Brooklyn Nets: Loss at Toronto not ‘moral victory,’ but encouraging

Brooklyn Nets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets are long past the point of moral victories, but they still have to be encouraged by their 127-125 loss Monday to the Toronto Raptors.

Despite going toe-to-toe with the Toronto Raptors for 48 minutes Monday night, the Brooklyn Nets came out on the short end of a 127-125 decision at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

The loss was their second in a row and the fifth in their last six games, as the Nets’ struggles without injured Spencer Dinwiddie continued. Brooklyn is now 3-6 since their sixth man went down late last month with torn ligaments in his right thumb.

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But for an offense that has been operating in fits and starts, their performance in Toronto has to be encouraging with one game remaining before the All-Star break and healthier times ahead.

The Raptors are one of the NBA’s best defensive teams and one that will get better as former Marc Gasol, who played just just his second game with Toronto after being acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday, gets more integrated into their system.

They are one of the NBA’s best defensive teams. Toronto entered play Monday night ranked 10th in the league in overall defense and eighth in defensive efficiency, defensive field goal percentage and defensive 3-point percentage.

In Gasol and Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors feature two former Defensive Player of the Year honorees. Add Danny Green and Serge Ibaka and you have four former All-Defensive selections.

Throw in long, switchy players such as OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Patrick McCaw and you have a team that can give opposing offenses fits.

Toronto was also playing at home, where they are 23-5 — tied for the second-best mark in the NBA behind the Denver Nuggets’ 24-4 home record — and where the Nets haven’t won in four full seasons now.

Brooklyn shredded that defense Monday night. The Nets were just the second team this season to score at least 125 points at Toronto in regulation time, the other being the New Orleans Pelicans way back on Nov. 12, who dropped 126 points on the Raptors.

The Nets were just the eighth team this season (the Boston Celtics have done it twice) to shoot better than 50 percent in a game against Toronto and Brooklyn’s 48.8 percent shooting from 3-point range was the second-highest percentage surrendered by the Raptors this season.

Even with that firepower, and the 135 points the Nets hung on the Nuggets on Wednesday, the team is still just 25th in offensive efficiency without Dinwiddie with an offensive rating of 105.1 over that span,

At the time Dinwiddie went out of the lineup, the Nets were 13th in the NBA in offensive rating at 110.1. They’ve dropped four spots to 17th without their sixth man, now at 109.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Nets attacked Toronto with a purpose. Their ball movement was, for the most part, exceptional and their shooters — particularly Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe — did a solid job of knocking down open looks when they were available.

The sequence at the end of the third quarter, when Brooklyn turned the ball over on consecutive possessions in the final 4.2 seconds of the quarter, loomed large in a two-point loss.

The Nets gave up an offensive rebound tip in to Anunoby, who then picked Caris LeVert‘s pocket and drove a little more than half the court for a layup to tie the game, before being fortunate Danny Green didn’t turn his pickoff of Ed Davis‘ less-than-crisp inbounds pass into points.

Brooklyn battled, trailing by eight with 3:42 remaining before coming back to lead when Harris capped a 13-3 run with a pair of free throws with 1:13 to go.

The Nets didn’t get the win. The loss dropped them back to .500 at 29-29, the first time they’ve been at the break-even mark since getting there for the first time all season back on Jan. 16 at 23-23.

Brooklyn remained in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, maintaining their one-game lead over the seventh-place Charlotte Hornets (27-29), who lost at Indiana 99-90 on Monday.

The Detroit Pistons, currently eighth at 26-29, lurk 1½ games back after running their winning streak to four with a win over the Washington Wizards. Miami (25-30) dropped out of the playoff picture and fell a game back of Detroit after losing at Denver 103-87 on Monday.

The schedule gets brutal for Brooklyn after the All-Star break. But Dinwiddie is already back in the practice facility doing drills with his left hand and should be back not too long after the Nets return from the All-Star break.

LeVert played in just his second game after missing 42 contests with a dislocated foot and Crabbe has come back hotter than a house afire in his three games since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for 26 games.

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The Nets showed Monday that when they commit to moving the ball at the offensive end, they can score on any defense — even one as accomplished at that of the Toronto Raptors.