A few years ago, the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors were poised to become one of the league’s best rivalries. From Paul Pierce’s dagger in Air Canada to Masai Ujiri’s famous “F*** Brooklyn,” the two franchises were headed towards the top of the conference, finally looking revived after their disastrous summers of 2010.
And yet, here we are in 2016 and both franchises couldn’t be headed in more opposite directions. The Nets, 18-45, sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, nearly boasting the reverse record of their division-leading rivals. Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, the team’s best two players, were arbitrarily rested in Minnesota before their 14-point loss nearly set NBA records in a bad way and one of the most exciting things about them is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s rehab.
The Raptors at 41-20 look like serious contenders and are making a run at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ sacred #1 seed. Fueled by two All-Stars, one of which the Nets will fruitlessly chase this summer no doubt, the Raptors have surpassed their rivals in almost every sense.
However, they may get blown out in Minnesota, falter in frustrating and fixable ways, and have nearly confirmed their spot outside of the playoffs for the first time in 4 seasons, but one thing is for sure: they will always bring it against the Raptors.
After their night off, Lopez and Young started off 6-7 from the field, pushing the Nets out to a brief lead. DeRozan and Jason Thompson used their athletic advantages to push Toronto to a 7-0 quarter-ending run and a two-possession cushion. Donald Sloan, who has had a disastrous trip away from Brooklyn, struggled against Kyle Lowry, but the star guard racked up 4 first half turnovers anyways.
The unlikely duo of Willie Reed (8 points) and Kilpatrick (6 points) were the main curators of Brooklyn’s 8-point lead with 5 minutes left in the half. The Nets, who are in a perpetual state of tryouts between now and mid-April, do have one thing going for them: young, hungry veterans all trying to prove they belong in the NBA. Hell, the Nets, following a blooded Brook buzz-beater, even lead by 16 at halftime.
Lopez, who must’ve been angered by Jonas Valanciunas’ errant first half elbow, single-handedly destroyed Toronto in the 3rd, hitting from the field in every imaginable form. It seems almost impossible at this point, but Lopez is a player that still finds ways to surprise you every night, it’s uncanny. Either way, Lopez couldn’t do it alone and DeRozan and Lowry heated up in a big way, cutting that double-digit lead down to just 2.
Those 7 third quarter turnovers spilled into the final frame and a Patrick Patterson three-pointer finally erased all those good vibes the Nets built up. Nothing describes the Nets more than needing a crucial bucket and relying on Shane Larkin and Thomas Robinson. Markel Brown, who went scoreless in the first half, worked to quell a Toronto surge from behind the arc, but it was quickly an unstoppable wave.
It’s no secret that the Raptors have struggled since the All-Star Break, but this was another case of talent prevailing in the end. Toronto, who had hit just 5 three-pointers in the first 3 quarters, nailed their first 4 attempts in fourth, turning a 2 point deficit into a 10 point lead. More superheroism from Lopez by way of an And-1 and his 7th (!!) block lead to an unlikely 102-99 opportunity. It would prove to be fool’s gold though as Young would travel in the corner and the Raptors would put the game to bed not long after Sloan’s ridiculous layup attempt down 3 sealed it.
Ultimately, this performance sums up the Nets-Raptors rivalry as of late: fun and competitive, but Brooklyn just doesn’t have enough to finish anything off. In the end, the Raptors had two stars combine for 48 points while Lopez could only muster 35. A potential moral victory turned into just another tally in the loss column while the Raptors will keep chasing bigger and better things.
The stats: 35 PTS, 13-17 FG, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 7 BLK, 5 TOV
Is it the beard? It must be the beard.
Brook Lopez, one half of the NBA’s most fearsome mascot-destroying duo, turned up the heat on Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo and nailed every shot he faced. Before the Nets got in desperation mode, Lopez was 11-15 and it’s truly a shame that they couldn’t do more for his efforts.
Add in 7 blocks and a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line and you’ve got another quintessential Lopez experience.
He was an amazing one-man show, it’s just too bad he didn’t get more help.