It may not have been the cakewalk we thought it was going to be, but in the end, the result was as expected: Another Toronto Raptors double-digit win, with the Brooklyn Nets fading in the second half.
League Pass, You Vex Me
Slight rant up first: For whatever reason, League Pass Broadband decided to go on the fritz for me last night. Happens about once every six weeks or so; just a choppy connection that decides to flake out completely every few minutes. And then decides to tell me I don’t have cookies turned on (I do). And then tries to tell me I have the game on on another device (I don’t).
After Kyle Lowry’s second layup, the screen froze on him for about 35 seconds, so I saw nothing but Lowry laying the ball in while the Nets went through their offence (the audio still worked fine!). I came back just in time to see Norman Powell drain a three. This continually happened throughout the first half, and only improved marginally in the second.
It makes for a crappy way to watch the game, that’s for sure. I could go on an entire League Pass diatribe here, but that’d be about 27 thoughts, and we’d be here all day. Suffice to say—although the service has improved—it’s still nowhere near as good as it should be in 2018.
Well That Wasn’t the Start We Wanted
And I don’t mean the League Pass Connection! D’Angelo Russell was a white hot supernova in the opening frame, starting 7-of-7 from downtown! He finished 24 points in the quarter, and the only thing that slowed him down was that Kenny Atkinson inexplicably took him out of the game with four minutes to go; he came back two minutes later but (thankfully!) he’d completely cooled off. He didn’t score again until the third, and only added 6 more points total to finish with 30. (He also missed his last five 3-pointers to finish 7-of-12).
Meanwhile he Raptors were playing just fine, getting to the hoop at will; the Nets started with a small lineup and that gave Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka each dunks, and DeMar DeRozan and Lowry strong drives, that the Nets defense barely contested. The Raptors shot 58% in the first and scored 22 of their 32 points in the paint.
But they were just trading 2s for 3s, and that allowed the Nets to build the early lead. They shot 9-of-14 from deep in the first quarter; the Raptors only had one 3-pointer.
Thank God for the Bench (Again)
I said the other day that the Bench Mob deserved to enjoy the New York nightlife after their performance on Sunday—a performance that allowed the Raptors to overcome a sleepy start.
Thankfully they didn’t follow my advice. They used a 15-7 second quarter run to tie it, a run that featured two 3-pointers from Delon Wright and another from Fred VanVleet, two more beautiful Siakam-to-Poeltl plays that led to easy buckets, and Poeltl collecting his own rebound off a missed free throw!
Unfortunately the starters came back in and it didn’t go so well.
They immediately gave up a layup to our old friend DeMarre Carroll and a 3-pointer (off an offensive rebound) to Allen Crabbe; then DeRozan and Ibaka both missed bunnies, and Carroll went the other way and hit an and-1 in the paint. DeRozan turned it over on the next possession, and then it was Dante Cunningham’s turn to score an and-1.
That gave the Nets their 10-point lead back, and they kept it until halftime. So it was up to the bench—one sub in particular—to save the day again in the second half.
So Where we Gonna Put the FVV Statue?
The Nets started the third on a 7-2 run, and Dwane Casey saw something he didn’t like; he replaced Norman Powell with Fred VanVleet three minutes in.
It completely changed the game, as the Raptors went on a 15-0 run and soon took the lead.
My favourite part, though, was seeing VanVleet get into Russell’s head. Russell was clearly frustrated by the fact that he’d gone cold, and Fred was only making it more difficult. On several plays he took little shots at VanVleet, and was super-aggressive guarding him on a couple other plays.
And I don’t think VanVleet even noticed. His confidence level is outright inspiring.
Also credit Casey for making the move; I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s complained in the past that Casey is too slow to adjust at times, but you can’t make that argument this year.
VanVleet played 19 minutes in the second half, finished with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, added four assists and tallied ridiculous +31 (no one else on the team was higher than +7). He also found C.J. Miles in the corner for three that gave the Raps the 95-93 lead, a lead they would never relinquish.
So, game winner against Detroit, lockdown defense on Chris Paul, and a 19-minute TSN Turning Point against Brooklyn. Kid’s had a pretty good week!
Boy, These Nets Play Hard
I know we all thought that the Raptors, flying high on an 8-game win streak, would blow the lowly Nets away.
How soon we forget the last time these two teams played they went to overtime! (Kyle Lowry also broke his butt that game, so that may have clouded our memories.)
But the ball movement! The aggressive way they crash the glass! The no-conscience shooting! The Nets just keep coming.
Sure, the Raptors defense was sleepy, especially in the second quarter. But you gotta give Atkinson and the Nets credit for their efforts. They’re playing out the string, and their talent level isn’t there, but you would never know.
Of course, we also have to take into account something Jack Armstrong said on the broadcast—as the top team in the East and a top-3 team in the league, opponents will be treating the Raptors differently. We’re gonna get the other teams’ best efforts, regardless of their record, every night. Pride comes into it; players wanna be able to say, “yeah, those guys are good, but we took them down!”
(And if you need proof of that—how many times have you and your fellow Raptors fans spoken with pride about the time the Raptors beat Jordan’s Bulls?)
Also, for the record, I just wanna say—Jack was in fine form tonight! His disgust at the Raptors’ early defense was barely contained, and when Matt Devlin kept suggesting the Raps would get back into it, Jack was just not having it at their current effort level. The man is a treasure.
OK, so none in a row? 16 of 17? 50 wins in mid-March? The Raptors are straight rolling right now. It’s gonna be tougher on Thursday, though, as the Raptors will be in Indiana to play the Pacers, who are playing some damn good basketball of their own of late—winners of 6 of 7, with five of those wins against Eastern Conference playoff teams. Should be a good one!