With the Raptors coming off an enormous victory over Houston, a 26-point win over the Knicks, and riding an eight game win streak, Tuesday night’s game versus the Brooklyn Nets could very well be described as a trap game.
There would be two ways the game would go for the Raptors: they’d either win like they did against the Nets on December 15 (a 33-point win) or they would see a motivated Nets team like they did on January 8, where the Raptors squeezed out a one-point overtime win.
It would be more of the latter, with the Nets controlling a majority of the first half but losing control late in the fourth, allowing the Raptors to pull out a 116-102 win. As a result, Toronto’s win streak is now the largest of the season, at nine games. They’ve also won seven consecutive on the road.
The Nets jumped off to a strong start early in the first quarter, thanks to D’Angelo Russell’s Steph Curry impression. Not even an early 7-0 Raptors run could slow Russell down. The young Net finished the opening quarter with 24 points on 7-of-8 shooting from three – the guard was the first player to score 24 points in a quarter versus the Raptors since LeBron James did on January 6, 2008. On top of that, the Nets nine 3s in the frame were the most threes in a quarter against the Raptors ever. That’s what can happen when a team goes five-out, with no inside presence at all, as the Nets do.
In the second frame, the Raptors bench started doing what they’ve done all season, which is keeping the team in ball games. A 10-0 run brought the game to a tie, but the Nets answered again, and took their largest lead of the half. Brooklyn would go into the locker room up 67-57 at the midpoint.
However, an early substitution in the third quarter changed the momentum. Dwane Casey went to the trustworthy Fred VanVleet in place of Norman Powell and the Raptors got cooking with a 15-0 run, including two 3s from VanVleet.
The 74-74 tie seemed to be swinging the Raptors way, but Joe Harris hit a three to give the Nets the lead. It began to feel like one of those games where the Raptors would get close but never be able to sustain a lead. That is, until there was 4:47 left in the third, after Kyle Lowry three would give the Raptors their first lead since it was 4-3 in the first. It was a small moment, but it would give Toronto the lead heading into the fourth, and foreshadow things to come.
Early in the fourth quarter, the game became the C.J. Miles show. Miles couldn’t buy a bucket all game, but hit consecutive threes on his way to 12 consecutive points for the Raptors. The Nets were forced to call a timeout with 7:11 left and the game slipping away. The timeout would help, as the Raptors couldn’t buy a basket for three minutes following the break. Down went Toronto’s lead again, from eight to three points.
This time, after another Toronto timeout, it was all Raptors down the stretch. DeMar DeRozan, who was 4-of-9 from the field in the first three quarters, would score seven late to give the Raptors a comfortable lead, and the win.
Jonas Valanciunas would lead the way for the Raptors with 26 points and 13 rebounds, while living off the pick and roll with Lowry, and continuously punishing the Nets for going small. DeRozan meanwhile finished with 15 points, and VanVleet added 15. Six Raptors in total would finish in double digits for scoring, with Serge Ibaka falling just short of a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
For the Nets, Russell was held to 10 points following his 24-point first quarter. The Raptors held the Nets to just three 3s in the second half after they exploded for 12 in the first.
With the victory, Toronto hits the 50-win mark for the third consecutive year. They also continue to push for the franchise’s first ever number one seed in the East. And, who knows, maybe the 60 win plateau.