeRozan continued with his breakout series. The Raptors’ leader put up 30 for the second game in a row and was simply unstoppable at getting into the paint and drawing contact.

In a game that was made more interesting by Rihanna and her risque outfit, Game 3 will be remembered for a dissolved 15-point lead in the final five minutes. It never should never have happened. And the atmosphere in the Nets’ locker room after the game reflected it.

“We gotta understand that everything is on the line right now,” Pierce said. “We can’t have these silly turnovers. We can’t have these silly fouls late in the game. The game comes down to inches.”

Up 2-1, the Nets are anything but a guarantee to the win the series. Toronto knows that despite foul trouble, rising turnovers, a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit even—they can get back in it and win.

Pierce knows their opponent is going to bring everything they got in Game 4.

“We know that they’re going to be playing with their lives depending on it,” he said.—Ryne Nelson

Bulls 100 – Wizards 97 (Wizards lead 2-1)

Jimmy Butler had been ice cold (1-8) all series long from beyond the arc when he pulled up for a triple with less than 30 seconds to play in a tie game. But three-point attempt number nine was a perfect swish, and just like that, Chicago had taken the lead. Butler’s jumper proved to be the difference in a tightly contested contest, as the Bulls went on to beat the Wizards by a final score of 100-97.

In front of a postseason-starved Verizon Center crowd, John Wall was relentless in the first quarter, scoring 11 points. He followed up a breakaway dunk with an and-one layup and was a major part of an early offensive explosion by the Wizards, who had a narrow 30-28 advantage heading into the second quarter. Chicago pulled ahead close to midway through the second thanks to a trey from D.J. Augustin. The Bulls held their opponents to one bucket for more than four minutes, but the Wizards rallied at the end of the half, going on a 7-0 run to earn a 51-48 edge.

The beginning of the third quarter was all Washington, as the Wizards went ahead by 9 points while the Bulls looked befuddled offensively. But just like the second quarter, Washington’s lead evaporated. Mike Dunleavy went off, scoring 13 in the period before starting the fourth quarter with a triple. Following a Nene layup with 8:27 remaining, the Brazilian big man got in a tussle with Butler, grabbing his face as teammates rushed to break things up. Nene was tossed from the game and Butler was assessed a technical foul, seriously damaging Washington’s interior options. Chicago went on a 7-2 run, but the Wizards answered down the stretch. Wall’s and-one layup brought Washington to within one point, and the Wizards looked poised to win after Bradley Beal showed some late-game heroics to put the home team up 91-89. Unlike Game 1 and 2, the Bulls didn’t fold in the closing minutes, instead tying things up and clamping down defensively. Butler’s three was the dagger, and Washington’s last attempts were off the mark.

The Bulls got a career night from Dunleavy (35 points, 8-10 on three-point shots). Taj Gibson and Augustin each had 13 off the bench, and Boozer added 14 in 24 minutes. All five Wizards finished in double-figures, led by Beal (25 points) and Wall (23 points). Washington had just 10 bench points and lost despite attempting 15 more shots over the course of the game.

Game 4 is Sunday at 1 pm EST. — Alex Shultz

Rockets 121 – Blazers 116 OT (Blazers lead 2-1)

Troy Daniels for the win!

Wait, who?

That’s right. The player that no one knew, that no one had heard of, that no one drafted, stepped on the court after Chandler Parsons fouled out in OT and when his number was called with 11 seconds left, he drained a three-pointer from the wing and helped the Houston Rockets get back in this series with a 121-116 win over the Portland Trailblazers.

“I had a feeling.”

Good thing, too, because no one else had a feeling. Well, save for head coach Kevin McHale, who didn’t hesitate to sub him in with the Houston Rockets’ whole playoff lives at stake.

It’s the kind of thing reserved for Disney feel good flicks, but magically came to life in the 2014 NBA Playoffs.

“I said ‘Young fella, go out there and fight your butt off,” said McHale, who actually hugged Daniels as he came off the court. “He’s not afraid to shoot it. He knows he can shoot it.”

Not hard to believe when you consider that Daniels hit 240 3-pointers with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers this season. The previous franchise record was 152. For the whole friggin’ team!

“A couple of weeks ago he was in the D-League,” said James Harden. “He saved our season.”

“He’s one of the best shooters in the NBA,” said Patrick Beverley. “People just didn’t know it. They know him now!”

But hey, before all the excitement of the free basketball and the storybook ending, there was actually a very good game that led up to all this.

Harden, who laid eggs in the first two contests, came out swinging, er, shooting. The Beard put up a franchise record 35 shots for 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Dwight Howard finished with a respectable 24 points and 14 boards.

The biggest revelation, outside of the three-point kid from VCU, was the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge is, in fact, human. After lighting up Houston for 46 and 43 points, respectively, in Game 1 and 2, LMA scored only 23 points and added 10 rebounds. But Damian Lillard, my god, Damian Lillard, he led all Blazers scorers with 30 of the most entertaining points ever scored on April 25, 2014.

Illy Lillard got it done on dribble drives, jump shots and come on, did you see that crazy circus shot he hit while falling down? You’d have to have a rabbit’s foot, a wishbone and a four-leaf clover in your pocket to even come close to hitting that shot. This kid is special. That’s all I have to say about that (don’t lie, you read that in your Forrest Gump voice).

The Rockets actually had this game in the bag until the Blazers went on a 22-10 run in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter after trailing by 11. And, of course, it was Lillard who hit the go-ahead basket on a drive to the cup.

And, I hate to be a broken record here, but what up with Harden’s defense? It was like every time Lillard saw that Harden was D-ing him up, Harden was food.

It got really scary for Houston when Jeremy Lin missed a wide-open bunny and Nicolas Batum drilled a three ball going the other way. But somehow, someway, the Rockets were able to remain poised down the stretch and eek out a W, thanks to our unsung hero, Mr. Troy Daniels.

The series is 2-1 now people. Game 4 is on Sunday in Portland. Can’t wait to see who’ll be the hero and/or goat in that one.—Maurice Bobb