And while not a veteran, Scottie Barnes was the other bright spot for the Raptors on Friday. Shooting 7-for-14 and finishing with 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, Barnes wasn’t perfect — his first half featured some hazy passing and bad shots — but got into a rhythm working off Siakam. In the fourth, he was the recipient of two Pascal passes after cutting into the dunker spot, which kept Toronto within one possession of the Nets.
Unfortunately, the Raptors struggled to find contributions otherwise. After a hot start of 3-for-3 in the opening minutes, Gary Trent Jr. went ice cold, finishing 6-for-16 and taking over a number of second half possessions with a laser focus on the hoop — looking off open teammates to take contested shots. OG Anunoby similarly couldn’t follow up a strong Wednesday showing, scoring just ten points in 37 minutes.
The Raptors bench also came up short on Friday. Combining for just nine points, Christian Koloko and Precious Achiuwa failed to be impactful over the full span of the game, while Dalano Banton was a -15 and provided a hiding spot for Kyrie Irving to guard while on the floor.
“Kai was incredible down the stretch making some big plays for us,” said Steve Nash. “We come to expect that type of shotmaking from him but it’s not easy, especially two games into the year. I’m sure he was really tired, you’re still trying to get your legs, and he made some incredible plays.”
Kevin Durant had a quiet game by his standards despite the 27 points. He went just 8-of-18 from the field with four total rebounds, though he did pitch in with six assists.
Outside of the 7/11 duo, Nic Claxton put together a scintillating 19-point, 11-rebound performance. His finishing through contact and ability to put the ball on the floor continues to be a major plus for Brooklyn in his fourth NBA season.
“Yeah, I mean he had all of that stuff when he got here,” said Kevin Durant about Claxton’s start to the season and refined skills. “It’s just being more confident and using it. Coach trusts him. His teammates trust him so he can go out there and do his thing. Sometimes you don’t want to showcase all your skills early on because you don’t know how they fit towards the team. He’s comfortable now and we need him to be more and more aggressive.
Then there was the dagger. A Royce O’Neale three to put the game away with 14.3 seconds left. More on that later.
Pascal Siakam led the way for Toronto with a 37-point, 11-assist, 13-rebound triple-double, as all five of Toronto’s starters scored in double figures.
“Triple-double is probably gonna be happening most nights,” said Kyrie Irving about the Raptors star. “I don’t wanna say he’s gonna be averaging a triple-double, but I think he has the capability of being a triple-double guy of just how many pieces they have and how well they play through him.”
Five — VanVleet is still crucial on offence despite being deemphasized. Even though it has only been two games, there is a clear adjustment for VanVleet to play more of a facilitating role instead of focusing on scoring as compared to last season. He didn’t take a shot until the five-minute mark of the first quarter on a floater, and he only attempted four shots in the first half, which includes two wide-open catch-and-shoot threes.
But when the Nets started making their runs in the second half, it was VanVleet who took up the secondary role behind Siakam by driving into the paint for kick-out passes, hunting for threes around pin-down screens, or crossing up his defender for stepback jumpers in the final minute. The overall approach of using VanVleet less does make sense since there are other advantages on the floor, but when push comes to shove, VanVleet picks up the slack and stops the bleeding.
Six — Barnes grew into the game, just as he did in the season opener. The starting lineup features five players who can all get their own, so there’s a feeling-out process early on with each player taking turns trying to size up their defenders.
Eventually though, when the advantages emerge and the offence becomes more clear, Barnes finds his way as a secondary player. He’s instinctive in knowing how to position himself so that he is open when the main man is doubled. More importantly, Barnes trades the prettier but more hopeful midrange pull-ups for the bruising bully ball drives that are more guaranteed, which is the approach he should take for the full four quarters.
“I was happy with [Barnes’] game,” Nurse said of last season’s rookie of the year. “I thought he competed. That was the main thing, that’s all I’m asking.”
A steal by VanVleet led to a thunderous dunk from Barnes that brought the Scotiabank Arena crowd to its feet and put Toronto up by one with 3:31 to play. Trent’s three-pointer, from in front of Cleveland’s bench, made it a four-point game.
A pair of free throws from Caris LeVert sliced the difference to a point with 4.5 seconds left on the clock, but on Toronto’s final possession, Barnes spotted a sprinting Achiuwa who sealed the victory with a rim-rattling dunk with 0.7 to play.
“I thought we played both ends like we needed to in the fourth quarter, like we were really digging some things out on defence as well, creating some turnovers, lots of loose balls and things like that,” said Nurse. “And then we got pretty good shots most of the time down.”
“My idol was always Kevin Durant. He was skinny like me, body type. For his size, he played like a guard at 6’11”, 7′. So it was pretty impressive. That’s why,” Koloko explained back in 2020 while playing at Arizona.
Durant is listed at 6’10”, 240 lbs, while Koloko measures up at 7’1, 230 lbs. In other words, a lot of height, but not a heck of a lot of bulk.
The two faced off for the first time in their career on Friday night, a 109-105 Nets win at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Koloko reiterated his admiration for Durant during his first press conference with the team, which Durant heard about for the first time last night.
“Every time I hear stuff like that, it’s like, alright, you watched me as you was growing up, I mean, shit, I just feel old,” Durant joked in response to a question asked by Daily Hive. “But I always appreciate stuff like that. You never know who’s watching you when you’re out there doing your thing. You want to inspire and ignite [the passion in] whoever’s watching in some way in some shape or form.”
Kyrie Irving was equally effective for the Nets, scoring 30 points, including a couple of late threes, and Kevin Durant added 27 points.
The Nets are very much in a developmental stage with a group of all-stars that they hope some day becomes as good as the sum of its parts. But until Durant, Simmons and Irving figure it out, there are going to be struggles, no matter how individually skilled they are.
And after a tumultuous summer, calm and patience may be hard to find, at least for casual fans that believe the team lurched from crisis to crisis in the off-season.
“We have a bunch of guys trying to learn to play together, but inside our facility we feel really good about what we’re building, the guys have been exceptional,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said before the game. “There’s no baggage or remnants every day at work, if that makes sense. I’m sure from the outside people always wonder, ‘How?’ But that’s just what it’s like in the NBA.
And then the season started, and the Nets were blown out at home by the New Orleans Pelicans — all of a sudden, the heat was on. It seemed everywhere I turned at Barclays Center, where Nash is beginning his third tumultuous season, the mood was: the Nets need to win.
Or what? Ever since the Durant news surfaced – and even after all parties apparently made peace – the sense around the NBA has been: if the Nets stumble early, Nash will pay the price.
He’ll have some more time before that happens, however, as his Nets competed hard and got some strong performances from their stars in a 109-105 win over the visiting Toronto Raptors that evened both team’s records at 1-1.
A jumper by Kyrie Irving and a Durant triple followed by a Royce O’Neal dagger three with 14.3 seconds left after Irving flipped the ball to him out of a Raptors double team was ultimately the defining sequence.
“If I could have that back, I would,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, who made the decision to leave O’Neal and double Irving.
The Raptors wasted a tremendous performance by Pascal Siakam who may have been the most impressive star on the floor as he put up 37 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists – his second career 30-point triple-double – in the kind of outing that gives weight to his ambitions of being a first-team all-NBA selection. Once again all five Raptors were in double-figures scoring, but they got only five points from their bench.