Even Jason Kidd's tie-less appearance couldn't give the Nets enough juice to push past the surging Raptors at Air Canada Centre on Saturday, dropping a 96-80 loss in Toronto on "Drake Night."
With the undefeated record in 2014 out the window, the Nets have much to prove over these next few weeks. Was the five-game stretch just "fool's gold," as Bill Simmons mentioned on ESPN's pre-game show before the Nets beat the Heat and The Brooklyn Game's Devin Kharpertian wondered, or is it a sign of future success?
By the time the Brooklyn Nets landed in Toronto, it was early Saturday morning. Their bodies didn't have time to recover from a heavy dose of minutes their core players were forced to play in Friday's 58-minute double-overtime victory over the Miami Heat. The circumstances wouldn't get any easier either: before the game, Kevin Garnett was ruled out after playing 36 minutes, and Shaun Livingston would have his minutes reduced after playing a career-high 51.
After falling down 13 in the second quarter, the Nets fought back, cutting the Raptors lead to five by the end of the first half. At one point in the third quarter, the Nets -- led by Paul Pierce -- were able to take a ten-point lead.
The Nets, ready to show off their newfound mental toughness once again, failed. With a 64-56 lead at one point in the third quarter, the Nets' tired legs and aching bones just wouldn't let them continue to play with their 2014 swagger throughout.
The Nets were then outscored 30-16 en route to a commanding 16-point win for the Raptors, who climb to 18-17 and lead the Atlantic Division.
Any team missing three starters and facing the conditions the Nets faced tonight would've struggled.Brooklyn overcame an early deficit, something they struggled with earlier in the season. They also got some stellar play from rookie Mason Plumlee in his first career start. Plumlee finished the night with a career-high four blocks in 28 minutes and was a force on both ends of the floor.
But Andray Blatche continued to play some of the worst basketball of his Nets career, with five fouls in about nine minutes of action. With Brook Lopez out, Kidd relies on Blatche to pick up the slack. But if these past two games are any indication of Blatche's production, Kidd should bench him until he gets his act together.
During their five-game winning streak, Jason Kidd's squad allowed just under 97.9 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would rank among the top three teams in the NBA this season.
With wins over the Heat and Warriors, the defensive improvement certainly hasn't been the case of "bad offense."
But it's difficult to tell whether the Nets are capable of playing stellar defense all season.
They feature players who aren't known for their defense; Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic, and Joe Johnson come to mind. They also have players whose skills have eroded due to age; Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, Paul Pierce come to mind.
But with the re-addition of Andrei Kirilenko, as well as the strong defensive play of Shaun Livingston, there is hope.
The Nets have had two good five-game stretches of basketball this season: a 4-1 stretch from December 7th to December 16th, and the five straight wins to start the new year.
During that 4-1 stretch in mid-December, the Nets beat a hot Los Angeles Clippers team at home with relative ease for one of their best wins of the year. The next night, they played Detroit on the road without Brook Lopez and lost by just four points.
The commonly held belief was that the loss to Detroit was just a case of playing a healthier, more well-rested team -- similar to tonight -- and that all would be fine afterwards. Brooklyn then went on to lose seven of their next nine games culminating in a record of 10-21 entering 2014.
The Nets certainly can keep winning in 2014 and shake off this tough loss. But as they showed us last month, nothing can be taken for granted in a wild and unpredictable NBA season.