This one was a tale of two halves.
In the first half, the Raptors looked listless and every bit the team that has been getting slammed lately for their defensive drop-off over the last month. In the second half? They looked like a team worthy of a 42-20 record that's now only 2.0 games behind the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers. At least for most of it.
The game began like no other Raptors game this season, in that Luis Scola didn't start. Dwane Casey shook up his starting lineup by putting Jason Thompson and Norman Powell in place of Scola and James Johnson, who both got DNP-CDs for rest purposes (while Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played over 41 and 37 minutes, respectively).
While the new lineup wasn't that much better than any other starting unit this month defensively, Thompson was at least active for the Raptors, posting 9 points (on 4-for-6 shooting, including the second three-pointer of his career and first in six years), five boards, two assists, a steal, and a couple of blocks. He's already proven himself as a better depth piece than Anthony Bennett.
After the Raptors ended the first quarter on an 11-2 run, they allowed the Nets to start the second quarter on a 16-3 run of their own. Brooklyn outscored Toronto 35-14 in the second frame and had an overall shooting split of 53.2% from the field and 66.7% (4-for-6) from long range heading into halftime. The Raptors also committed 10 turnovers in the first half, allowing the Nets to get out to a commanding 58-42 lead by intermission (the largest halftime deficit the Raptors have faced all season).
Things seemed like they couldn't get any worse after the first half. Instead, they got much, much better.
Toronto responded with a 36-22 third quarter, led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who scored 10 and 13 in the frame, respectively. From the mid-point of the third, the Raptors went on a 28-4 run and never once conceded the lead after taking it back on a Patrick Patterson three with 11:33 left in the fourth. Overall, they outscored the Nets 62-41 in the second half.
The Raptors got the win, but their defensive struggles were still obvious for roughly two-thirds of this game. The Nets still managed to shoot 51.2% from the field and 6-for-12 from deep, while having their way in the paint. Most of that damage was done by Brook Lopez, who scored 35 points on 13-for-17 shooting, while adding five rebounds and a whopping seven blocked shots.
The Raptors, as usual, were paced by their All-Star duo of DeMar DeRozan (25 points on 8-for-18 shooting from the field and 9-for-9 from the line, with four steals) and Kyle Lowry (23 points on 7-for-16 shooting and four three-pointers, to go with nine assists).
The Raptors got great contributions from their bench as well. Bismack Biyombo had a huge game, scoring six points, grabbing 10 boards, and blocking two shots while affecting a dozen more. Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross threw in 11 apiece and combined for four triples.
The Raptors will look to make it two in a row when they host the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, the fifth game of their current seven-game homestand.
What were your takeaways from this rollercoaster win over the Nets?