After getting mauled by Toronto in their Eastern Conference playoff opener, the Nets had to prove they can play with the Raptors. They did that Wednesday, but now they have to show they can beat the defending champions.
Monday’s first-round Game 1 blowout loss to Toronto was humbling. This was more heartbreaking, as the Nets blew a two-touchdown lead and ran out of gas in the fourth quarter of a 104-99 loss at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
The Nets – who had trailed by 33 in the first half of the opener – took a 14-point edge on Wednesday. They still led by four early in the fourth, but went ice-cold offensively against the defending champ’s league-best scoring defense.
Garrett Temple had big plays on both ends and finished with a team-high 21 points, but was pressured into a game-sealing turnover in the final seconds with the Nets holding possession down three. It was Brooklyn’s 17th and most costly turnover.
After Joe Harris’ handoff to Temple went awry – possibly slapped away – Norman Powell went the other way for a clinching dunk. He tied Fred VanVleet for game-high scoring honors with 24 points, while Kyle Lowry had 21.
Still, it was a much more auspicious start from the Nets, who jumped out to a quick 12-5 edge. After going 5-of-19 on corner 3s in the opener, Temple drilled one to put Brooklyn ahead by seven with 9:17 left in the first quarter.
The Raptors had consistently doubled and blitzed Caris LeVert (16 points, 11 assists, six boards) in the opener, but took a different approach early in this one. LeVert drew three defenders into the paint, and lobbed an alley-oop to Jarret Allen for a dunk to cap eight unanswered points and give the Nets a 26-12 lead.
The Raptors made the inevitable run, reeling off 13 unanswered points before Temple – who always seems to have an innate sense of when the Nets need a big play on either end – staunched the bleeding with another corner 3. Then LeVert probed for another bucket to pad the lead back to 31-25.
Toronto kept coming, eventually going ahead 48-47 on a Kyle Lowry technical free throw after Rodions Kurucs picked up a three second call with 3:13 left in the half. But after the Raptors tied it at 53-all on a Lowry 3-pointer to open the half, Brooklyn responded with ten unanswered points.
Lowry went on a personal 10-2 run over the next four possessions.
Temple had 15 of Brooklyn’s 27 points in the third, helping them lead 80-74 going into the fourth.
They lost it early in the fourth when Toronto reeled off a 19-5 run, partially spurred by Kurucs’ hard foul on OG Anunoby and the Raptors’ reaction.
After Kurucs shouldered Anunoby in the face trying to set a hard screen, the Toronto wing got up and had to be restrained. Moments later, his dunk put Toronto ahead 84-83 – only the second time all game that the Nets had trailed. And Lowry’s spinning and-one padded the cushion to six.
Serge Ibaka’s free throws made it 93-85 with 6:21 left, and Brooklyn never got closer than three the rest of the way.
Down 102-96, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s 3 cut the lead in half with :35 to play. Brooklyn forced a shot clock violation to make it a one-possession game with :15 remaining. But they never got off the last shot they needed.