Sometimes mathematical edges have limits. When it comes to the up-tempo, three-point-chucking Brooklyn Nets, a lack of roster talent puts a cap on how effective their high-variance style of offense can be.
For a while on Friday night, it seemed as though the Nets just might avoid the onslaught of regression long enough to squeak out win over a Raptors team on cruise control. Late into the third quarter, Brooklyn’s collection of gunners had canned 11-of-22 threes - a rate high enough to keep them in stride with the high-powered Raptors, who essentially scored at will throughout the evening, through three quarters.
Toronto’s defense couldn’t deter Brooklyn’s open three-point tries in that time. Running the offense through the delightfully old-school Brook Lopez, the Nets were able to take advantage of a Raptors defense that struggled to expand after contracting inward to contend with the Nets’ lone star.
“They have a potent inside player in Lopez,” said Casey. “We were shrinking the floor trying to take away the paint ... with that opens up the three point line. And we did not do a good job of getting back out.”
Bojan Bogdanovic (5-of-8 on threes), Spencer Dinwiddie (3-of-4) and Joe Harris (3-of-5) were among the benefactors of that inside-out Brooklyn approach, and kept Nets flirting with a win for 36 minutes, at one point getting out to a 77-71 lead with 5:15 to go in the third.
Sustainability, however, is fleeting when your lead is built on the backs of a Bogdanovic-Dinwiddie-Harris Big Three. Coming into the contest, Brooklyn averaged the third-most three-point attempts per game, while converting on the third lowest percentage in the league. They’d follow up that 11-of-22 start by missing seven of their next nine shots from deep.
Coinciding with that slump came a third-quarter outburst by DeMar DeRozan, who scored 11 of his 28 points in the final 5 minutes of the frame, leaving the Raptors up one after three, 90-89. Rolling with an improvised bench unit of Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll and Lucas Nogueira to start the fourth, the Raptors crushed any chance of a hysteria-inducing upset. Six minutes and a 25-4 run later, garbage time beckoned. By the time the Nets rallied to hit four of their last five threes, Fred VanVleet had already ripped off his tearaways.
Part of what swung the formula back in the Raptors’ favour - in addition to that Nets’ three-point swoon - was one of the more dominant rebounding efforts turned in by the defensive board-starved Raptors this year.
“I thought in the third quarter is was a rebounding story,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “I thought they dominated s on the boards and then in the fourth quarter we missed shots and I just felt like our transition defense let us down.”
Toronto out-boarded the Nets 49-35 on the night, giving up a refreshingly low total of four offensive rebounds. DeMarre Carroll led the team with 11 total boards.
“At one time we were thirtieth in rebounding, you can’t get any lower than that. It’s the decision to go in and get them,” said Casey on the added effort Toronto’s guards have put in on the glass lately. “It’s great to have DeMar have 13 the other night, DeMarre had 11, so it’s helping the bigs.”
You can gripe with the sluggish opening thirty-ish minutes that offered the Nets the illusion of competitiveness. This is, after all, supposed to be the spot in the schedule where the Raptors leave little doubt as to who the superior team is.
At the same time, Toronto padded its gaudy offensive rating (130.4 O-Rating) and outlasted some hot perimeter shooters who were always bound to plummet back to earth at some point. The 132-113 final score illustrates the limits of Brooklyn’s all-or-nothing approach, and proves that top-tier talent - like the Raptors boast - tends to rise to the top over the course of 48 minutes.
What did you think of tonight’s win?