Kyle Lowry’s triple-double, DeMar DeRozan’s 31 in three quarters, Norm Powell hitting a three: it was a welcome return home for the Raptors on Friday night.
The good guys opened up the game playing crisp offense and suffocating defense, forcing turnovers and winning the hustle game. The Nets looked incredibly flat in the first few minutes and unlike recent games, Toronto didn’t let up, ultimately forcing seven first-quarter turnovers.
Everyone seemed to be clicking in a frame which included a Lowry-DeRozan alley-oop, an OG Anunoby baseline shake to find a cutting Jonas Valanciunas at the rim, and yet another chase-down block from Serge Ibaka — all in the first 6 minutes.
The Raptors went on a 10-0 run to give them an early 18-8 lead before the Nets finally stopped the bleeding. But Toronto quickly recovered, applying intense defensive pressure to eventually close the quarter with a 10 point lead. The team shot 61% in the first, led by DeRozan who had 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while Ibaka added 9 points on 4-of-5 from the field.
Opening the second quarter was the struggling bench unit — plus Delon Wright — and as has been the case the last few games, they allowed the Nets to go on a 9-0 run to get back into the game.
If Dwane Casey can’t consistently get break-even basketball from the group, one of Lowry or DeRozan may have to be staggered with them in order to provide baseline leadership — which would threaten the team’s late-game rotation that provides extended rest for its two star players between the 3rd and 4th quarters.
Canadian born Nik Stauskas, in his debut with Brooklyn, provided the Nets with immediate shooting ability, scoring 15 points in his first 6 minutes off the bench to help snatch the lead from Toronto. C.J. Miles was an unexpected scratch right before tip-off, and his ability to stretch the floor was greatly missed in the first half, as Toronto only shot 4-of-10 from deep.
The Nets outscored the Raptors’ all-bench unit 16-7 in the first six minutes of the 2nd quarter, once again giving up a lead the starters built in the 1st frame.
It’s truly been a complete script flip over the last two weeks, as the bench finished the first half with a -10 net rating in about 10 minutes on the floor, inflating their negative net rating to -128 over the last six games. The defense relaxed, the ball-movement stalled and the Nets continued to play their game. Credit them for continuing what works.
DeMar and the starters re-entered the game midway through the 2nd quarter and quickly regained control, finishing the half on a 21-8 run to put the Raptors up 58-44. DeRozan paced all players with 20 points at halftime, getting help from JV (10 points), Ibaka (11) and Lowry who chipped in six points, seven assists, and three steals.
In a testament to how well the starters are playing right now — Toronto’s starting group shot 61% in the opening frame. That number dipped to 51% by the time the bench group left the floor midway through the 2nd, only to have it balloon back up to 61% by the end of the half with the starting five back on the floor.
The hot play continued in the third when the starters managed to push the lead to 19 within the first three minutes of the frame. Midway through the third, there was little doubt the Raptors would finish the game with a victory. Brooklyn’s energy level disappeared, allowing the home team to get what they wanted on both ends. JV got in on the fun, attempting a three for the fourth time in as many games, but unfortunately was not able to extend his shooting streak.
Playing on the second night of a back to back, the Nets’ fatigue was evident, and it resulted in flat shots, no hustle on the glass and porous defense. If not for the fresh legs and hot first half shooting of Stauskas, Toronto likely would’ve controlled the game all night. They eventually finished the quarter with a 27 point lead, led by DeRozan’s 31 points and Lowry’s 10 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists.
Not surprisingly, the starting group played nearly the entire frame in an attempt to put the game out of reach. Credit Casey for recognizing just how amazing they were playing this evening.
Lowry headed to the bench after securing his 11th career triple-double (9th as a Raptor), finishing with an even more impressive +37 net rating. For the bench, it was the perfect opportunity to regain some of the early season rhythm that made them so effective.
They would go on to play a solid nine-minute stretch without having to worry about giving up the game, and as a result, they looked loose and confident, pushing the lead from 27 to 35 midway through the fourth. That was it for Brooklyn. Powell enjoyed a return to form, posting 11 points, five boards and three assists. He needed this game badly.
The return of Delon Wright is a huge boon for the unit, as it takes pressure off of Fred Van Vleet on nights he isn’t able to be effective, and gives Casey another option with two-point lineups late in games. Wright finished with seven points and two assists in 16 minutes in his first game back.