On the second night of a back-to-back, and the third game in four nights, few would have blamed the Raptors for coming out flat. Even more so as Kyle Lowry (whiplash) joined Marc Gasol and Norman Powell on the Raptors injury report. Instead, the Raptor were buoyed by both expected and unexpected sources, and managed to survive tired legs to escape with a narrow 119-118 victory to extend their franchise record win streak to 14 games.
The Raptors opted to start Terence Davis in place of Lowry, giving the rookie just his second career start and his first in Toronto. His previous starting role was in Charlotte on Jan. 8 and was a career night, seeing Davis finish with 23 points and 11 assists. While he didn’t quite live up to that lofty standard, Davis was a difference maker when the Raptors sorely needed it.
In fact, it was Davis who helped get the Raptors going early in the first with a 4 point play, knocking down the three pointer from the wing and adding in the foul shot for good measure. The rest of the first quarter was almost entirely about Davis and his fellow undrafted starting guard in Fred VanVleet, scoring seemingly at will, and mixing in some Siakam for good measure.
The Raptors showed little care for the Nets defence, running at half speed compared to their previous home-and-home series against Indiana, and still getting any shot they were looking for early in the game.
It wasn’t until the Nets started to mix in some zone that the Raptors began to struggle, but this was also a challenge due to personnel with the Raptors going deep into their bench out of necessity.
While the Raptors were rolling offensively, the same could be said for Spencer Dinwiddie who carried the Nets early. Dinwiddie started the game a perfect 5-for-5 in the first quarter to chip in 12 early points for Brooklyn. Much of their scoring was off second chance opportunities or in transition as the Raptors were turning over the ball on most possessions where they didn’t score.
Early foul trouble from Fred VanVleet would add another challenge for Nick Nurse and company. After getting called for his second foul with 4:23 left in the first quarter, Nurse turned the game over to the bench in an attempt get rest for his starters. And the bench responded.
Whether it was Matt Thomas helping to bust the zone with his patented shooting touch, or Chris Boucher providing rim protection, the Raptors bench stymied the Nets.
Nurse would start the second quarter with an all bench line-up of Pat McCaw, Matt Thomas, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Oshae Brissett, and Chris Boucher, a lineup that makes as little sense as any the Raptors could conceivably put together.
Rather than struggle and lose the lead, they instead put together what may be the slowest 8-0 run in Raptors history, successfully eating up the first 4 minutes of the second quarter without allowing a point.
When the starters began returning to the floor with 6 minutes remaining in the half, the Raptors continued to push their lead. Pascal exploited isolation opportunities against Taurean Prince or Spencer Dinwiddie, and found a nice touch using his push-shot/hook from around the paint.
Toronto would enter the half with a 66-54 lead, and much of the momentum on their side.
The third quarter started much the same, with the Raptors extending their lead to as much as 18. Whether it was OG driving for lay-ups/fouls, or Siakam continuing to punish Dinwiddie in the post, the offence was humming.
Near the midway point of the third quarter Davis also chipped in back-to-back triples, as scoring was coming from a variety of sources.
It was towards the end of the third quarter where the wheels started to come off a little. It could have been the short-handed rotation, or the second night of a back-to-back, but the Raptors were noticeably tired and were slowing down as a whole.
The Raptors would begin the fourth quarter with a 10 point lead and Brooklyn slowly chipped away. Caris LeVert was exceptional all night but took over in the fourth quarter, including drawing a foul from Boucher to complete a 4-point play early on.
Brooklyn would go on to complete a 9-2 run and cut the Raptors lead to just 3 with 3 minutes remaining. With the lead diminishing it was Fred VanVleet who asserted himself on behalf of Toronto, driving into the paint on Joe Harris to complete a difficult and-1 lay-up.
Despite the Raptors best efforts though the Nets would tie it at 118 with 35.3 seconds left, and LeVert calmly drained a smooth jumper from the free throw line. Toronto would go to their All Star starter to try and respond.
Siakam drove into the the paint against Wilson Chandler and forced a blocking call, which the Nets quickly challenge. On review the officials determined that Chandler was still moving and the call was upheld, sending Siakam to the line for a chance at the lead.
After missing his first, Siakam would give the Raptors a 1 point lead with 22.9 seconds left by sinking the second of two free throws.
Out of the timeout the Nets opted to go with the hot-hand and put the ball in LeVert’s hands, Toronto countered with OG Anunoby (note: in the post-game interview VanVleet made it clear that OG asked to take LeVert).
OG did an excellent job preventing the drive, forcing LeVert into an off-balance jumpshot from just inside the 3 point line, and recovered to challenge the shot himself. It was an elite defensive moment from Toronto’s best defender, and they almost wasted it.
The Raptors failed to box out and Joe Harris tipped the ball back up and barely missed the winning bucket, letting the Raptors escape with the win.
While OG obviously deserves plenty of credit for his work on LeVert, we should also recognize the contributions of Davis on the same possession. Brooklyn was not intentionally running an isolation play off the inbound, as they also did a double-screen to try and give Joe Harris an open 3 pointer from straight away. Davis recovered quickly and helped to take away the pass option, forcing LeVert to work one-on-one against OG.
This was far from the prettiest or most complete wins, but for a short-handed team with heavy legs it was a great accomplishment.
Every season teams will have a weak section to their schedule, and yet few can put together such extended winning streaks as the Raptors have presently. 14 wins in a row should not be scoffed at or dismissed, and it requires teams to steal a few wins on night’s where they likely shouldn’t.
The Raptors did just that last night. 14 straight wins, and it feels good.