On a night where the Brooklyn Nets were officially introduced to their new arena. With Jay Z, Mikhail Prokhorov, David Stern and 17,732 other people all in attendance and the building a buzz, the Toronto Raptors had the opportunity to steal a game on the road, and they let that opportunity slip away.
The Raptors began the game on a high-note, scoring 35 points in the opening quarter. This amounted to a reasonable eight-point lead after the first frame.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were both extremely effective early, combining for 21 points at the half.
Lowry set the tone with his usual hard-nosed defence and frenetically paced offence. His shooting was also off of the charts in the half as he drained three of his six three-point attempts.
DeRozan was also very aggressive, again showing off his apparently improved post-up game. He also knocked down a couple of open jumpers, which is a welcomed sign for the shooting guard who has taken a hit in the media this week after signing a brand new four-year extension.
Despite their best efforts, the starting unit struggled in that second quarter and saw the Nets drop 33 points on them on their way to a 60-52 halftime lead.
The Raptors' inability to contain Brook Lopez was a big reason for the Nets' push early in the game. Valanciunas got the hook thanks to a couple of early fouls and Amir Johnson proved to be no match for the seven-footer.
In the second half, Dwane Casey again went to his second unit and they responded, going on a 19-9 run and cutting the deficit to six heading into the fourth.
Casey stuck with his second unit to begin the fourth, and they continued their solid play.
Aaron Gray proved to be effective in slowing Lopez and Ed Davis provided a scoring punch in the paint. Davis would finish the game with 11 points and 3 rebounds.
With just under 10 minutes left in the game, Casey went back to Lowry to replace Lucas and the move paid immediate dividends.
Lowry sped up the pace of the game immediately, driving aggressively to the basket on offense and providing hawk-like on-ball defence on the other end of the floor.
The teams traded buckets for the majority of the quarter, and with a shade over one minute left, Lowry drilled a three-pointer that brought his team within two points.
But, that is the closest the Raptors would get due to their inability to string together multiple stops during that final minute.
The Raptors now become the Nets' first official victory since their move to Brooklyn as well as their first ever victory at the brand new Barclays Center.
Points in the paint was a huge reason for the Raptors loss on this night.
The Dinos were outscored 52-34 in the paint due in large part to the interior scoring of Brook Lopez and the dribble penetration of Deron Williams. Both players wreaked havoc on the Raptors defence, and both came up big late in the game.
Lopez had a team-high 27 points, while Williams added 19 points and 9 assists. C.J Watson and Reggie Evans were both big contributors off of the bench as well with Watson scoring 15 and Evans grabbing 13 rebounds.
Although the game ended in a loss, there were a number of positives to take away for Dwane Casey and the rest of the coaching staff.
By far the biggest positive was the play of their starting backcourt.
Lowry was spectacular again, finishing with a near triple-double of 28 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Once again, he set the tone at both ends of the floor and was game-changer for the majority of his time on the court.
DeMar DeRozan really needed a strong outing, and he certainly got one last night. DeMar came out of the gates aggressive, attacking the basket both off the dribble and in post-up situations. DeRozan shot 8 of 10 from the free-throw line which was perhaps the most encouraging portion of his stat line. That line included 8 of 13 shoting from the floor and 1 of 2 from the three-point line for a total of 25 points.
DeRozan even looked comfortable from the outside, knocking down a three-pointer and a couple of midrange jumpers. He is at his best when he is mixing his game, and last night he did exactly that.
Now, we will wait and see whether or not he can string together a couple of these games in row. If so, it may take some of the heat off of himself and Bryan Colangelo who received quite a bit of it after awarding DeRozan with what many thought was a vastly excessive contract extension earlier this week.
On the negative side, we finally saw Jonas Valanciunas look like a rookie for the first time since he arrived in Toronto. He looked overmatched early against Lopez, and just couldn't find a groove when he reentered the game.
Despite his immense talent, there will be nights like this where he looks out of sorts. It is all a part of a growing process that will make him a better player down the road.
Landry Fields also struggled mightily on the night. He made only 1 of his 4 attempts from the floor and looked lost at the other end for the majority of the game.
Fields even found himself on the bench late in the game, with Alan Anderson - a much more dependable shooter - taking his spot on the floor.
He did contribute in other parts of the game - namely rebounding and passing - but overall, he has not played well. The early return for the Raptors on their $20 million dollar investment hasn't been great.
The Raptors will not have much time to dwell on this loss as they are back at it again this evening against the Timberwolves at the ACC.
Here are an abbreviated version of the three keys to the game:
1. Take Advantage of Love's Absence:
The Timberwolves All-Star power forward will be out for the next few weeks after injuring himself allegedly doing knuckle pushing - yes, knuckle pushups. This means that the less experienced Derrick Williams will be staring in his place and this is something the Raptors can take full advantage of.
Andrea Bargnani will have a significant height advantage against Williams and should look to exploit it at every opportunity. Bargnani had an efficient 6 of 12 shooting night against the Nets, but took a backseat to DeRozan and Lowry. Look for him to be very aggressive from the outset against the T'Wolves.
2. Lock Down Barea:
I know that it sounds silly for this to be a key when playing a team that possesses other offensive weapons like Andre Kirilenko and Brandon Roy, but J.J Barea is a serious threat - perhaps their biggest with both Rubio and Love out - offensively.
In their first and only game of the season against the Kings, Barea came off of the bench to score 21 points in 28 minutes and essentially lead the team to a victory. If the Dinos are going to come away with a win tonight, stopping Barea is going to have to be a priority. This may mean more minutes for John Lucas III at that backup point guard spot.
3. Overcome the Fatigue:
The Raptors are facing their first back-to-back of the season, while the Timberwolves are nice and rested, having only played one game which came back on Friday night.
This will be an interesting test to see how the team will respond in back-to-back situations. thus far, their energy level has been a big factor in how well they play. If they can keep it up, a win against a short-handed 'Wolves squad is likely, if not, things could get ugly at the ACC.