Toronto dispatches two likely playoff matchups in consecutive games — both with ease. Was it malaise on their parts? Or was it Toronto dominance we simply haven’t seen lately during the regular season? Either way, Toronto wins 115-105 over the Brooklyn Nets, certainly not helping the latter’s case in the chase for one of three playoff spots.
Pascal Siakam led all players with 28 points (including three 3-pointers), and despite starting the game 2-of-7 from the field, managed to go 11-of-21 overall. Meanwhile Kawhi Leonard chipped in 26, followed by Serge Ibaka with an incredibly efficient 23 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. His centre partner, Marc Gasol, filled the stat sheet with eight points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals in 27 minutes. In a game with huge implications both for the Nets and the Raptors, it was Toronto who came in and showed off which of the two was the better team. Let’s go for a quarter by quarter summary.
The Nets played practically even through most of the first quarter. but thanks to a late quarter stall, ended up finishing the opening frame down 34-22. Leonard led all scorers with 11 points, while Gasol chipped in five points, five rebounds and three assists. The Raptors regained this lead thanks to a 14-4 run stretching back to the middle of the first.
This lineup had no issues increasing the lead simply by getting stops on defense and hitting big threes on the other. Ibaka actually nailed two three-pointers — he was clearly feeling it tonight:
Siakam, the guy we were worried about after a striking lull on Monday versus Chicago, starting watching the balls go through the net. In turn, he turned out a team-high +13 in the 10 minutes he played. Kyle Lowry was absolutely right about Siakam during a recent media scrum — even if his shot isn’t falling, he’s doing everything else he can for the team. (I probably butchered that, but the point remains).
By the 9:00 minute mark of the second quarter, Toronto found themselves up 10 points and began to buckle in. I say buckle in because this Nets team can put up points in a hurry if the opposing team isn’t careful.
There ended up being quite a lull in action between the 10:30 and 8:30 marks — a period where it seemed neither team could score the ball and yes — it was as boring as it sounds. Despite this, Toronto had 12 assists on 15 made FG to that point. Despite not getting good looks, the Raptors were still moving the ball at a frenetic pace.
So, back to the lull, your first guess to break the lull was right! The unlikely hero Jodie Meeks, who came in and immediately scored the ball to end the stalemate. Meeks is making a fantastic case that he is worthy of staying in the league and playing minutes, especially here after breaking the drought:
By the mid-way point of the second quarter, the Raptors began to open up the game. Leading 43-32, Ibaka and VanVleet led the bench with 17 combined points, while Leonard and Siakam led the starters with 11 and eight points respectively.
This is what the Raptors continued to do in the 2nd quarter. The Nets attempted to claw their way back into the game after being down as many as 14 points. However, through experience and poise — the Raptors never flinched. The key to the game is get your opponent to play your pace. If you control the pace, you’ll likely win the game. If you let the other team control? You’re in trouble.
Fortunately, Toronto’s been down this road dozens of times through their lifetime and they know exactly how to respond (well, 99.9% of the time). It starts with defense. D’Angelo Russell was completely neutralized in the first half, shooting just 3-of-12 for seven points, five rebounds and four assists. In fact, overall no player for Brooklyn had a postive plus/minute rating. That combined with the Nets shooting 3-of-11 from beyond the arc? Toronto’s defense was top notch this evening.
On the flip side, the Raptors had struggles of their own. Shooting just .386 from the field, and .364 from 3-point range — Toronto’s attack mainly came from a select few individuals who had the hot hand. Those players were Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and (although not a scorer) Marc Gasol.
Kyle Lowry had just three points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first half, and Danny Green — who just scored 29 points on seven 3-pointers made Monday evening — put up a whopping ... um ... zero, on 0-of-3 from distance in the first half. Hot and Cold folks!.
Fred VanVleet had a solid game, but I’m getting the impression Nick Nurse will start to dial back his minutes as we’re just 10 days until the playoffs begin.
The 3rd quarter was really nothing different. Same cushion from the second quarter, no special plays to speak about, The Raptors seemed to have this one in hand.
The Raptors eventually pulled ahead 14 points following a couple key stops on the defensive end (despite the Nets getting within ten points), and this is where Toronto started to take control and end this game properly. Of course, in Brooklyn fashion, they’d poke and prod and make a couple runs to get us fans sweating, however the Raptors quickly nixed any comeback attempt with focused defense.
There was an especially great Ibaka play where he made a block, sprinted down court and found himself open for an easy layup. It was exactly what we need from him on a nightly (or every third night in his case).
Here’s where things get interesting. With around ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, D’Angelo Russell began making shots — a truly annoying aspect of the Net’s offensive attack. Russell alone got the Nets to within five points, and their defense picked up too.
Brooklyn’s rebounding advantage began to show as well, as they cleared the boards on nearly every possession. Of course — and I need to mention this — the starters were still resting on the bench, so the Nets were making these moves, to get the score to 96-89, against VanVleet, Meeks, Lin, Powell and Ibaka. In reality, we know once Gasol, Lowry and Leonard return, (which they did at the 7:23 mark) things would be better.
After the starting group returned, the defense picked up immediately. Nurse elected Siakam next to Ibaka in the front court, with VanVleet in place of Danny Green. The key here seemed to be stopping Russell, and for the most part it worked.
After the five minute mark, Brooklyn’s offense went stagnant and the Raptors hustled for offensive rebounds and easy put-backs until they created themselves an eight point cushion with under a minute remaining. From there, Brooklyn got cute and tried to win via free throws — meaning the game dragged on another 40 real-time minutes. Ughhhh video reviews! But either way, that’s the ball game.
- With Kyle Lowry’s second triple of the night to give Toronto it’s 15th made 3-pointer, that gives Toronto four straight games with 15+ threes made, and 11 times in 23 games. Just wow.
- Ibaka was pure fire this evening. It seemed like every shot he took he made. Oh wait, it’s because he did: Ibaka was 5-of-5 from 3-point range.
- There was a scary moment — nigh — a terrifying moment, when Kawhi went down to the floor and looked visibly shaken. The broadcast claimed it was his head, so yes — once a Raptor player suffers a specific injury, it is now rule that one of his teammates must replicate that injury. (This was moments later followed by Fred VanVleet getting whacked in the head. My goodness.)
- Having a 7-foot Peyton Manning on the floor is insanely insane. Just freaking insane. I’m talking about Marc Gasol here. He never stops talking defensively, directing players to the place they should be, taking responsibility for a mistake he made. What a true leader, through and through.
- How good would this DeMarre Carroll be if he were playing for Toronto right now — adding around 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .350 from deep... and that’s just 25.6 minutes/game, Last year? 13.6/6.6/2.0/.371 in 29.9 minutes. This is the stuff that gives me ulcers.
Three games remain.