Raps’ win­ning streak over

North Bay Nugget - - SPORTS - Ryan Wol­stat

brookyln — the plucky brook­lyn Nets have been hard­luck losers so many times this sea­son that maybe the bas­ket­ball deities threw them a bone on Fri­day night.

the 9-18 Nets can’t com­pete with toronto’s tal­ent, yet out­worked the vis­i­tors and sur­vived in over­time to take the 106-105 fi­nal, drop­ping the rap­tors to 21-6.

Fred Vanvleet had a chance to win the game, but rimmed out a three-pointer set up by Kyle Lowry on a bro­ken play.

d’an­gelo rus­sell had 29 points, al­low­ing brook­lyn to over­come Kawhi Leonard’s 32, and the Nets had a mas­sive 60-41 re­bound­ing ad­van­tage that helped negate toronto’s 24-9 made free-throw ad­van­tage.

Leonard had missed a pull-up jumper late in the fourth, al­low­ing Spencer din­wid­die a chance to pre­vent over­time, but Leonard guarded his drive well and no foul was called, re­sult­ing in the ex­tra pe­riod. Leonard threw down a mon­ster jam and hit some shots in the frame, but the Nets would not be de­nied.

the Vanvleet miss and two oth­ers by the strug­gling Lowry loomed large.

Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas had 24 points, Pas­cal Si­akam 16, but toronto shot just 39% from the field and com­mit­ted 15 turnovers.

the rap­tors opted to not hold a shootaround in the morn­ing, with head coach Nick Nurse ex­plain­ing that a busy week filled with games, events and sat­u­rated me­dia cov­er­age all added up, along with the no­to­ri­ously slow New york city traf­fic.

the way the game started might have caused Nurse to re­think the de­ci­sion, be­cause his charges cer­tainly could have used the shoot­ing work.

toronto has had some aw­ful shoot­ing starts to games and this one was no dif­fer­ent. there was the 1-for-9 brick­lay­ing from be­yond the arc (in­clud­ing seven straight misses) in the first quar­ter, and 4-for-16 over­all in the first half to be­moan. yet, toronto found it­self tied at 53 apiece, largely thanks to a 15-3 made free throw ad­van­tage. In the open­ing half at least, the Nets could not stop the rap­tors, but the rap­tors could stop them­selves.

Valan­ci­u­nas fol­lowed up his huge ef­fort against Philadel­phia on Wednes­day with an­other dom­i­nant out­ing, sit­ting on 17 points at the break.

the Nets built up a lead as large as 14 points, but Valan­ci­u­nas and Leonard brought toronto back with a 23-7 run. the turn­ing point was likely Leonard’s in­cred­i­ble sec­ond quar­ter steal. the for­ward grabbed the ball, then went be­hind his back to save the ball while fall­ing out of bounds. Some fans lost their drinks on the se­quence, but Lowry got the ball and found Leonard at the other end for a dunk.

the Nets played true to form, es­pe­cially since los­ing break­out guard caris Lev­ert to a grue­some an­kle in­jury (Lev­ert is still on crutches). Without Lev­ert the club has hung around in most games, only to come up short, but added a new twist, a win.

“Lis­ten we’re 2-10 without him. We knew we’d take a hit,” said brook­lyn coach Kenny atkin­son had said pre-game.

“Without him, we haven’t been able to close out games. there’s no doubt about that.”

Still, Nurse clearly re­spected the Nets

“this team’s record could very well be .500 or bet­ter the way that they’ve played,” Nurse said.

they took a step in the right di­rec­tion by pulling this one out against a rap­tors team that has some flaws, de­spite its gaudy record. Shoot ’em if you’ve got ’em

Kyle Lowry was only at­tempt­ing 6.4 three-point­ers a game (24th in the Nba vs. sixth last sea­son) head­ing into this one, his low­est av­er­age since the 2014-15 sea­son and head coach Nick Nurse wants his star point guard to start hoist­ing up quite a bit more.

“Prob­a­bly not,” was Nurse’s re­sponse when queried whether Lowry was let­ting it fly often enough.

“he started the sea­son as it be­ing one of his weapons (and needs to get back there) be­cause he’s got tremen­dous off-the-drib­ble three-point shoot­ing per­cent­age and range,” Nurse said.

“I want him to shoot 10 threes a night. once he starts do­ing that con­sis­tently we’ll be happy,” Nurse said.

Lowry is lead­ing the Nba in as­sists and the team has found suc­cess while he has been on the floor, but with the team strug­gling might­ily as a whole on three-point­ers, the hope is that if he gets more ag­gres­sive with his jumper it might snap the team out of its shoot­ing malaise since he’s ar­guably the top marks­man on the squad. No. 2 is good

Nets coach Kenny atkin­son didn’t have to think too hard about why Kawhi Leonard has fit in so well in toronto.

“be­cause he’s a great player. he’d be great wher­ever he is,” atkin­son said.

“he’s an elite two way player. he’s in peak form and play­ing great.”

atkin­son, lauded for his player de­vel­op­ment work over the years in at­lanta and brook­lyn, also cred­ited toronto’s player de­vel­op­ment work with Pas­cal Si­akam, og anunoby and Fred Vanvleet.

the ques­tion also arose whether Leonard should be in the MVP con­ver­sa­tion.

“I don’t re­ally grade it who is go­ing to win the MVP very often,” Nurse said.

“(but) I don’t know who is play­ing bet­ter than Kevin du­rant. he looks pretty good to me. he dropped 50 on us ... I had hoped in the back of my mind Kawhi would be in the MVP (talk ... It’s early yet. he’s maybe on the out­skirts of the talk, or he’s en­ter­ing it be­cause he’s start­ing to score a lit­tle bit more now,” Nurse said.

“I keep telling every­body that I think there’s more to come with this guy.”

the big­gest dif­fer­ence Nurse has seen re­cently with Leonard is that his legs are com­ing back. he is get­ting more lift on his shots and get­ting higher on his dunks.

he’s also get­ting closer to be­ing avail­able ev­ery night.

“they’re clearing us to play him pretty much when we want, as many min­utes, though we’re not quite done with that stuff (rest­ing cer­tain games) yet, but we’re get­ting closer phys­i­cally and I think the rest of it just comes with his new en­vi­ron­ment. Learn­ing us and me and all that stuff,” Nurse said.

Al Bello/getty im­ages

Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Rap­tors shoots against Ron­dae Hol­lis-jef­fer­son of the Brook­lyn Nets dur­ing their game at the Bar­clays Cen­ter on Fri­day in New York City.

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