TORONTO – The nets used the Raptors as a measuring stick. Inches separated the two Saturday, but those inches gave the defending champion victory and the Nets an insane loss.
It was only when Caris LeVert's 3-pointer rattled and Joe Harris failed to make a last-second attempt to kick back that the Nets rally was narrow with a 119: 118 loss.
Harris slammed the ball to the ground in disgust and celebrated the sold out crowd of 19,800 in the Scotiabank Arena.
The Nets were down 18 points in the third quarter before scoring 118 points half a minute before the end. But in the end, they had an angry sixth straight loss to the Raptors and a tenth straight loss to Toronto, their longest breakdown against an Eastern Conference opponent.
LeVert had a career level of 37 points in 12 out of 18 shooting; but he'll regret the 13th bucket he didn't get. Spencer Dinwiddie added 21 points and 11 assists, but in an inferior cause for the nets (23-28).
"Even if we miss Kyrie now, I think we are getting more stable positions – I always say that continuity helps." But that's another test, ”said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson before the game about the Raptors. "We actually have three tough games before the All-Star break. It's coming at a good time. I think we'll play better. But this is also a great test."
It wasn't as unfair as in the past few years when an eighth grader had to take AP calculus. This time, despite the greatest efforts of the LeVert Dinwiddie backspace, the nets fell just a little too short.
Fred VanVleet had 29 points and Pascal Siakam 20 to lead the Raptors.
The nets had led 36-31 after LeVert DeAndre fed Jordan for a conventional three-point game. But they coughed 13 unanswered points.
Patrick McCaw hit a long jumper – initially it was a 2-hand but vice versa a 3 – to take Toronto 44-36 in the lead and take the nets out for a break. It didn't help.
After a nice turnaround hook by Jarrett Allen, the Nets "only" failed 52-45 and lost contact after a 10-2 run. The Raptors struck five straight shots, topped off by Siakam's catch up 62:47 (2:35) lead in the first half. The deficit swelled in a second.
With a dozen deficit on the Nets during the break (66:54), they fell further in the third quarter. An OG Anunoby Dunk filled Toronto's pillow 8:43 to 79-61. At this point, the networks mounted a spirited rally.
The nets broke off slowly and clawed back at 5:21 within 111-101. Then they put together a 9-2 run, with a LeVert swimmer remaining within three at 113: 110 with 3: 8 remaining.
A VanVleet three-point game stopped the tide. But LeVert's driving dunk pulled the nets within 118-116. Then he hit a game-determining floater with a regulation time of 35 seconds and moved as the Raptors headed for a break.
Wilson Chandler whistled for a foul 22 seconds before the end. Atkinson challenged the call and lost. Siakam went to the line and hit only one of two, giving the Nets the final shot. But it rattled off the rim.
“Their length and athleticism caused us problems. Taking care of the ball was a problem. We have to take care of it. It's number 1, ”said Atkinson. "Then we have to return to the transition. We have to limit their chances of transition. They are among the best in the league. A big challenge for us."
The Nets played without Irving and of course without Kevin Durant. But the Raptors were without Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol and had just enough depth to overcome them. Apart from LeVert and Dinwiddie, Jordan (15 points, 14 cards) was the best crime for the networks.
"They're really good together," said Atkinson. "You're talking about the real strength, it's their defense. They're defensive in the top two or three.
"Can we score? Can we score efficiently? It seems like they have eight rim protectors with their length. "