Since moving to Brooklyn, the Nets’ rivalry with the Toronto Raptors reached new and refreshing levels — culminating, of course, with Paul Pierce’s epic Game 7 block from a few years back. However, that was where the fun ended for the Nets as everybody left, got fired, or burned out of the league, officially leaving them as cellar dwellers while the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year and appear poised to do it again this season.
Even worse, ahead of the Nets’ death week (Golden State on Thursday, Cleveland on Friday), they opted to rest Brook Lopez, the one holdover from the Drake-fueled showdowns of yesteryear. One might reasonably expect the game to be a blowout (oh, just wait for that), but the return of Jeremy Lin to the starting lineup energized the Nets, and his 5 points helped them stay within reach at 29-23.
The absence of Lopez meant the revival of Luis Scola, the former starting Raptors power forward himself, but the replacement shot just 0-4 in the first twelve minutes. Instead, it was Anthony Bennett to step up in that stead — racking up 5 points and 5 rebounds in 7 minutes. It was a balanced attack from Brooklyn on the night as nobody scored more than 10 points in the first half and yet, (surprise!) it was their defense that did them in.
With 2:35 left in the half, Sean Kilpatrick dribbled right into DeMar DeRozan, who stripped it, and went on a 2-on-1 alongside Kyle Lowry. After Lin was scored on, he realized he was the only man back and threw his shoulders up as if to say: really? I’m the only one getting back tonight?
Toronto, 64, Brooklyn, 46 — yikes, that got bad fast.
And while there were some solid second half performances — shouts to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and a much-improved Kilpatrick — there was just… nothing. No grind on defense, no hustle to the loose balls, no rotation — nothing, and as Sean Marks said today on the radio:
"It's definitely a concern for Kenny and our staff." – Sean Marks on the defense.
— Greg Hrinya (@GHrinyaNets) December 20, 2016
Well, at least we’re not learning anything new here.
The Nets ran the fourth down through Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Justin Hamilton, Caris LeVert, and a few others, but the Raptors were just too big, too strong, too fast, too ready, too skilled, and far more willing than the Nets were — so this result was never really in question.
With Brook Lopez, this would’ve been a toughie — without him, it was as good as a 4PM white flag on Monday evening. The point is: don’t beat yourself up over who played and who didn’t — the Raptors are good and the Nets are not.
Let’s see Masai Ujiri turn that into curse-worthy chant!
The stats: 19 PTS, 8-15 FG, 6 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK
It was one of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s best efforts all year, it’s just too bad it came after the result was long decided.