As handicapped as the Nets were, it’s important to remember the Raptors also continue to not be at full strength. OG Anunoby and Khem Birch continue to deal with their respective injuries, Precious Achiuwa is in health and safety protocols himself – although it sounds like he’ll likely clear in the coming days – Goran Dragic remains away from the team on an excused absence and rookie Dalano Banton was also forced to miss the game out with a non-COVID related sickness.
It’s not seven men out, but five isn’t exactly a small number, either, plus the fact the Raptors were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, so there is good rationale you can think of why the Raptors fell to the shorthanded Nets Tuesday.
However, when you consider how lifeless the Raptors came out on Tuesday, that argument falls fairly flat.
Toronto demolished the Sacramento Kings Monday night, 124-101, as no player played more than 32 minutes and the team’s much-maligned bench appeared to find form at last, going off for a season-high 53 points.
Coming into Tuesday’s game, particularly against a team as shorthanded as the Nets ended up being, there was reason to believe that playing on the second night of a back-to-back wouldn’t impact the Raptors much. Their starters, in particular, were as well-rested as they were going to get, and with the bench looking to pick up some momentum — going against a Nets second unit that will likely be forced into more responsibility than normal — there should’ve been an advantage.
Instead, the Nets appeared to be the more energetic team to start with their bench outscoring Toronto’s 17-13 in the first half, to say nothing of the brilliance of Durant, who looked to show no ill effects of playing on a sore ankle as he exploded for 15 in the first two quarters.
To make matters worse for the Raptors, even when Durant sat, the Nets were still hammering them as they actually managed to outscore Toronto 13-6.
That wasn’t going to get the job done and it was looking quite early on that the job probably wasn’t going to get done from the Raptors as they allowed a 7-0 Nets run to close the first quarter to give Brooklyn a 33-32.
That led to a disastrous second quarter, mostly played by Toronto’s second-unit players, and saw the Raptors get outscored 33-24 in the period giving the Nets a 66-56 lead at the half.
The second half proved to be a whole other story for the Raptors, though.
Whatever malady of slothfulness that was afflicting them disappeared as they used a 24-5 run in the third quarter that helped them carry a 100-91 lead heading into the fourth and had a little bit of everything in it. A VanVleet triple, a couple of Siakam hammers (including one that posterized Durant), a gorgeous Trent Jr. strip and slam, an incredible one-on-one move by Barnes on Durant and even a taunting technical foul called on Chris Boucher who was just a little too fired up.
It was a far cry from anything the Raptors did in the first half as the team was engaged, energized and looked like the team with more bodies to burn as Brooklyn appeared to be wilting in the third.
“Appeared” being the operative word, that is.
Despite a short bench, Brooklyn thrived in the first, taking a 33-32 lead after one. The rookies looked sharp, combining for nine points in the frame while Claxton led the team in scoring with 10 points in nine minutes of play. The 6’11” Sharpe was the only active Net not to see minutes in the first, but he started the second.
Brooklyn, led by their youth with Durant on the bench, opened the second on a 13-6 run to expand their lead to eight points with 7:11 left in the second. Although Thomas was off to a slow start, Sharpe and Edwards were very active on the boards, giving Brooklyn second-chance opportunities powered by a lot of hustle. After Toronto called for a timeout at the 7:11 mark, the crowd gave the youth a loud round of applause.
A huge part of Brooklyn’s offense in the second was the fast break. The Nets compiled 20 points on the fast break — a season-high in that category — a 14-point advantage at the break. On the boards, the Nets took a 33-17 advantage, but it was their effort on the offensive glass that stood out, outpacing the Raptors, 10-5. The 10 offensive boards tied a season-high in any half.
Gary Trent Jr. drilled a left-wing three at the buzzer and Brooklyn hit the break nursing a 10-point lead (66-56). Durant and Trent Jr. exchanged some words after the buzzer-beater. The Nets superstar scored 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes in the first half but the Brooklyn’s rookies combined for 25 points, led by Duke Jr. and Edwards (eight points each). Claxton had a strong half of 12 points in 14 minutes of action.
But then Toronto dominated the third.
The Raptors picked up their intensity in the opening minutes of the quarter, playing with a lot more physicality, energy and toughness. Toronto took their first lead of the second half off a wide-open triple from Barnes in the corner (85-83) with five minutes remaining.
After taking the lead, the fiery Raptors got hot, forging a 7-1 run-off defensive miscues from the rookies. Despite Brooklyn being outscored 44-25 in the third, Durant kept the ship afloat, scoring 11 points to keep the Nets within striking distance heading into the fourth (100-91).
The Nets had the Raptors number to open the fourth, going on an 8-2 run, slowly chipping away at the deficit. After a pair of threes from Edwards, along with the usual midrange shooting from Durant and another three from Mills, the Nets were back in it. Mills let the fans know how he felt, banging his chest to the crowd, Brooklyn regained a 109-108 lead with just under seven minutes remaining. The Aussie guard wasn’t finished, drilling another pair of threes that erupted the Barclays Center crowd and mounted a small 8-3 run to take a six-point lead.
In the end, Fred VanVleet kept the Raptors in the game, drilling a fall-away three from the right-wing to trim the deficit to one point with 3.3 seconds remaining, but Mills hit one out of two free throws and off the miss, Toronto missed a deep three to avoid a second OT and capping a resilient win for the depleted.
“It was an enormous effort for everyone to step up tonight,” said Mills. “It was a satisfying win.”
Both teams began overtime with lackluster offense, before Durant scored six straight points to put Brooklyn in the driver’s seat.
Forward Blake Griffin fouled out of the game with 52.7 seconds left in overtime on a highly-controversial call, which Nets coach Steve Nash unsuccessfully challenged, leaving the already underhanded Nets with limited options to finish the game.
The Raptors began fouling the Nets to preserve time on the clock with under 12 seconds to go, but Brooklyn managed to make enough free throws to keep the team ahead on the scoreboard.
Raptors forward Scottie Barnes missed a running three-pointer at the buzzer, which would have given the Canadian team a win, but the shot hit the rim and bounced out as the crowd from Barclays Center celebrated the hard-fought victory.
Durant had previously been listed as “questionable” to play with a slight leg injury Tuesday night, but Nash later told reporters that the future Hall of Famer “really wanted to play,” and ultimately convinced the coaching staff to let him suit up.
“We had to debate it. We had to debate Kevin’s situation. Obviously, we’re talking about franchise player. We don’t want to risk it,” Nash said. “In the end, Kevin really wanted to play.”
Durant, for his part, spoke glowingly of his teammates, highlighting his “pride” in how they overcame the unexpected adversity to pull out a win.
“We could have easily punted this game, but we saw an opportunity to get better,” he said. “Words can’t describe how proud I am to be apart of this group. It was incredible.”
Siakam was a critical part of Toronto’s best stretch, a third quarter where the Raptors out-scored Brooklyn 44-25 and turned a ten-point halftime deficit into a significant lead. This was when the team was at its best, forcing the game’s tempo up with ballhawking defense and keeping the Nets’ top guys in Durant and Patty Mills in a reactionary mode. Trent Jr. and VanVleet combined for five steals in the game, which was critical for getting the Nets off of their game; when Brooklyn was able to play in the half court, the gravity of Durant often meant curtains for the Raptors.
Besides the Nets’ superstar, another reason for the half court dominance was Toronto’s defensive glass. The Nets won the rebounding battle 60-41 tonight and much of it was inexcusable on the Raptors’ part. Six-foot-four guard David Duke Jr. (I know: whomst?) had six offensive rebounds by simply cutting into open areas and poking the ball into open space. Boucher and Siakam really struggled to secure boards in the face of pressure, and while Barnes picked up the slack (12 rebounds, five on the offensive end), the Nets relentlessly got extra looks thanks to crashing the glass and out-numbering Toronto in the painted area.
Still, if you’re a glass half full person, your main takeaway from this game is the continued excellence of Scottie Barnes. Scoring 23 points on just 13 shots, Barnes was cool and confident when asked to create his own shot. In fact, the Raptors could’ve called his number even more — when Barnes was leading Nick Nurse’s bench unit in the first half, he barely touched the ball, as Malachi Flynn and Yuta Watanabe ran most of the action (Flynn went 1-for-4 and was benched in the second half).
It was also apparent late that Barnes might be able to provide a change of pace for Toronto’s clutch offense. With both Siakam and VanVleet well over the 40-minute mark, the two settled for a handful of passive jumpers in the half court. Seeing if Barnes can do something in the post on those possessions would at least be interesting to see.
The fact is, though, changing roles only goes so far when your productive roster goes five deep. I’ll include Watanabe in the good group, even though he struggled shooting, as he put in some great frontcourt minutes with Barnes to help shore up the rebounding in the second half.
The drop-off from Toronto’s starters to lineups with Flynn, Justin Champagnie and Svi Mykhailiuk are just too steep to not notice. Even against a team playing eight guys, the Raptors don’t have the talent of a Durant to create high percentage shots in a 1-on-2 or 1-on-3 scenario. When the game was close late, that’s something the Raptors couldn’t count on that the Nets definitely could.
So, that’s the story.
So, yeah, they played the game. It looked ugly for a bit, really ugly for the Raptors, then less ugly, then the Nets let Kevin Durant and Patty Mills takeover. After some late-game heroics from Scottie Barnes, an over-aggressive closeout from Chris Boucher on Mills, and a lackluster would-be game-winner from Fred VanVleet that flew astray, the Nets eventually eked out a 131-129 victory Tuesday night.
“He didn’t get off a great shot I don’t think but he got a pretty decent shake down and look there,” Nurse said of VanVleet’s pull-up 18-footer that would have clinched the game as time expired. “I don’t think it came off his hand great, it looked a little worse than it was but I think the shot he created was pretty decent on that one.”
Barnes certainly did his part to keep Toronto alive late, first pulling Durant out to the three-point line late in the fourth off an offensive rebound. It was clear Durant knew the scouting report: Don’t go. But when he didn’t, Barnes let it fly, nailing the step-back three to pull the Raptors to within three. Two minutes later, he pulled Kessler Edwards out to the corner and again nailed an off-the-bounce three to tie things up at 117.
“I think the biggest thing that he’ll learn going forward is his mechanics are solid, especially on the release and all that stuff,” Nurse said. “So you can do a lot. You can shoot off the dribble, you can shoot not 100% on balance, you can shoot on the move, you can do a lot of things when, at the end of it, you snap it through with those good mechanics. So, I think he’s learning that and he’s also getting used to shooting them, for sure.”
Unfortunately for Toronto, Mills just wouldn’t go away late, racking up 16 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter alone before turning the reins over to Durant and the Nets offensive rebounders who buried Toronto in overtime.
“We put so much attention on the highest score and I felt like sometimes we’re just out of position,” Siakam said.
After a horrid first half against an eight-man Brooklyn Nets squad, the Raptors rallied with a 44-point third quarter, reverted to their bad selves for a while and couldn’t close the deal, dropping a 131-129 overtime decision that kept Toronto from creeping back to .500 on the season.
Until the Raptors get some consistency, game to game and even half to half, they are going to be entertaining at times, infuriating at times and always a mystery.
“We got to hold each other accountable, we got to continue to watch, learn from it,” Pascal Siakam said. “We know how good we can be when we’re all clicking and doing what we’re supposed to do. And I think that every time we haven’t done that this season, we’ve paid for it.”
No matter how few players the Nets have, they still have Kevin Durant and he had a triple double with 34 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the Nets while Patty Mills poured in 29.
David Duke Jr., who played 37 minutes in his first NBA start, sealed the game with an offensive rebound, Brooklyn’s 19th of the game, and two free throws with 10 seconds left.
“(Durant) basically shot an air ball, barely grazed the rim,” Nurse said. “Shot clock running down, totally guarded, just ball bounces the wrong way for you on that one. Probably anything but that shot, we have a better chance of rebounding.”
VanVleet’s three-pointer with about five seconds left got the Raptors within one but a Scottie Barnes heave at the buzzer missed.
A night after nine players scored in double figures for Toronto in a win over Sacramento, four kept them in the game in Brooklyn.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t fooled one bit that this would be any less a battle than any other night in the NBA regardless of the number of bodies the Nets had.
Nurse correctly pointed out that any team that had Durant in the lineup along with Mills and Harden, who at the time was still playing, were still a headache for which to game plan.
Harden, as mentioned, didn’t make the tipoff but Durant and Mills were there and that was enough on this night to get the job done as they overcame a tough third quarter with a blowout fourth of their own in a 131-129 win in overtime.
Full credit, not just to Durant, for his scoring but also his playmaking as he willingly gave up the ball through much of the fourth quarter with the Raptors blitzing him with multiple defenders to little-known Nets like rookie Kessler Edwards who had 15 in just the third NBA game of his young career.
The real difference in the game came on the glass, particularly the offensive glass, for the Nets who pulled down 19 offensive boards, 13 of those in the first half with the young Nets crashing the boards and earning shooters like Durant and Mills multiple second chances.
“I thought the first half, we didn’t do an adequate enough job of just blocking out or hustling,” Nurse said of the rebounding issues. Obviously, they had a bunch of opportunities, offensive rebounds, took advantage of them. I thought we were into the fight pretty good in second half. I think of those 19 they had 12 or 13 at halftime, so the first half wasn’t very good. We did a little bit better second half.”
Credit the young legs on the Nets roster getting a rare chance to play and taking full advantage. Guys like Kessler Edwards pulling down 10 rebounds and David Duke Jr. pulling down 13 really tipped the scales in Brooklyn’s favour last night.
But down the stretch of the fourth and into overtime it was pretty much just a heavy dose of Durant and Mills that brought this one home for the Eastern Conference leaders.
Durant would finish with 34 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds for his third triple-double of the season. Mills would finish with 29 points.
The Raptors went on a 9-3 run over the final three minutes of regulation just to force overtime.
It was a 9-0 run until Mills freed himself with a slight side step and then let fly with his seventh three pointer of the night to tie the game at 120.
This week: 20
Last week: 19
12-14, -0.1 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss to Thunder, Win over Knicks
1st Q: +2.7 net rating | Ranked 13th
2nd Q: -0.9 net rating | Ranked 17th
3rd Q: -0.5 net rating | Ranked 17th
4th Q: -1.6 net rating | Ranked 17th (tied)
Clutch: +14.3 net rating | Ranked 9th | 12 games (6-6)
Takeaway: This is about right for the Toronto Raptors across the board. They’re just right there in the middle of the road, middle of everything sticking them about as even as can be. Their net rating is almost 0.0, and they’re roughly average throughout every single quarter. With so many guys in and out of the lineup, it’s reasonable to expect this team to get better as they get healthier. And their clutch situations indicate the 6-6 record is bad luck and they should probably be on their way to winning far more of those games. I’m just not sure if we should expect the Raptors to be more than a .500 team throughout this season. I keep hoping the answer is yes, but they can’t seem to catch a consistent break to prove that to be so.
This week: 22
Last week: 19
Franchise 3-point leader: Kyle Lowry (1,518)
Fred VanVleet (632) should pass Morris Peterson for second on Toronto’s all-time list this season, but VanVleet is still not going to be anywhere near Kyle Lowry’s franchise record. — Bontemps
The Toronto Raptors are expecting to have Precious Achiuwa back out of COVID-19 protocols once his 10 days in isolation expire, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Tuesday.
It’s great news for the 22-year-old center who was forced into isolation following a close contact of COVID-19 at the December 5 Giants of Africa event. It suggests Achiuwa, who had been testing negative last week, never did test positive for COVID-19.
There is, however, some remaining concern about Achiuwa’s right shoulder that forced him out for a pair of games prior to his COVID isolation. He’s been battling right shoulder tendinitis off and on this season and the team hasn’t been able to check on him to see if that has healed.
“I think it’s better. He was improving. I don’t know that we’ve been able to evaluate him because we haven’t seen him for a while. No one has,” Nurse said. “So hopefully with this isolation and rest he’ll be ready to go with the shoulder as well.”
14. Toronto Raptors (Original Dino)
Seasons worn: 1995-99
Notable players in this look: Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby
Widely mocked at the time of their initial release, the Raptors’ Dino sets slowly became one of the more beloved jerseys in the NBA. The large dinosaur logo on the chest with the pinstripes was a bit too much at first, but it’s all love now. — Lopez