It’s been over a month since the Brooklyn Nets began their miraculous turnaround — and it all started with a victory over one of the NBA’s best teams: the Toronto Raptors.
The Nets woke up on December 7th in the midst of an eight-game losing streak and sat at an abysmal 8-18. The losing streak featured blown leads to teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers, and Memphis Grizzlies — the latter two losses of which have been avenged. The streak also featured losses to inferior teams in the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards. At the time, it seemed that the Nets would never recover from the Caris LeVert injury.
Somehow, the Nets pulled off the overtime upset against the Raptors, sparking Brooklyn’s rise to a playoff position and wins in 13 of their last 17 games. The Nets won their first of four meetings against the Raptors despite turning the ball over 20 times and getting to the free throw line on a mere 13 occasions. On the other hand, Brooklyn outrebounded Toronto and held their opponent to under 40% from the field on that night.
Something worth noting: Before defeating the Raptors on December 7th, the Nets had lost 12 consecutive games to Toronto. That’s three seasons of being swept by the Raptors. Their last win came on April 3, 2015. So history, even after the last win, was not on the Nets’ side.
To open the game, D’Angelo Russell came out firing and scored 12 points in the first quarter to go along with six rebounds and five assists. He was Brooklyn’s most prominent bright spot in the first quarter. With Russell on the court, the ball moved flawlessly around the perimeter. And when the ball moves, the Nets score at will.
Brooklyn’s defense showed up as well, holding the Raptors to 28 first quarter points — a significant improvement from Wednesday’s first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks.
Sadly, the second quarter went much differently.
The Toronto offense scored at will from the paint, taking advantage of Brooklyn’s small lineup. Toronto put up 36 points in the second, taking an 11-point halftime lead. The Nets would need to find an answer for Kawhi Leonard, who scored 15 points in the first half.
Despite Brooklyn’s defensive woes, the Nets struggled mightily on offense. At one point in the second quarter, the Nets went 5:30 without a field goal. The Nets couldn’t get the ball in the basket no matter how hard they tried. Brooklyn made four field goals in the second, scoring just 18 points. The root of their offensive woes began with poor ball movement and terrible shot selection. The Nets would have to change their game plan for the second half.
Shabazz Napier, who scored ten points in the first half, struggled late in the second quarter. Without Russell on the court, it looked as though Napier wanted to singlehandedly stop Toronto’s runs. Unfortunately, forced shots and sloppy basketball can only go so far against the Eastern Conference elite.
Despite trailing by only eleven points entering the third, the Nets didn’t show up in the second half.
The Raptors blew the game wide open in the third quarter, taking a 24-point lead entering the fourth quarter. Nothing was working for the Nets on offense or defense. It was as ugly a quarter as they’ve played this season, allowing 35 points alone in that frame. The second chance points that Toronto mustered hurt Brooklyn the most.
The rout was on soundly — so if you’re looking for a silver lining, it at least allowed onlookers a first look at Alan Williams in a Brooklyn Nets uniform.
Along with Williams, there was also an extended look at Theo Pinson, who is coming off a 43-point performance for the Long Island Nets last night. In garbage time, Williams and Pinson went off. The third-stringers reduced Toronto’s lead to 13 with 4:47 remaining, though the Raptors quickly regained control.
The Nets went on to lose 122-105, dropping to 21-23 — they will look to bounce back Monday against the Boston Celtics, who they fell to four days ago.
All in all, it was a pitiful performance from the Nets — excluding D’Angelo Russell.
The stats: 24 PTS, 10-19 FG, 2-5 3PT, 6 REB, 9 AST, 1 STL, 2 TO, 27 MIN
D’Angelo Russell continues to grow both as a scorer and a playmaker for the Nets.
Tonight was no different, Russell was excellent, scoring efficiently and dishing out nine dimes.
Despite another fantastic performance for the 22-year-old, the rest of the Nets struggled on both ends of the floor. In order for Brooklyn to win, Russell is going to need help from his fellow starters, who put up 25 combined points.
The stats: 8 PTS, 1-7 FG, 1-1 3PT, 5-6 FT, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 1 TO, 21 MIN
Tonight was not Spencer Dinwiddie’s night. He couldn’t get it going on the offensive end and struggled on defense as well.
In the third quarter, Dinwiddie received a technical for arguing with the refs regarding a couple of missed calls — although he may have had a point.
Dinwiddie will need to find his groove Monday against Boston, who destroyed Brooklyn just four days ago.
The stats: 8 PTS, 3-4 FG, 2-4 FT, 8 REB, 2 AST, 8 MIN
Alan “Big Sauce” Williams is back in Brooklyn. The two-way player had trouble finalizing his deal in China and returned to Nets on Thursday.
Williams, who made his Brooklyn Nets debut tonight, was very successful in garbage time.
Eight points and eight rebounds in only eight minutes may lead to more playing time for Williams, especially given Brooklyn’s injury troubles.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) January 12, 2019
The stats: 15 PTS, 6-14 FG, 3-6 3PT, 0-2 FT, 2 REB, 5 AST, 2 TO, 25 MIN
Shabazz Napier plays with a lot of energy and even more confidence. But Napier’s confidence gets him into trouble. Lots of trouble.
Tonight, Napier forced most of his shots and tried to telegraph passes. It was not one of his best performances of the season. At times, his play was quite ugly.
Despite all the negatives, there were positives in his game tonight, ae made three of his six threes and recorded five assists.
Napier will need to clean up his game Monday against the Celtics.
The stats: 9 PTS, 3-5 FG, 1-3 3PT, 2-2 FT, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 TO, 13 MIN
Theo Pinson dropped 43 last night for Long Island, but he showed no signs of fatigue against the Raptors.
He was all over the court, scoring nine points and playing solid defense. Pinson outplayed Napier, who shared the backcourt with him during garbage time.
It will be interesting to see if Atkinson replaces Napier with Pinson next time out.