Undermanned Raptors cannot hold back properly motivated nets
Timing is everything in sports, especially when it comes to playing against the dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets.
On paper, the Nets are one of the most talented teams in the NBA. They have arguably the best player in the game in Kevin Durant, elite talent in Kyrie Irving, defensive wizardry in Ben Simmons, and a bevy of shooters that should make them nearly unstoppable.
Yet, impossible to know what to expect from this group from one night to another. One game, Durant is bound to leave for 50 points in a decisive win. The next day, Irving might not even bother to show up. Worse still, he could hold a press conference.
There’s been an air of a traveling circus in this group for some time now. It started with Irving refusing to get vaccinated, continued with trade demands from James Harden and Durant, then got even worse when the Nets acquired Simmons at a time when it looked like he had forgotten how. practice this sport.
The Nets have a ton of problems and yet they’re still good enough to overcome them all when properly motivated, which was the case in Wednesday’s 112-98 win over the raptors. After being embarrassed by an understaffed Philadelphia 76ers the night before, Durant’s crew wasn’t about to let that happen again 24 hours later.
“We’re in the business to win,” Irving said after his first game in Toronto since Feb. 26, 2019, in terms of how embarrassed we should be, which is true. We just wanted to make sure we paid attention to detail tonight, get out there and respond.
A full-strength Raptors team would be a good test for these Nets, but Nick Nurse’s team hasn’t come close to that for the better part of three weeks. Before the game against Brooklyn, the Raptors head coach made the long-awaited announcement that forward Scottie Barnes could not get dressed due to knee pain. Unfortunately for Nurse, her medical update didn’t stop there.
After returning for a pair of games against the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, point guard Fred VanVleet was once again scratched with a non-COVID flu. Replacement guard Dalano Banton also had to be ruled out with a sore ankle while other unavailable players included Pascal Siakam, Otto Porter Jr., Precious Achiuwa and Justin Champagnie.
That left the Raptors with just 10 healthy bodies, at least three or four of which typically don’t get regular rotational minutes. After dealing with similar issues each of the past two years, it all gets a little old for Nurse, who must wonder if he’ll ever have his entire group available for more than a week or two at a time.
“Once in a while you might enjoy the challenge, but not for three weeks in a row here,” said Nurse, whose team fell to 9-9. “It’s not that pleasant. Look, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s like we didn’t play very well, because I think we did.
“But what he does is he wastes so much time focusing on the game. Trying to figure out when this guy is back, where is this guy, when is his treatment…Is he sick ? Is it COVID? There are so many other things you’re spending and occupying (time), and that’s not what you really want to do. We want to focus on the games and put all our energy into it.
The Raptors had hoped to do to the Nets what the 76ers had done a night before. On Tuesday, despite the absence of Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, the 76ers managed to steal a win from the star-spangled Nets thanks in large part to their dominance on the glass. The 76ers outshot the Nets 49-35, including 20-4 on the offensive side.
Nurse thought the Nets would focus on cleaning up that part of their game on Wednesday, but early on it was more of the same. The first 11 points the Raptors scored all came on second chances and by halftime they had already had 11 offensive boards, keeping them under one at the break.
The biggest problem was that the Raptors had no answer for the Nets’ offense, which led to them being outscored 60-47 in the second half. Irving led all scorers with 29 points on 11 of 16 shooting from the floor. Royce O’Neale contributed with 15 while Simmons went 7 for 9 shooting to finish with 14 points, six assists and three steals.
All five Brooklyn starters finished in double-digit runs as the Nets shot 54.9 percent to the Raptors’ 35.6. The baskets were coming so easily that Durant didn’t even have to get involved, shooting just 10 times to finish with 12 points and seven rebounds. It was the first time this season Durant hadn’t scored at least 25.
“You have to play the game, you can’t look too far ahead,” said Simmons, whose team has won three of its last four games. “I felt in that Philadelphia game we were trying to win the game in the first quarter, every play we were trying to win the game. That’s not how you win. You win every game at once and by being focused.
The Nets may have been embarrassed in Philadelphia, but there was nothing to be ashamed of in Toronto. They were focused, determined, and such an under-equipped Raptors team didn’t stand a chance, at least not after the wake-up call Brooklyn got the night before. There’s no shame in that either.
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