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Tip-In: "The Next Level." Drake, DeRozan, and a Big Raptors Win Over the Nets

The Toronto Raptors successfully combined two worlds last night in a 96 to 80 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

There was Drake.

Sitting courtside, talking with Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong, playing the role of Herbie Kuhn and announcing the Raptors' starters, throwing t-shirts to the crowd.

Despite rumours to the contrary earlier this season, Drizzy was indeed there in person on "Drake Night" at the Air Canada Centre, a sold-out affair that was important not only for its place in the marketing and pop culture pantheon of Toronto sports, but also in terms of the continued ascension of the Toronto Raptors.  The Raps started slow but gutted out a 96 to 80 win over the Brooklyn Nets last night.

The win was important on a number of levels including besting a divisional foe, who had suddenly won five straight and was looking to get within a couple games of Toronto for the division lead.

It was no-less important as a testament to the mental tenacity of this group considering the Raptors hardly closed the first-half in a dominant fashion, and then looked dead in the water after the Nets went on a 23 to 4 run to go from being down 44 to 33 to up 56 to 48 with about seven minutes left in the third Q. DeMar DeRozan bit, clawed, and scowled back, putting the team on his shoulders scoring nine straight points to finish said quarter and open up the final period, and his team responded in kind, locking in on D and ending the Nets hopes of getting a sixth-straight W.

DeRozan finished with a team-high 26 on 9 of 18 shooting but he also hauled down 7 rebounds and dropped in 5 assists just for good measure.

And while he didn't get a ton of help from his other starting compadres, off the bench came the boost the Dinos needed to get over the hump in the form of Patrick Patterson, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds in his 28 minutes of action.

Those numbers though don't really paint the true picture of the contribution Patterson made last night but his mark of +40 on the evening points you in the right direction.  Patterson was everywhere on offense and defence and made timely play after timely play when the Raps needed it most.

With Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas having sub-par outings, Patterson and Chuck Hayes (+22) were huge and the team also got big lift from another member of the Rudy Gay trade, John Salmons.  Reports of his death had apparently been greatly exaggerated as Salmons has been a very valuable member of the team since his trade from Sacramento.  Salmons had a perfect shooting night contributing 13 timely points, and more importantly, was a huge plus on D against the likes of Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, helping to explain his robust +32 mark for the night.

The final score was akin to that of a blowout but the truth of the matter was that this was no easy win for Toronto, who struggled against Brooklyn's four-guard lineup early on.  The Raps took the Nets' best punches, albeit ones without Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett (given the night off) in tow.

And to top it off, despite the somewhat ridiculous nature of last night's "Drake Night," a sell-out crowd was treated to a taste of what may be to come for this much-maligned franchise.  Drake not only talked the talk, but walked the walk last night, giving a very refreshing interview with Matt and Jack, speaking frankly about the marketability of the franchise, and the direction he wants to take it.  (At face value this may have seemed like a reach but again, this is the individual who brought out everyone from TLC to Kanye West at his recent OVO fest.  There simply aren't many acts in the world of pop-music who can pull off a feat like that so...)

All of this of course matters not if the club continues to make the playoffs with Bobcats-esque frequency.

But last night you saw the combination of two key elements of sports working in syndication: a winning product on, and off the court.