When it comes to judging team chemistry, you want trial by fire. Winning against bad teams is one thing (sorry, Knicks), but to get a glimpse at what the important moments will look like, you need to do it against the good teams.
If this whole lede sounds like it’s gassing up the Brooklyn Nets — well, it is. The Nets were feisty as hell on Monday night, burying 20 threes and getting big performances up and down their roster.
Still, the Raptors persevered, as potential showed itself everywhere. Marc Gasol, making his home debut in a Raptors uniform, had a ridiculous display of skill in the fourth quarter. Kawhi Leonard had his best passing game of the season. Kyle Lowry was making threes. Serge Ibaka was making jumpers.
The offence cooked on both sides and, in the end, a Leonard jumper with 4.2 seconds left was enough of a difference to get the Raptors their fifth straight win, 127-125.
Leonard led the way with 30 points on 10-for-20 shooting, adding a season-high eight assists and two rebounds. While not necessarily playing as a facilitator first, Leonard was eyes up for his fellow Raptors throughout the game, a welcome sign for someone who can get his own baskets so easily.
In support was a standout game from Marc Gasol, in just game two of his Raptors experience. Gasol had 16 points, six rebounds, and two assists off the bench — 11 of those points coming in a seven-minute fourth quarter stretch that turned the Nets into bystanders.
Gasol was simply a magician with the basketball: running the offence from the high post without a point guard on the floor, making great decisions, and getting the Raptors a seven-point lead.
Brooklyn was led by 28 points from D’Angelo Russell, who will deservedly play in the All-Star Game next weekend.
Russell had just two threes, though, which looks paltry compared to some of the other Nets. Joe Harris, for one, made seven threes in the first half — tallying a career-high 22 points before 4 Korners had a chance to spin his halftime show. Allen Crabbe had six threes as well, as the Nets would go 20-for-41 from range.
In the first quarter, the Raptors answered the beginnings of Harris’ rainmaking with some solid play from Patrick McCaw. Assuming Delon Wright’s old spot in the rotation, McCaw made good use of his opportunity — he will likely drop back to the 11th man when Jeremy Lin joins — making three of his first four shots for seven first quarter points. The Nets would head into the second quarter up 29-21.
In the second, a wing combination of McCaw, Norman Powell, and OG Anunoby did an excellent job of working downhill against the Nets. An OG dunk cut the lead to 37-34 early in the quarter, as Toronto would score 20 of their first 34 points in the paint.
The wings were bolstered by playing next to Gasol and Lowry, too, as the ball moved freely around the perimeter to find the open man. The hybrid bench unit couldn’t stop the Nets, though, as a big three from Russell pushed the Brooklyn lead back to eight at 6:47. The two teams would throw a couple more runs at each other, but the Nets would head into halftime up 60-56.
In the third, Serge Ibaka’s shooting became a big factor. Ibaka had three early jumpers, part of his 18 points on the night, setting the Raptors up for an 11-4 run midway through the frame. Brooklyn’s guard play continued to confound Toronto’s defence, though, as a few difficult layups from Russell kept the Nets up.
Luckily, some solid bench play over the last minute of the frame by the Raptors — namely two layups from OG — tied the game at 92 headed to the fourth.
That’s when we got our Marc Gasol show (seriously, hit play on that package above), as Gasol would score 11 before going to the bench with 4:30 left.
From there, the Raptors starters looked a bit hesitant in their offence, but were able to do just enough. Down 125-122, Danny Green made a difficult contested three to tie the game. On the other end, Joe Harris was driven off the three-point line into an uncharacteristic moving jumper that missed. That set up Leonard for his game-winner.
In the dying seconds, Green guarded Russell well enough on a difficult three, sealing the Raptors win.
Toronto now looks forward to playing the Wizards on Wednesday night, the last game before the All-Star Break.