The Brooklyn Nets have one more game left before the All-Star break, hosting the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night at Barclays Center. The Nets are currently 24-28 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, and this will be their second game in five days against the Raptors, who are in second place in the conference with a 40-14 record, bringing a 15-game winning streak into Brooklyn.
“I kind of feel like it’s an important game,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson after Monday’s 106-105 win in Indiana. “They’re all important, but it is one. I said, us getting momentum going into the All-Star break, getting this win, and then trying to get a little revenge on Toronto. A last-second loss, it was tough to swallow. Tough pill to swallow. This will give us some good momentum going into that game. Important game for us.”
This closes out a tough three-game stretch going into the break that follows a 5-2 Brooklyn run. Aside from Toronto’s historic hot streak and the positioning of both teams in the conference’s top six, the Raptors and Pacers are two teams that have been particularly difficult matchups for the Nets over the last few seasons.
Indiana had won 11 of its last 12 against Brooklyn before the Nets came through in the final minute on Monday. Trailing throughout the fourth quarter, the Nets went ahead 104-103 on a Joe Harris 3-pointer, then won it on Spencer Dinwiddie’s long jumper.
“We did everything well this game but shoot the ball, and really that’s what you have to do on the road. I thought our defensive grit was great in the fourth quarter, we only turned it over twice,” said Atkinson. “That was a real big key tonight. Guys made plays. That’s what it comes down to in the NBA. At the end of the game, you make plays and one team does, the other kind of goes home not too happy. That’s just how it rolls.”
The Nets have lost 18 of their last 19 against Toronto, although ironically, the one win was one of the biggest of the Atkinson era; the 106-105 overtime win on Dec. 7, 2018 that snapped an eight-game losing streak, opened a seven-game winning streak, and launched the Nets toward a return to the NBA playoffs.
On Saturday in Toronto, the Nets trailed by as many as 18 points before Caris LeVert, in scoring a career-high 37 points, got them even at 118 in the final minute. A free throw by Pascal Siakam lifted the Raptors to the win after Brooklyn’s final possession came up empty.
“We’ve been in a lot of games,” said Harris after Monday’s win. “We could have very well been saying the same thing the other night when we were in Toronto. We were, shoot, a last-second tip-in away from feeling how we are right now. But for us to come into a tough environment, and Indy is always really good at home. I don’t know how many times we’ve won over here over the last couple years, but it’s not a lot. Obviously they’re one of the better teams in the East and they’re desperate for a win as well. So for us to come in here and get a win is huge in terms of confidence especially going into the break.”
DINWIDDIE DELIVERS A WIN
It was a long step-back jumper from Spencer Dinwiddie that lifted the Nets over the Pacers on Monday night.
“Last shot was just an iso,” said Dinwiddie. “People laugh all the time, but this is really real. When I get ready to shoot the mid-range during the game, I’m hesitant. I’m like, ‘Ahh, Kenny’s gonna be mad, so I don’t wanna shoot it and second-guess it.’ And percentages are (bad). But then at the end of the game, there’s no rules. It’s like playing one-on-one, me and you. And so it really was just an iso. Get the shot off with enough time for (DeAndre Jordan) to rebound it, get yourself another chance. That’s what I tried to do, and (Malcolm) Brogdon kept backing up, so I went to a pull-up. If he had pressed up, I probably would have drove it. You just read the game and read the defense. It’s just one-on-one. I love playing one-on-one. That’s my thing.”
The shot gave Dinwiddie 21 points for the night, and with 11 assists it made for his second straight 20/10 game and seventh double-double of the season. He also grabbed six rebounds, made 13-of-15 free throws, and took on a primary role guarding Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon, who shot 3-for-11 for six points.
“I always say Spencer’s a two-way player,” said Kenny Atkinson. “His shot wasn’t going either and he was struggling but got to the free throw line. His defense was outstanding. He’s a great pick and roll defender. He showed a lot of leadership, showed a lot of courage tonight.”
“Everybody had the confidence in him to take and make the last-second shot,” said Joe Harris. “He got to a spot, unbelievable mid-range pull-up. Spencer’s so good at getting to the rim he keeps even the best defenders on their heels. He was able to rise up, get a clean look at it. He did a good job all night getting into the paint. He got me a wide-open three there at the end too just because everybody was collapsing to him. He was putting so much pressure on the defense and making the game a lot easier for everybody else.”
DeAndre Jordan posted his second straight double-double with 11 points and 19 rebounds against Indiana on Monday night. In Toronto on Saturday, he had 15 points and 14 rebounds. Against the Pacers, Jordan scored eight of his points in the fourth quarter and disrupted the final shot by Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon after a hand-off from his man, Domantas Sabonis.
“DJ was big-time as he always is,” said Spencer Dinwiddie. “He anchors our group. One of the underrated things, he was right on it on the switch-out. There was no hesitation, there was no late-call, there was nothing. He made it easy on me to try to fight Sabonis if there was gonna be an offensive rebounding opportunity because he was right there on Brogdon immediately, and then obviously his rebounding was elite, but you know it always is. Finishing plays, elite, always is, it’s what his career has always been and he’s continued to supply it for us. And then he’s a guy that Sabonis can’t really bully down there. You saw it on a couple good firm-ups where Sabonis tried to bully him and DJ just wasn’t going for it.”
“We need his physicality,” said Kenny Atkinson. “We just felt with Sabonis we needed to match up with Sabonis and have a really strong body in there to ward him off and I’m glad we stuck with him. Made some big plays, big defensive plays. The play at the end, just experience in the league and understanding that he had to step up on that shot if he was back. Who knows, they might have hit that shot? He had another good game for us.”
Overall, the Nets outrebounded Indiana, 53-40, with Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris each grabbing eight boards.
“We talked about it before the game, everybody getting a body, it wasn’t gonna be just (Jarrett Allen) or (DeAndre Jordan) battling with (Domantas) Sabonis or (Myles) Turner, where they’d had their way with us the first couple of games,” said Harris. “Obviously, DJ had 19 rebounds and whenever you have anyone board like that, it makes everybody’s job a lot easier but we had a lot of good guard rebounding effort. Everybody’s was coming back to get the ball, make sure that we had it. A lot of that had to do with the quality of the defensive possessions. We were able to guard guys tough, force them into contested shots. And then everybody got a body on a man and was able to get boards.” “
With back-to-back one-point games, one win and one loss, the Nets are tied for seventh in the NBA in clutch games, defined as a game within five points in the final five minutes, with 30 such games and a 15-15 record.
Close finishes are familiar territory. Last season the Nets ranked 11th in the league with 44 clutch games and in 2017-18 they were second with 50. So 124 of Brooklyn’s last 212 games (58 percent) have been within five points in the last five minutes over the last three seasons.
ABOUT THE RAPTORS
Wednesday’s meeting wraps up the season series, with the defending champion Raptors having won the first three games, including last Saturday’s 119-118 final in Toronto. The Raptors followed up with a 137-126 win over Minnesota on Monday to push their winning streak to 15 games.
The Raptors are second in the NBA in defensive rating (105.1) and fourth in net rating (6.6). They’re second in the league in opponent field goal percentage (43.0) and third in opponent effective field goal percentage (50.4). The Raptors are second in the league in steals (8.9), ninth in assists (25.7) and seventh in free throw percentage (79.5).
Toronto is fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers made per game (13.7), seventh in 3-pointers attempted (36.2), third in 3-point percentage (37.8) and gets 36.2 percent of its points on 3-pointers, the fourth-highest mark in the league.
Fourth-year forward Pascal Siakam leads the Raptors with 23.7 points and averages 7.5 rebounds and guard Kyle Lowry averages 19.8 points and 7.5 assists. Both have been selected to play in the upcoming NBA All-Star Game. Guard Fred VanVleet averages 17.9 points and 6.9 assists and shoots 39.6 percent from 3-point range.