Raptors drop game in overtime against pesky Nets

BROOKYLN — The plucky Brooklyn Nets have been hard-luck losers so many times this season that maybe the basketball deities threw them a bone on Friday night.

The 9-18 Nets can’t compete with Toronto’s talent, yet outworked the visitors and survived in overtime to take the 106-105 final, dropping the Raptors to 21-6.

Fred VanVleet had a chance to win the game, but rimmed out a three-pointer set up by Kyle Lowry on a broken play that the Raptors managed to turn into something workable.

“Great ball movement. I know everybody would have probably liked Kawhi (Leonard) or Kyle to take that shot, the last shot, including me (but) they both made great plays,” VanVleet said.

“Kawhi found Kyle and then Kyle drove and found me wide open. I’ll take those all day, every day.”

D’Angelo Russell had 29 points, allowing Brooklyn to overcome Leonard’s 32, and the Nets had a massive 60-41 rebounding advantage that helped negate Toronto’s 24-9 made free-throw advantage.

Leonard had missed a pull-up jumper late in the fourth, allowing Spencer Dinwiddie a chance to prevent overtime, but Leonard guarded his drive well and no foul was called, resulting in the extra period. Leonard threw down a monster jam and hit some shots in the frame, but the Nets would not be denied.

The VanVleet miss and two others by the struggling Lowry loomed large.

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Jonas Valanciunas had 24 points, Pascal Siakam 16, but Toronto shot just 39% from the field and committed 15 turnovers.

The Raptors opted to not hold a shootaround in the morning, with head coach Nick Nurse explaining that a busy week filled with games, events and saturated media coverage all added up, along with the notoriously slow New York City traffic.

The way the game started might have caused Nurse to rethink the decision, because his charges certainly could have used the shooting work.

“Guys are struggling to find their rhythm,” VanVleet said.

“Guys just not feeling good about their shots. There’s ups and downs to them, and that’s kind of the problem with being a three-point shooting team. Sometimes if you don’t make them, you’re struggling to claw out wins.”

Indeed, Toronto has had some awful shooting starts to games and this one was no different. There was the 1-for-9 bricklaying from beyond the arc (including seven straight misses) in the first quarter, and 4-for-16 overall in the first half to bemoan. Yet, Toronto found itself tied at 53 apiece, largely thanks to a 15-3 made free throw advantage. In the opening half at least, the Nets could not stop the Raptors, but the Raptors could stop themselves.

Nurse lamented the close shots more than the long ones afterward.

“We missed a lot of layups,” Nurse said.

“I was more disappointed in our finishing at the rim … that tells you how many layups we missed.”

Valanciunas didn’t have the inside issues most of his teammates did. He followed up his huge effort against Philadelphia on Wednesday with another dominant outing, sitting on 17 points at the break.

The Nets built up a lead as large as 14 points, but Valanciunas and Leonard brought Toronto back with a 23-7 run. The turning point was likely Leonard’s incredible second quarter steal. The forward grabbed the ball, then went behind his back to save the ball while falling out of bounds. Some fans lost their drinks on the sequence, but Lowry got the ball and found Leonard at the other end for a dunk.

Credit the Nets, who played true to form, especially since losing breakout guard Caris LeVert to a gruesome ankle injury (LeVert is still on crutches). Without LeVert the club has hung around in most games, only to come up short, but added a new twist, a win.

“Listen we’re 2-10 without him. We knew we’d take a hit,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson had said pre-game.

“Without him, we haven’t been able to close out games. There’s no doubt about that.”

Still, Nurse clearly respected the Nets for a reason.

“This team’s record could very well be .500 or better the way that they’ve played,” Nurse had sagely said.

They took a step in the right direction by pulling this one out against a Raptors team that has some flaws, despite its gaudy record.

SHOOT ’EM IF YOU’VE GOT ’EM

Lowry was only attempting 6.4 three-pointers a game (24th in the NBA vs. sixth last season) heading into this one, his lowest average since the 2014-15 season and Nurse wants his star point guard to start hoisting up quite a bit more.

“Probably not,” was Nurse’s response when queried whether Lowry was letting it fly often enough.

“He started the season as it being one of his weapons (and needs to get back there) because he’s got tremendous off-the-dribble three-point shooting percentage and range,” Nurse said.

“I want him to shoot 10 threes a night. Once he starts doing that consistently we’ll be happy,” Nurse said.

Lowry is leading the NBA in assists and the team has found success while he has been on the floor, but with the team struggling mightily as a whole on three-pointers, the hope is that if he gets more aggressive with his jumper it might snap the team out of its shooting malaise since he’s arguably the top marksman on the squad.

Lowry said afterward: “I don’t make excuses and I don’t have any excuses to make. I’m just not playing well. I hold myself to a high standard and I have to play better.”

NO. 2 IS GOOD

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson didn’t have to think too hard about why Kawhi Leonard has fit in so well in Toronto.

“Because he’s a great player. He’d be great wherever he is,” Atkinson said.

“He’s an elite two way player. He’s in peak form and playing great.”

Atkinson, lauded for his player development work over the years in Atlanta and Brooklyn, also credited Toronto’s player development work with Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet.

The question also arose whether Leonard should be in the MVP conversation.

“I don’t really grade it who is going to win the MVP very often,” Nurse said.

“(But) I don’t know who is playing better than Kevin Durant. He looks pretty good to me. He dropped 50 on us … I had hoped in the back of my mind Kawhi would be in the MVP (talk … It’s early yet. He’s maybe on the outskirts of the talk, or he’s entering it because he’s starting to score a little bit more now,” Nurse said.

“I keep telling everybody that I think there’s more to come with this guy.”

The biggest difference Nurse has seen recently with Leonard is that his legs are coming back. He is getting more lift on his shots and getting higher on his dunks.

He’s also getting closer to being available every night.

“They’re clearing us to play him pretty much when we want, as many minutes, though we’re not quite done with that stuff (resting certain games) yet, but we’re getting closer physically and I think the rest of it just comes with his new environment. Learning us and me and all that stuff,” Nurse said.

BUCKS LAND HILL

In a move that could have implications once the playoffs roll around, Milwaukee acquired guard George Hill in exchange for first- and second-round 2021 picks (with some protection), guard Matthew Dellavedova and centre John Henson.

The veteran Hill has been an excellent defender in the past and a quality three-point shooter. He has given Lowry issues in past playoff meetings while with Indiana and Cleveland.

The rebuilding Cavs take on quite a bit of salary in order to restock their draft pick war chest, while the Bucks add depth behind Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon.

Toronto hosts Milwaukee on Sunday.

AROUND THE RIM

Jonas Valanciunas picked up an early technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk. It was his fourth technical of the season and second in the past week. Andre Drummond leads all players with eight technicals … Some Nets fans attempted to throw Leonard off when he shot free throws by chanting: “Uncle Dennis.” It didn’t seem to work, as Leonard hit all six of his first-half free throw attempts.

FIVE THINGS

1. Rebounding is still a major issue

Granted, Brooklyn is a strong team on the boards, but part of Toronto’s issues in this one were effort-related. Too many players weren’t hunting down the ball.

2. Dribble penetration is a problem too

Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell consistently attacked the rim and the Raptors struggled to prevent them from going where they wanted to.

3. It’s nice to have that Kawhi guy

Whether it was a stunning steal, or just a big bucket, Leonard remains the ultimate luxury for Nurse to employ. He’s always ready and brought some daggers to this game.

4. It might be time to worry about Lowry’s jumper

He was 1-for-6 from three, after going 1-for-7 and 1-for-6 in his previous two games and 2-for-7 in the one prior.

5. This was not an impressive performance

Brooklyn plays hard and is well-coached, but the Raptors have far more talent and should not have been in this much of a dogfight. Things just aren’t clicking and the bad shooting appears to be seeping into everything.

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies