Raps’ winning streak over
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 Van Vleet 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 Van Vleet 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 Van Vleet.
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.