Raps dodge an­other bad start to pull out 9th straight win

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SPORTS - MIKE GAN­TER mgan­ter@post­media.ca

BROOK­LYN • Even­tu­ally it’s go­ing to catch up with them.

Even­tu­ally though did not ar­rive Tues­day night.

Out­side of the odd game — cer­tainly the Hous­ton win comes to mind — the Toronto Rap­tors’ starters have been rather or­di­nary of late.

They’ve closed out games well for the most part but those open­ing quar­ters have been dicey.

And it was again Tues­day night as D’An­gelo Rus­sell got red- hot from be­hind the arc hit­ting seven in a row be­fore he fi­nally missed and was subbed out.

That was seven min­utes into the quar­ter and he left with 24 points on his linescore.

The Rap­tors bench, as they nor­mally do, came in and re­stored some or­der get­ting the game back to even be­fore turn­ing it back to the starters for the fi­nal six min­utes of the sec­ond quar­ter.

Again the starters fal­tered, this time with­out the ex­cuse of a red-hot Rus­sell to go to.

By the half the Raps were down 10 points again.

Then it turned again, but not un­til Fred Van­Vleet, the en­gine that makes that bench mob go, came out to join the starters.

From the point of his ar­rival at about four min­utes into the third quar­ter, the Rap­tors went on a 15- 0 run and by the end of the third, had a two-point lead on their way to a 116-102 win.

It was the sea­son- high ninth win in a row for the Rap­tors.

There’s some­thing that hap­pens when Van­Vleet en­ters a game. He gets into his man and it catches through the rest of the lineup.

Sud­denly de­fence is no longer a chore, it’s a ne­ces­sity. Whether that’s be­cause no one wants to get shamed or it’s just catch­ing, every­one else’s de­fence picks up.

Van­Vleet was the guy who came in and helped turn the wa­ter off for Rus­sell in the first half. His en­try into the game in the sec­ond half made any scor­ing sig­nif­i­cantly tougher for any of the Nets as the rest of the Rap­tors fol­lowed his lead.

Van­Vleet wound up with 15 points and four as­sists in 27 min­utes, but the stats sheet did not re­flect the im­pact he had on this game.

Casey knew com­ing into this one this Nets team was ca­pa­ble of push­ing the Rap­tors.

“This team is a scrappy young team and we only got out by the skin of our teeth the last time here,” he said re­call­ing an over­time win here in early Jan­uary. They give us prob­lems in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions and it took us over­time to beat them last time. If that doesn’t get your at­ten­tion, noth­ing will.”

While i t was Van­Vleet that helped get the Rap­tors en­gaged in this one, it was his bench mob team­mate CJ Miles who helped the Rap­tors start to pull away.

In a span of just over two min­utes mid­way through the fourth quar­ter Miles, who had been score­less to that point, hit three three­p­oint­ers and was fouled on an­other con­vert­ing all three from the line for a 12- point burst that gave the Rap­tors a lit­tle breath­ing room.

The Raps got lit­tle in the way of of­fence from ei­ther of the two big­gest pro­duc­ers in Kyle Lowry and De­Mar DeRozan but got 28 out of Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas to stay in this one.

Valan­ci­u­nas also had 13 boards as Casey stayed big when the Nets went small mak­ing for a hand­ful of op­por­tu­ni­ties for Valan­ci­u­nas to go to work with a huge ad­van­tage over some smaller de­fend­ers.

For the game the Nets hit on 15- of- 35 threes. Casey talked about the po­ten­tial for that as well be­fore the game not­ing the Nets, like a lot of teams in the NBA, have com­mit­ted whole­heart­edly to the three ball but hadn’t been con­sis­tent hit­ting it.

“At some point they are go­ing to start go­ing i n,” Casey noted. “We just hope it’s not tonight.”

Casey’s wish wasn’t granted, but he found the pieces to off­set a very suc­cess­ful night from dis­tance from the home­town Nets be­gin­ning with Van­Vleet.

KATHY WILLENS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Brook­lyn Nets for­ward Ron­dae Hol­lis-Jef­fer­son de­fends against Toronto guard De­Mar DeRozan in the first half of Tues­day night’s game.

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