Bench to the rescue one more time for Raptors

BROOKLYN — Eventually it’s going to catch up with them.

Eventually, though, did not arrive last night.

Outside of the odd game – certainly the Houston win comes to mind – the Raptors’ starters have been rather ordinary of late. They’ve closed out games well-to-outstanding for the most part but those opening quarters have been dicey.

And the first quarter was again Tuesday as Brooklyn Nets star D’Angelo Russell got red-hot from behind the arc, hitting seven in a row before he finally missed and was subbed out. That was seven minutes into the quarter and he left with 24 points on his line.

The Raptors bench, as it normally does, came in and restored some order, getting the game back to even before turning it back to the starters for the final six minutes of the second.

Again the starters faltered, this time without the excuse of a red-hot Russell to go to. By the half the Raps were down 10 again.

Then it turned again, but not until Fred VanVleet, the engine that makes that bench mob go, came out to join the starters.

From the point of his arrival in the third quarter, about four minutes in, the Raptors went on a 15-0 run and by the end of the third had a two-point lead on their way to a 116-102 win.

It was a season-high ninth win in a row for the Raptors.

There’s something that happens when VanVleet enters a game. He gets into his man and it catches through the rest of the lineup.

Suddenly defence is no longer a chore, it’s a necessity. Whether that’s because no one wants to get shamed or it’s just catching, everyone else’s defence picks up.

VanVleet was the guy who came in and helped turn the water off for Russell in the first half. His entry into the game in the second half made any scoring significantly tougher for any of the Nets as the rest of the Raptors followed his lead.

VanVleet wound up with 15 points and four assists on the night (27 minutes), but the stats sheet did not reflect the impact he had on this game.

Casey knew coming into this one this Nets team was capable of pushing the Raptors.

“This team is a scrappy young team and we only got out by the skin of our teeth the last time here,” he said, recalling an overtime win here in early January. “They give us problems in different situations and it took us overtime to beat them last time. If that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will.”

While it was VanVleet that helped get the Raptors engaged in this one, it was his bench teammate CJ Miles who helped the Raptors start to pull away.

In a span of just over two minutes midway through the fourth quarter Miles, who had been scoreless to that point, hit three three-pointers and was fouled on another converting all three from the line for a 12-point burst that gave the Raptors a little breathing room.

The Raps got little in the way of offence from either of the two biggest producers in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan but got 28 out of Jonas Valanciunas to stay in this one.

Valanciunas also had 13 boards as Casey stayed big when the Nets went small, making for a handful of opportunities for Valanciunas to go to work with a huge advantage over some smaller defenders.

For the game, the Nets hit on 15-of-35 threes. Casey talked about the potential for that as well before the game noting the Nets, like a lot of teams in the NBA, have committed wholeheartedly to the three ball but hadn’t been consistent hitting it.

“At some point they are going to start going in,” Casey noted. “We just hope it’s not tonight.”

Casey’s wish wasn’t granted, but he found the pieces to offset a very successful night from distance from the hometown Nets, beginning with VanVleet.

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies