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Raptors hold Durant to 12 points, still lose 112-98 to Nets

Kyrie Irving exploded for 29 points, 19 in the third, turning a close game into an easy Nets victory.

Toronto Raptors play the Brooklyn Nets Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors put up a valiant effort for about one half tonight, but the Brooklyn Nets’ talent advantage eventually won out, as they ran away with a 112-98 win over the hometown Raptors.

“Shorthanded” doesn’t adequately describe the Raptors lineup tonight. They were missing seven players — Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa, Otto Porter, Dalano Banton and Justin Champagnie. They had so many players injured that Champagnie and Banton had to be listed as inactive so that the Raptors could put the required 12 players on the active roster.

The Nets, meanwhile, have their big three intact, and although the Raptors did a solid job on Kevin Durant — holding him to 12 points on 10 shots — Kyrie Irving went off, to the tune of 29 points on 16 shots including 5-for-8 shooting from downtown. Ben Simmons, meanwhile, finished with 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting, 6 assists, and 3 steals.

Gary Trent Jr., in his first game back after dealing with a sore hop and an illness, looked rusty, hitting just 6 of his 19 shots, but he still led the raptors in scoring with 19 points. O.G. Anunoby added 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Irving got a smattering of boos when he was introduced as a starter — more than the usual “really good opposing player” boos, but probably not loud enough as “promoted anti-semitic material, refused to condemn it” boos. And he had a very quiet first half, just three points on three shots in less than 12 minutes.

After the game, Nets head coach Jacque Vaughan said that, on the second night of a back-to-back, he was deliberately trying to conserve Irving’s minutes early on. After the half though, Vaughn said, Irving got a couple to go, and he was off. Indeed he was, as he almost singlehandedly changed the game, turning a 1-point Nets halftime lead to a 91-76 lead after three.

Irving scored in a variety of ways, from wide-open threes to crafty drives, and his 19 points in the third included two impressive and-1s where he got the defense on their heels. The Raptors simply didn’t have the talent or depth to come back after that onslaught. After the game, Irving — who said it felt good to be back in Toronto for the first time in three years, “it’s a cool place” — said he was just letting the game come to him. He also said the Nets needed to come out with more focus tonight; he said that they were embarrassed after losing to the depleted Philadelphia 76ers last night, a loss that “had the internet in an uproar” — and they didn’t want a repeat of that tonight.

Prior to the game, Nick Nurse said the Nets were showing more “togetherness” under new head coach Vaughn, and it was really coming through on defense. When your defense is that good, you’re doing something right, Nurse said. The Nets defense wasn’t always stout tonight, but Vaughn liked what he saw from his team in terms of accountability. He said he wants the team to hold each other to high standards, to demand more from each other on both ends, and he said he felt it in their film session after last night’s loss to the Phildelphia 76ers, and that he saw it on the floor tonight.

The Raptors opened their scoring with back-to-back threes, both from Malachi Flynn — and both after offensive rebounds, forcing Vuaghan to call for time.

OG Anunoby hauled down another OReb and scored a couple minutes later. Before the game, Nurse said that he wanted his team to come out like the 76ers last night in their win over the Nets — as in, crashing the offensive glass. Despite Nick’s worries that the Nets would probably be focused on preventing that in their preparation for tonight, the Raptors hauled down 23 offensive rebounds and had 34 second-chance points (compared to seven and eight for the Nets).

The Raptors also forced the Nets into 21 turnovers, leading to 16 points.

And yet, none of that was enough in the face of both Irving’s assault and the Nets’ hot shooting. Brooklyn finished the game shooting 55% and outscored the Raptors 51-21 from the three-point line.

The Raptors were looking — unsurprisingly — disorganized on D pretty much from the tip, and every Net scored in the first 3.5 minutes, including Simmons, who waltzed to the hoop unimpeded after a made Koloko free throw on the other end. That’s not quite as awful a transition defensive effort as letting Trae Young and AJ Griffin combine for a game-winning 2-on-1, but still... yikes.

The Raptors found themselves in a 24-12 hole before they woke up, forcing two turnovers, one them a pick-six-dunk from OG, and two misses. OG dropped in an and-1 that cut the lead to 29-21, and Juancho Hernangomez then grabbed a third steal and OG dropped in another layup to cut the lead to 6.

But the Nets rattled off a 9-3 run to end the quarter, and the Raptors headed into the second trailing 38-26. They allowed the Nets to shoot 71% in the frame — including 6-of-10 from downtown!

The Raptors opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run — seven of them from Gary Trent Jr., who found his legs after coming up short on his first several shots of the game. Jacque Vaughn called for time, but it didn’t stop the bleeding as Juancho Hernangomez and Thad Young both scored to give the Raptors a 39-38 lead, before Ben Simmons finally scored to end the run. Did the Raptors do this while Kevin Durant was on the bench? Yes! Did they let up when he came back in? Nope!

The Raptors had a bunch of chances to build on their lead but missed six straight threes — five of them very open — before Jeff Dowtin Jr. scored an and-1 that gave the Raptors a 42-40 lead halfway through the quarter.

A cavalcade of whistles followed and both teams had a hard time scoring in the second half of the frame — almost like the Nets were on a back-to-back and the Raptors were missing half their roster! An Anunoby facial on Durant and a Thad Young putback on a Trent miss provided a final Raptors spark before halftime, and they ended the half with a 51-50 lead — though that was corrected moments later to a 52-51 Nets lead when the scorers noticed they missed a Durant basket earlier in the second quarter.

Either way — overall the result was a pretty impressive half for the home team, considering the Raptors shot 35% (including 8-for-22 from three) in the first half, while giving up 54% shooting to the Nets. How’d they do it? Forcing turnovers (13) and getting offensive rebounds (12).

Unfortunately, the good times could not last. The Nets who used an 18-4 third quarter run powered by Irving (9 points in the run) to push the the lead back to 13, 70–57.

Chris Boucher stopped the bleeding with a midrange J and a breakaway jam, but Irving came right back with back-to-back threes, and the rout was on. The Nets finished the third leading by 15 and the Raptors didn’t get closer than 13 the rest of the way.

Chris Boucher did what he could in the fourth, as did Gary Trent Jr. — both got plenty of good looks — but the lid had a rim on it (they combined to shoot 1-for-9). Boucher’s energy, though, was good to see — he missed 13 shots, but he was flying around out there, pulling down offensive rebounds, and getting to the line. He finished with 12 points and 16 boards.

Irving continued his assault though, and Nurse waved the white flag — inserting Ron Harper Jr into the lineup — with 4:30 to go, trailing by 20.

Before the game, Nick Nurse said that playing shorthanded has not been an enjoyable challenge — that while it may be one once in a while, after three weeks, he’s tired of it. Even though the team has been playing some very good basketball, he said, the constantly shifting lineups causes “time spent away from focusing on the game” — meaning that in the time that he and the coaches and players should be preparing a specific game plan, they’re spending that time figuring out who’s playing, who’s healthy, who’s traveling, who slides into what position in the rotation, etc. The Raptors have another two-day break, with no travel — they welcome the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday — so hopefully the team can get some bodies back and come with a solid game plan for Luka Doncic.