Basketball back in Brooklyn as Raps fall to Nets

Huge games from the guards but Lopez (and the refs) just too much. 0-2.

Nets 107, Raptors 100 – Box

We saw a bit of everything tonight from the Raps in a fairly close game against a strong Nets team. We knew coming into the game that the Nets would be fired up, what with this being their debut in Brooklyn, and the hurricane, and all. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the “Brooklyn Knight” coming down from the roof though, complete with cheesy superhero introduction and everything. Yeesh.

A few thoughts about seeing basketball at the Barclay’s Center before I get into the game recap – their crowd seems good but not incredible (maybe it was the TV feed, but it did seem like the Raps home crowd was significantly louder), although they did get into the game late with some very loud “Brooklyn” chants that weren’t exactly easy to understand – I’ll admit I thought they were chanting “Derozan” for a while. The court itself is beautiful, that clean black imaging and the herringbone pattern on the court are really sharp. But I digress.

Game Recap

It does seem after a couple of games that the Raps have figured out their slow start issues. They jumped out to an early lead in this one and took the crowd out of the game thanks to some really hot shooting by Lowry and DeRozan, and by the end of the first, it didn’t feel like a blowout was out of the question. The team’s statistics in the first quarter were just absurd – over 60% shooting, assists on 12 of 15 made field goals, and just a single turnover, and served as a great example of what this “all for one and one for all” scoring mentality they’ve been pushing can look like at the highest level.

The second quarter saw the Raps reserves come in and the Nets promptly make up all the ground lost in the first, and then some. You know the situation is dire when you’re wishing Kleiza was on the floor (he didn’t travel with the team due to a family matter) – nobody in the Raps second unit besides Jose is much of a shot creator, and so when they are struggling on defense as they did tonight, they can represent a really significant drop-off from the first unit. Jose and Amir showcased their trademark chemistry and did what they could but the rest of the bench had a pretty negligible impact on the offensive side of the ball tonight (besides Davis in the 4th, but we’ll get to that). The momentum had totally shifted by the end of the first half, the Raps looked totally listless and went into the break down 8, and it seemed like more the way the team played the second quarter.

For all the talk about the Nets having a significant advantage at the guard spots, it was Brook Lopez who the Raptors had no answer for. He may not be a traditional big in the defense/rebounding sense, but he’s crafty and strong with the ball in his hands, and both JV and Amir had their issues guarding him.

He was helped by a couple of factors: first, the Raptors being slow on their defensive switches, especially in the aforementioned second quarter but throughout the game. We saw Fields or Lowry being forced to put a body on Lopez in the low block far too often. Some of this can be chalked up to our young core but part of it was a reflection of the lull in effort we saw in the middle of this game – that can’t happen if the Raps want to compete against the class of the league on a nightly basis, but every team is prone to it sometimes.

Secondly, the refereeing tonight was TERRIBLE. Bennett Salvatore’s reputation precedes him in the league, but it seemed like nearly every call went the opposite direction of what it looked like it should be. There were ticky-tack touch fouls, players that were hacked on no-calls, and multiple occasions where it seemed like the refs got obvious out of bounds calls either backwards (when Lopez lost the ball in the fourth and it was given back to the Nets) or just plain wrong (in the first quarter when a Raptors player dove out of bounds to save the ball, landed, then threw it back in and they allowed play to continue). I wouldn’t say it was particularly biased against the Raps but Lopez was the prime beneficiary, he went to the line 15 times and got both Amir and Jonas in foul trouble early, which mean we saw significant amounts of Aaron Gray in crunch time.

The third quarter saw a lot of back-and-forth, with both teams seemingly content with the 8-10 point scoring differential for the majority of the stanza. Jonas came back in and promptly picked up another foul setting a moving pick, which sealed his fate for the rest of the game. Jonas had a bit of a rough night – there were times on offense where he looked lost with the ball and his foul rate made it difficult for him to be aggressive on defense (though some of that can be attributed to the reffing). He’s young and will have games like this but the Raps really could have used a stronger effort from him tonight, especially when Lopez was shredding the team on the defensive end.

Early in the fourth, the Raps pushed the score back to within a couple of points thanks to a nice little scoring run by Ed Davis, who played his best game of the season/pre-season tonight. Ed is a little bit like DeMar in that his best asset is his athleticism on the offensive end, and he’ll be most effective if he can just keep his game simple by facing up on opposing bigs and driving to the rim. Calderon and Lowry both did a great job finding him in some opportunistic situations, but don’t discount his game – 11 points in 14 minutes is nothing to sneeze at, especially for someone who has a bit of a reputation for poor hands offensively.

The starters came back in and the Raps were able to keep it close, but Brooklyn’s guards finally made their presence felt at the end of the game with some strong free throw shooting, which led to the eventual 7 point spread at the end of the game. You get a feeling that the Raps might have just run out of time in this one, but there was no way the Nets were going to lose their first game in their new building after everything that’s happened this week.

The Starters

Lowry had an unbelievable game tonight, finishing with a ridiculous 27/8/8 line that included some absolute bombs from downtown. I know it’s early in the season, but the guy is playing like an all-star with a true chip on his shoulder – you can tell that he took the matchup with Deron Williams tonight as a statement game, and he certainly came out of the game looking like the stronger point guard on the night. There are a few things to be worried about with his performance – his reckless style led to a couple of scary collisions late in the game, and his insistence on being “the man” led to him forcing some shots late as the Raptors were trying to come back, but the important point to take out of his performance so far this season is that he’s a true bulldog of a player, a culture changer and someone who you feel will give the team a chance to win on a nightly basis, no matter who he’s up against, which is a bit of a foreign feeling for Raps fans.

DeMar began his campaign to make me eat my words about his extension with an excellent effort. Twenty-five points and 10 free throws are solid statistical representations of the ideal DeMar game. The formula for him is simple – use his size and strength to post up smaller guards, and his speed to get to the hoop/line against larger checks, and tonight he did that to a T, particularly when he had his way with MarShon Brooks inside on a nice post-up during the Raps fourth quarter push. If he can keep doing that, and not fall in love with his inconsistent outside shot, he’ll go a long way towards beginning to justify his place as a member of the Raps’ core group (though I still question his potential beyond his scoring ability). But a really nice game from him tonight, which was great to see, especially with pundits predicting a mismatch between Lowry/DeRozan and the Brooklyn backcourt of Johnson/Williams – our guys more than held their own.

I’ve already spoken about Jonas’ game but as for the other starters, Fields did a good job on the defensive end, putting in the majority of work on Joe Johnson on the night and holding him to 14 points, and was actually a big part of the offense during the Raptors’ first quarter surge, picking up 4 assists along the way. He’ll never be a major contributor on that side of the ball but as long as he can continue to work within the offensive scheme and keep the ball moving around the perimeter, he won’t be a hindrance on that side of the ball, which is all we need him to be.

Andrea had a fairly quiet night but was reasonably efficient on the offensive end, finishing with 13 points on 6 of 12 shooting and assisting Jonas with a gorgeous outside-inside pass in the first quarter that was the highlight of the night, in my opinion. He, like all the Raptors bigs, had his issues on defense tonight but managed to stay out of foul trouble, which was an accomplishment in itself with tonight’s reffing crew.

The Bench: In Bullets

  • Davis: excellent game, see above.
  • Amir: showed great hustle and chemistry with Jose, as per usual. Had his issues with Lopez like the rest of the bigs.
  • McGuire: did a decent job defending Joe Johnson in spot duty but not much else.
  • Calderon: Better game than his numbers suggest. As Arse said Thursday, he’s great off the bench (and I like him at either guard spot) but his points and assist numbers will suffer as he’s going to be the player defenses key on. Had some major issues with CJ Watson defensively, who had a big game for the Nets.
  • Lucas: got some spot duty in two point guard lineups but was unable to muster any offense. Needs to score to provide value, especially when he’s paired with Lowry or Calderon in a small-ball backcourt, though he did have a nice steal early in the fourth.
  • Anderson: Had to look at the box score to remind myself he played tonight.
Gray doesn’t get a bullet tonight – him playing 18 minutes tonight was semi-explainable early because of Amir and JV’s foul trouble, but him being left on the floor in crunch time was beyond inexplicable. He found himself open under the hoop twice tonight – once he shanked a dunk, and once he pump faked an imaginary defender, waited for a Nets player to find their way over to him, and was fouled. Yikes. The guy provides a big body but basically nothing else, and he’s really struggling to keep up with the fast-paced offense the Raps are trying to push this season. I like the guy and I realize he’s more of a situational big but he can’t be playing crunch time minutes. He just can’t. Blake wanted me to include his frustrations with Gray’s minutes tonight as well, though he was a bit less diplomatic/PG with his criticism than I was.

All in all, a reasonable effort against a team that many are predicting to be a playoff contender in the East. Being in these close games with strong teams is cause for optimism, but they will also highlight this team’s youth and inexperience closing games. The good thing about that problem is that it can only get better.

Next game is tomorrow night against Minnesota. That first win is coming, just wait!

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