Nets fall to Raptors as playoff race heats up

C+

Final: 04/03/2019

L 105 115

Every game down the stretch has playoff implications and, on Wednesday night, the Brooklyn Nets played like they were already there. The Toronto Raptors were more than happy to indulge them in a taste of what the playoffs would be like.

What became clear out of the gate is that the physicality of the defense was going to be elevated, with both Rodions Kurucs and Ed Davis picking up three fouls in the first half. The Raptors weren’t slouching either as they gave All-Star D’Angelo Russell a sample of playoff defense, holding him to just seven points in the first half. That did not slow the Nets down at all though, as Kurucs continued to frustrate Kawhi Leonard.

That defensive intensity, however, would not directly translate to the other aspects of Brooklyn’s game as they struggled to produce consistently on offense, giving up extra possessions in the form of offensive rebounds and turnovers. It was so bad that the Raptors shot the ball 19 more times than the Nets — that is an absolutely crazy number, especially when Brooklyn only lost by 10.

The biggest story of this game though, and what will likely be the most impactful category when it comes to winning playoff games, was three-point shooting. The Nets struggled for most of the contest to knock down their shots from behind the arc, while Serge Ibaka managed to shoot 5-for-5. Brooklyn lives and dies by the three-point shot — so when it isn’t falling, the team looks rough. They shot under 30 percent for the majority of the contest until Russell got hot to end the fourth quarter.

Usually, a loss to one of the best teams in the league and the second seed in the conference would be both excusable and acceptable — the stakes, and therefore the expectations, are much higher with a playoff spot on the line. While the difference between the eighth and ninth seed may only be a single game this season, that change could have a huge impact on Brooklyn’s potential pitches to free agents over the off-season.

It’s much easier to sell someone like a Kevin Durant or a Tobias Harris on a playoff team than a lottery squad. As of now, the Nets are walking the line between both.

D'Angelo Russell

B+

The stats: 27 PTS, 11-25 FG, 5-10 3PT, 7 REB, 6 AST, 1 STL, 3 TO

D’Angelo Russell may have started slow, but he nearly brought the Nets all the way back.

Ultimately, this game will be good for Russell. A taste of high defensive intensity from one of the best teams in the leagues will be invaluable in preparing for the postseason. Let’s just hope he can get the Nets there.

Caris LeVert

C

The stats: 3 PTS, 1-9 FG, 1-4 3PT, 2 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 0 TO

His stat line looked ugly tonight and, unfortunately, LeVert has been the king of inconsistency since coming back from injury. That being said, he played 26 minutes and was the only Brooklyn player with a positive plus-minus. Even while he is struggling to shoot the ball, he is making his impact felt on other aspects of the game.

But, man, if only he could hit those shots.

Jarrett Allen

B

The stats: 12 PTS, 6-6 FG, 9 REB, 1 BLK, 1 TO

Jarrett Allen was flashy tonight and certainly made an impact on this potential first-round matchup.

First of all, he didn’t miss a shot. That’s kinda awesome. Second of all, they were field goals like the one above. That’s really awesome!

What’s also nice is that he wasn’t as noticeably exploited on the defensive end tonight. The Raptors’ offense is no easy beast to contain, but the Fro gave it his best effort and never let them run away with the lead. What more can you ask from a 20-year-old?

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

D+

The stats: 4 PTS, 2-5 FG, , 6 REB, 1 STL, 3 TO

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been on somewhat of a tear lately, but that hot streak was stamped out tonight.

Kenny Atkinson put him into the game to provide a spark for a team that had begun to lag behind. Instead, Hollis-Jefferson was more of a wildfire, out of control and burning everything down in his path.

Still, he should be included in Atkinson’s playoff push rotation, undoubtedly.

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