• The Raptors played without — deep breath — Siakam, VanVleet, Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Dalano Banton, Porter and Justin Champagnie. VanVleet was the big surprise, missing the game with a non-COVID illness. He missed two other games with the same cause but played in the last two. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the lack of time these lineups have played together, the Raptors’ double teams looked dreadful. A lot of these lineups were new ones, by necessity.
• All of that made it a big night for Malachi Flynn, and he was not up to the challenge. After hitting a pair of 3s early on, Flynn struggled to do much offensively. He wasn’t setting up others, as Anunoby, Young and Trent took the playmaking burden. He struggled to get into the paint, and when he did, his finishing was off. This wasn’t the performance he needed.
• Young played in his 1100th regular season game on Wednesday. Only LeBron James, Andre Iguodala and Chris Paul are active and have played more. Anyway, you would think that would be enough time to figure out that he’s really going to try to get to his left hand in the post.
• As far as memorable sequences go, Chris Boucher blocking a Kevin Durant 3, dunking in transition and then getting crossed over by Kyrie Irving before a 3 will live on for a while. Boucher is never boring.
• There were notable, if not deafening boos for Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, who was playing in his third-game after serving an eight-game team-issued suspension for posting a link to an antisemitic movie and then refusing to apologize for it. The booing mostly petered out as the game progressed. Irving went on a scoring bonanza in the fourth quarter, finishing with a game-high 29 points.
• A large number of the Grey Cup-winning Toronto Argonauts were in attendance for the game, and came out to a nice ovation during a timeout in the first quarter. Someone brought the trophy over to Drake at his courtside spot, so no fear.
• Jeff Dowtin Jr. is going to be a good pro. How do I know this? After an objectionable offensive call on one end, he went down rather easily on a screen, getting the ball back for the Raptors on the same call. He also got an and-1 for his highlight reel.
Absent some of their biggest scorers the Raptors could have used a lightning bolt from someone — maybe Malachi Flynn in his first start of the season — but the closest they could get was an outstanding game from veteran Thad Young who put up 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the 1,100th game of his 16-year career. But he was the exception as you might expect given Toronto shot just 35.6 per cent from the floor while the Nets shot 54.9 per cent. Flynn finished with eight points on 12 shots in 30 minutes in an outing that won’t make anyone think he’s poised for a breakout in his third season. Gary Trent Jr. finished with 19 points but was 1-of-8 from deep in his first game back after missing the last two.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” was Nurse’s post-game assessment. “The wrong guy doubled, the wrong direction. Things like that just not executing what was supposed to be executed.
“[But] let’s not get too crazy here. That’s a really good, motivated [Brooklyn] team with a lot of scorers and shooters and our guys aren’t feeling great… So, I’m not going to sit here and go crazy over everybody here. We will learn what we can learn and just try and regroup. We got a day off [Thursday] and we’ll just hope guys start coming back.”
In the meantime, is Nurse relishing the challenge of knitting a new lineup together from scraps of wool every night?
“… Not really to be honest with you. Once in a while, you might enjoy the challenge, but not for three weeks in a row here. It’s getting… it’s not that enjoyable,” he said. “…it’s not the end of the world, and it’s not like we haven’t played very well, because I think we have. If you look at some of our metrics… I think we’re still top 10 in offence and defence in the league and all that stuff, with all these injuries we’ve had for multiple weeks.”
The Raptors at least had a blueprint they could use. The topsy-turvy Nets — who came into the game with a 6-4 record since they fired Steve Nash at the start of the month but just 1-2 with Irving, who served an eight-game suspension for promoting an antisemitic film and only belatedly apologizing for it — had a win gift wrapped for them against Philadelphia on Tuesday and kicked it to the curb.
The Sixers, who were without Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, upset the Nets by in part out-rebounding them 20-4 on the offensive glass, which is saying something since the Sixers were last in that category coming into the game.
The Nets played flat, failing to rise to moment in Simmons’s return to Philadelphia and further raising questions about the fibre of a team that has talent but not always a pulse.
Nurse thought the Nets would arrive with something to prove after their no-show on against the Sixers. Those that follow the team closely were skeptical about any effort to predict what Brooklyn might do. Then again, the Raptors specialize in winning the possession battle — chasing down more offensive rebounds and forcing opponents into more turnovers than they make themselves — and the Nets were on the second night of back-to-back while the Raptors had played one game in six days.
Brooklyn’s frontcourt was impactful from the jump. Simmons continued his strong play with four early points and one steal and was a major reason the Nets recorded six early fast break points. Claxton was equally forceful, patrolling the paint with mastery en route to six points, three rebounds, and two blocks. Their Nets built an early 21-12 advantage before the six-minute mark.
Brooklyn maintained that advantage until Cam Thomas checked in at the end of the quarter. Thomas got on the board with four quick points and a assist but then gave up a corner three by helping from the strong side. Such is the yin and yang of relying on young players. Brooklyn finished ahead 38-26 to end the first.
Toronto started the second quarter on a 13-0 run as Gary Trent Jr. began to get it going. Meanwhile, offensive rebounding continued to be a problem for the Nets after the brutal night in Philadelphia, with the Raptors grabbing 10 early offensive rebounds through one-and-a-half quarters. As such, things were largely knotted up for the majority of the period as neither team could find any sort of rhythm.
Edmond Sumner checked in at the 5:34 mark in the second and quickly got on the board with a layup in transition while cutting from the weakside, and then he scored on a pick-six thanks to some great point-of-attack defense. This gave the Nets a seven-point lead. Unfortunately, Brooklyn proceeded to cough the ball up twice (Durant being one of the culprits for one of his five first-half turnovers), and Toronto evened things up. Despite Toronto shooting just 18% from three in the first half, the Raptors were down just 52-51 against Brooklyn after two periods.
Brooklyn finally got it going in the third quarter. Kyrie Irving broke his silence with a pull-up two, a three, and a layup on the fastbreak through contact. Behind the increased effort to start the second half, the Nets went on a 10-0 run.
The Nets continued to pour it on in the third. Kyrie was splashing shots left and right, and Ben Simmons wreaked havoc against Raptors’ ball-handlers to rip away two steals.
“So far, this is the best I felt in terms of just moving,” said Simmons after the game. “Obviously, it’s a back-to-back and I think my minutes were supposed to be lower, but I was trying to push myself and I wanted to be out there and help the team win.”
Kevin Durant, meanwhile, turned up the intensity on defense and contested multiple shots at the rim for three blocks. Behind the efforts of their three stars, the Nets grew the lead to 91-76 to end the third.
Brooklyn continued to keep the defensive intensity high in the fourth quarter. Royce O’Neale ripped away two steals, and suddenly Brooklyn’s lead grew to 20. The Nets never looked back, cruising over the finish line with a 14-point advantage.
The Raptors were looking — unsurprisingly — disorganized on D pretty much from the tip, and every Net scored in the first 3.5 minutes, including Simmons, who waltzed to the hoop unimpeded after a made Koloko free throw on the other end. That’s not quite as awful a transition defensive effort as letting Trae Young and AJ Griffin combine for a game-winning 2-on-1, but still… yikes.
The Raptors found themselves in a 24-12 hole before they woke up, forcing two turnovers, one them a pick-six-dunk from OG, and two misses. OG dropped in an and-1 that cut the lead to 29-21, and Juancho Hernangomez then grabbed a third steal and OG dropped in another layup to cut the lead to 6.
But the Nets rattled off a 9-3 run to end the quarter, and the Raptors headed into the second trailing 38-26. They allowed the Nets to shoot 71% in the frame — including 6-of-10 from downtown!
The Raptors opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run — seven of them from Gary Trent Jr., who found his legs after coming up short on his first several shots of the game. Jacque Vaughn called for time, but it didn’t stop the bleeding as Juancho Hernangomez and Thad Young both scored to give the Raptors a 39-38 lead, before Ben Simmons finally scored to end the run. Did the Raptors do this while Kevin Durant was on the bench? Yes! Did they let up when he came back in? Nope!
The Raptors had a bunch of chances to build on their lead but missed six straight threes — five of them very open — before Jeff Dowtin Jr. scored an and-1 that gave the Raptors a 42-40 lead halfway through the quarter.
A cavalcade of whistles followed and both teams had a hard time scoring in the second half of the frame — almost like the Nets were on a back-to-back and the Raptors were missing half their roster! An Anunoby facial on Durant and a Thad Young putback on a Trent miss provided a final Raptors spark before halftime, and they ended the half with a 51-50 lead — though that was corrected moments later to a 52-51 Nets lead when the scorers noticed they missed a Durant basket earlier in the second quarter.
Either way — overall the result was a pretty impressive half for the home team, considering the Raptors shot 35% (including 8-for-22 from three) in the first half, while giving up 54% shooting to the Nets. How’d they do it? Forcing turnovers (13) and getting offensive rebounds (12).
Unfortunately, the good times could not last. The Nets who used an 18-4 third quarter run powered by Irving (9 points in the run) to push the the lead back to 13, 70–57.
Chris Boucher stopped the bleeding with a midrange J and a breakaway jam, but Irving came right back with back-to-back threes, and the rout was on. The Nets finished the third leading by 15 and the Raptors didn’t get closer than 13 the rest of the way.
Chris Boucher did what he could in the fourth, as did Gary Trent Jr. — both got plenty of good looks — but the lid had a rim on it (they combined to shoot 1-for-9). Boucher’s energy, though, was good to see — he missed 13 shots, but he was flying around out there, pulling down offensive rebounds, and getting to the line. He finished with 12 points and 16 boards.
Playing the five is something that Young has been asked to do more of over the past few seasons, but the skillset – including the sneaky, throwback post game we’ve seen from him recently – is something the crafty veteran has always had. He learned the game from his father, Felton Young, a seven-footer who played for Jacksonville University and was selected by the Buffalo Braves in the eighth round of the 1978 NBA draft. He burrowed bits and pieces from some of the big men he played with early in his career: Elton Brand, Theo Ratliff, and a couple of former Raptors, Donyell Marshall and Reggie Evans.
“I’ve always [had] good footwork and known how to get my shot off in certain positions – floaters and post moves. And when guys are trying to impose their will on me defensively, just using their body against them. Other than that, it’s just a matter of natural feel for the basketball game.”
Early in the second quarter of Wednesday’s loss, Young backed down the smaller Irving and found the cutting Juancho Hernangomez for a layup. On the next possession, his reverse layup capped off a 16-0 Raptors run, giving them a rare lead.
To open the second half, he took Royce O’Neale into the post and knocked down a baby hook shot from 10-feet out. Later, he posted up Irving and when Durant came over to help, he split the two defenders and finished at the rim.
After coming off the bench in each of his first 10 games this season, as well as his 26 contests with the Raptors last year, Young has started the last five. Over that stretch, he’s averaging 12.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.2 steals in 30 minutes. He’s also shooting an impressive 29-for-38 inside of the paint.
An hour after the final buzzer sounded on Wednesday’s loss, Young was the last Raptors player left in the locker room. His wife and two sons were waiting for him in the hallway, but this was nothing new. As part of his post-game routine, he spends time in the hot tub and the cold tub. He’s on the trainer’s table getting some manual therapy. None of that changes, whether he plays 30 minutes or 10, win or lose. That’s how you play 1,100 games in this league.
“Doing all my old man stuff,” he joked. “Just taking care of your body at all costs.”
The Raptors just got Gary Trent Jr. and Chris Boucher back from their illnesses. VanVleet is still battling his lingering bout of the flu, which has cost him three of the last five games, but their hope is that he’ll be available against Dallas on Saturday. While Barnes is day-to-day with a sprained knee, they’re targeting next week for Siakam’s return from a groin injury that’s kept him out of the last nine games.
But if and when they finally get back to full health, Young has made a strong case for continued playing time. His calming, steadying presence is one of the biggest reasons they’ve been able to tread water.
“It’s just who I am as a player, it’s who I am as a man,” Young said. “Regardless of the situation, I only know one thing and that’s to work. Put my head down and continue to grind, continue to work, and continue to make sure I’m doing the things that the Toronto Raptors brought me here for: to help these young guys continue to chug along and continue to get better as a group. But, also, when it’s time for me to step in and do the job to the best of my abilities, be able to show them that this is how we should be playing basketball, this is how the game is played, this is how you stick around for a long period of time.”
A Raptors team at full strength would be a good test for these Nets, but Nick Nurse’s squad hasn’t been anything close to that for the better part of three weeks. Prior to the game vs. Brooklyn, the Raptors head coach made the expected announcement that forward Scottie Barnes wouldn’t be able to suit up because of knee soreness. Unfortunately for Nurse, his medical update didn’t stop there.
After returning for a pair of games vs. the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, point guard Fred VanVleet was scratched once again with a non-COVID flu. Backup guard Dalano Banton also had to be ruled out with a sore ankle while other unavailable players included Pascal Siakam, Otto Porter Jr., Precious Achiuwa and Justin Champagnie.
That left the Raptors with just 10 healthy bodies, at least three or four of which typically don’t get regular rotation minutes. After dealing with similar issues each of the last two years, it’s all getting a bit old for Nurse, who must be wondering if he’s ever going to have his entire group available for more than a week or two at a time.
“Once in a while, you might enjoy the challenge, but not for three weeks in a row here,” said Nurse, whose team dropped to 9-9. “It’s not that enjoyable. Listen, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s like we haven’t played very well, because I think we have.
“But what it does is it causes so much other time spent away from focusing on the game. On trying to figure out when this guy is back, where this guy is, when his treatment is … Is he sick? Is it COVID? There are so many other things that you’re spending and occupying (time on), and that’s not what you really want to do. We want to focus in on the games and putting all of our energies there.”
The Raptors had hoped to do to the Nets what the 76ers did just one night prior. On Tuesday, despite being without Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, the 76ers managed to steal a victory from the star-studded Nets thanks in large part to their dominance on the glass. The 76ers outrebounded the Nets 49-35, including 20-4 on the offensive end.
Nurse figured the Nets would be focused on cleaning up that part of their game on Wednesday, but early on it was more of the same. The first 11 points the Raptors scored all came on second chances and by halftime they had already secured 11 offensive boards, which kept them within one at the break.
or the Raptors, the past few injury-plagued games have shown not only how important depth is these days but exactly how talented Toronto’s bench truly is. It’s not bad, certainly not as bad as last year’s, and nowhere close to the drek that hit the court in Tampa. But it’s not a roster bursting with talent.
Malachi Flynn struggled as Toronto’s primary point guard, stepping in fill the voids left by Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, and Dalano Banton. He nailed a pair of three-pointers to open the game, including one a fallaway over Kevin Durant. But after that, there wasn’t much else.
Thad Young once again was the star that shined brightest for Toronto. As VanVleet put it earlier in the week, Young has been the Raptors’ most valuable player as they wade through these injuries and Wednesday was no different. He finished the night with 12 points and eight rebounds, two shy of his first double-double of the year.
“He’s been good. I think that [he] just kind of continues to do the same thing, you know, eight or 10, 12 shots, shoots a pretty high percentage, gets a solid number rebounds, is doing a good job leadership wise too. He’s good in the huddles and he’s trying to keep those guys going,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s been a true pro.”
The problem for Toronto was Durant and Kyrie Irving came right back in the third quarter, playing every minute of the frame and sticking the Nets back to a double-digit lead. Irving nailed a trio of three-pointers by Durant’s side, scoring 19 of his game-high 29 points in the frame. Durant, meanwhile, finished with just 12 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, but was plus-30 in 33 minutes. The Nets, therefore, were minus-16 in the 15 minutes he sat.
“He’s always been a guy that makes the right play,” Nurse said of Durant. “When we send schemes at him, when he shakes loose [of a] one on one, he usually shoots it and if he’s double-teamed, he gets off it. That’s what he did tonight.”
For the Raptors, any attempt to acquire that kind of player is going to cost a ton. Virtually any trade involving the Raptors and Durant has to include Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, or O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. if only to meet the financial requirements of acquiring Durant’s $44.1 million contract for this season. That’s just the start, though. From there, Toronto would have to start adding contracts from Thad Young and Otto Porter Jr. on the higher end to Khem Birch at a lower value.
That’s where things get complicated. Durant is a ceiling raiser, there is no doubt about that, but let’s not forget he has two championships in his career, both with possibly the greatest supporting cast in NBA history. It’s not as simple as throwing Durant on the court and suddenly you’re a championship squad.
The Brooklyn Nets had every reason to take out the frustration on a Raptors team that was down three regular starters and whose entire roster for the night consisted of 10 bodies.
Those 10 Raptors had enough fight in them to keep this close for a half, but after holding the visitors to just 14 points in the second quarter, the Nets reasserted themselves in the third and put up 38 on their way to a convincing 112-98 win.
The second quarter was the Raptors at their best as they turned up the defence, leading to nine turnovers in that quarter alone and allowing them to climb to within a point of the Nets at the half.
Then the Nets, and Kyrie Irving in particular (the same Irving who was hearing boos every time he touched the ball) began torching the Raptors in the third.
Irving, who only had three points in the first half, bombed away for 19 in the third quarter alone, taking out whatever remaining fight was left in the Raptors. Irving would go on to give the Nets a game-high 29.
Thad Young, playing in the 1,100th game of his 16-year career, once again was a steadying influence in a scenario where there was plenty of uncertainty.
Young played just under 28 minutes and gave the Raptors 12 points, eight boards and five assists which is about what he has been doing since the injury bug settled over the locker room.
Gary Trent Jr. had a 19-point night in his return to the lineup after a three-game absence while O.G. Anunoby continued his stellar season with 15 points and a solid night containing Kevin Durant, who was held to just 12 points.
Chris Boucher, whose energy coach Nick Nurse prefers to have come off the bench rather than start even in these roster-depleted days, and also recently out of the lineup with illness, had another strong night with a season-high 16 rebounds and 12 points for his third double-double of the year.
Nurse is at the point where he knows assessing anything the team does in its current formation is a waste of his time.
“Listen, let’s not get too crazy here,” the Raptors’ head coach said. “That’s a really good, motivated team with a lot of scorers and shooters and our guys aren’t feeling great. A couple of our guys who came back are still coming off sickness and things like that. So, I’m not going to sit here and go crazy over everybody here. We will learn what we can learn and just try and regroup. We got a day off tomorrow and we’ll just hope guys start coming back.”