Shorthanded Nets valiant effort falls short in second straight loss to Raptors

Brooklyn Nets Toronto Raptors
Bruce Brown goes up to make a basket in between Malachi Flynn and center Khem Birch during the first half at Scotiabank Arena.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets were looking for a better effort than the previous night against the Toronto Raptors. They got that, but the much-needed win didn’t come on Tuesday night as Brooklyn dropped its second consecutive game to Toronto 109-108 at Scotiabank Arena.

In a playoff-like atmosphere, the Nets managed to lead after three quarters and were ahead 96-90 with 5:25 left to play in the fourth when the Raptors went on a 10-0 run to take back the lead. A pair of defensive three-second violations by LaMarcus Aldridge turned added to the shorthanded Nets woes in the final period.

The first was called with 3:05 left in the fourth and led to Gary Trent Jr. hitting the free throw and then knocking down the floating jump shot on the ensuing possession to five Toronto a 100-96 lead. The second call came right after Seth Curry ended the Raptors 10-0 run, but Aldridge again found himself being whistled for the violation.

“Nah I’ve never seen that before,” Curry said when asked about it. “We rarely see one in the fourth quarter, but two of them that was shocking. LA was saying if he’s in there usually the ref would warn him or would tell him to get out of the lane. There was just none of that. Just two technical foul calls. That’s two points in the end of close game, it’s crucial. It’s tough to overcome.”

Aldridge admitted after the game that one of them was a legitimate call. But two? Not exactly.

“I was in a pick and roll so then I could be in the paint,” he explained. Then as I recall, I don’t know I haven’t watched it yet, but then I think I was touching Thaddeus (Young) as he was clearing the lane. I think that’s tough to call down the stretch. … I don’t think it was right, so it is what it is.”

The Nets managed to hang with the Raptors down the stretch even after the crucial foul calls. James Johnson’s driving dunk down the lane with 1:32 left on the clock pulled Brooklyn within three and Curry hit a game-tying three with 50.8 seconds.

But three sets of made free throws by Trent Jr. in the final 30 seconds helped the Raptors hold off the Nets.

“Their pressure, give them credit for that,” said Jacque Vaughn, when asked about the Nets scoring slump through the first six minutes of the fourth. “I think we had some good looks the shots that we did get. Tried to keep things really simple because of their aggressiveness, but overall the approach of our guys coming into this game, you gotta give them credit.”

The loss pushes the Nets further behind the Raptors, who they are trying to catch in an attempt to move out of a play-in-round spot before the end of the season. Brooklyn now sits three games back of Toronto with 19 games left to play in the regular season.

Tuesday marked the second game in which Vaughn served as the acting head coach while Steve Nash was in COVID protocol. Nash was among several Nets personnel that was absent from the game.

Kevin Durant was still out, though he is expected to finally return on Thursday when the Nets host Miami, and Andre Drummond missed the game due to knee soreness. However, that injury isn’t believed to be serious according to Vaughn.

Tuesday’s effort was a big step up from the way they had played on Monday night, when the Raptors ran away with the game at Barclays Center. Ultimately the final result didn’t help the Nets’ cause as they try to dig their way out of the play-in round.

“I mean obviously everyone knows the situation we’re in, but the guys in the locker room we understand it a little bit different,” James Johnson said. “We understand where we’re at. We understand how close we really are to becoming what we want to become this year. As long as we keep playing with a no-excuse mentality and next man up, I feel like we’re getting better.”