The Nets led the Raptors by as many as 14 points in the third quarter, but it would not be a Nets game if Brooklyn did not eventually hang on by a thread. That quickly became reality for the Nets in the fourth quarter after DeMar DeRozan scored nine of the Raptors’ first 10 points in the final frame.
That was part of a 13-4 Toronto run, retaking a lead the team had not held since the second quarter. Brooklyn tried to make it interesting, but the Raptors outscored the Nets 32-21 in the final quarter to add on to its Eastern Conference-leading record with a 116-112 win.
In true Nets fashion, the Nets did not go down decisively. While DeRozan continued to pour on his 18 points, Allen Crabbe came up with a big three and a steal with about a minute to go, but D’Angelo Russell could not get the floater to go down.
Then Jonas Valanciunas made a bucket on the next play, and with the Nets down six with 37.5 seconds to go, it looked like it was over.
But DeMarre Carroll shut the crowd up on the next possession after he drained a three and Caris LeVert stole the ball back for Brooklyn. There was hope.
Then in a microcosm of the Nets’ season, LeVert could not get the ball in-bounds and lost track of time, committing a five-second violation before getting to call a timeout. The Nets tried to cut into the lead from there, but the Raptors did just enough to keep the edge.
Brooklyn made life harder for itself at the free throw line. The entire team struggled at the charity stripe (besides Jarrett Allen, who went 7-of-7), shooting a total of 19-of-31 (61.3 percent) on the freebies. The empty performances at the line gave the Raptors a chance to catch up, and they pounced on it in the fourth quarter.
This game made some history not only because there was a five-minute delay to check if a rim was level (yes, that happened), but the Nets put up more historic moments. First, Crabbe set the Nets franchise record for single-season three-pointers, extending the record to 173.
D’Angelo Russell then had some history for himself, recording the first Nets triple-double in nearly eight years since Terrence Williams, and the first in Brooklyn history. It was also the first of his career, and he notched it in 24 minutes. Even with a head injury scare, Russell’s 18 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists were key in Brooklyn’s best stretches. In short, he was awesome in running the offense.
To his credit — Dante Cunningham was the one to get the Nets started in the first quarter, getting hot from three and giving Brooklyn a boost. The Nets went on to hold the lead through the middle of the game until they could not score any more in the fourth.
After out-scoring Toronto through the first three quarters and recording 14 lead changes, what hurt Brooklyn the most was a resurgent DeRozan and those missed free throws. Kyle Lowry’s triple-double was a killer, too, and the Nets just could not figure out how to keep getting buckets for one more quarter.
If Brooklyn won, it would’ve been the team’s first win against the Raptors in three straight seasons. Instead, Toronto gets the job done in the fourth quarter behind three players with 20-plus points.
Now, onto the next Eastern Conference killer for Brooklyn.
The stats: 14 PTS, 4-7 FG, 2-4 3FG, 4-6 FT, 2 REB, 2 BLK, 31 MIN
The rumors are true — DeMarre Carroll does always have a big shot in him. He drained a flailing three-pointer with under a minute left to hush an excited Raptors crowd and turned what seemed like a decided victory into a race. While the Nets could not pull off the win, Carroll gave them a shot and put up a strong all-around game.
The stats: 18 PTS, 6-10 FG, 5-8 3FG, 1-2 FT, 2 REB, 2 BLK, 29 MIN
He finally did it — Crabbe broke the single-season three-pointer record. Congrats! Unfortunately for the Nets, he went cold near the end of the game but was spot on the rest of the time. It’s still fun to see Crabbe when he’s on the top of his game.
The stats: 18 PTS, 8-21 FG, 0-4 3FG, 2-5 FT, 11 REB, 13 AST, 2 TOV, 1 STL, 31 MIN
It seemed like I blinked and D’Angelo was just one rebound away from a triple-double. While he still struggled from the field, D’Angelo showed early that he was locked into his teammates and distributing the ball. After two early turnovers, he did not give the ball away for the rest of the game and came up just short of getting his team a win.