The Brooklyn Nets did not leave the NBA Campus in Orlando without one more signature show from Caris LeVert.
LeVert, the fourth-year swingman who took the lead for the Nets upon the season’s restart in late July, scored 35 points as Brooklyn’s season came to a close with a 150-122 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 4 of their first-round NBA Playoffs series.
The Nets arrived in Orlando in early July with nine roster players available for practice, eventually adding five new players into the mix over the following two weeks. Head coach Jacque Vaughn had taken over just two games before the season was suspended back in March.
Reworking their schemes and adapting to the personnel changes, the Nets went 5-3 in their seeding round games, including wins over the Bucks and Clippers, but were swept by the defending champion Raptors to end the season.
“Really it’s the resilience of our team,” said Vaughn of what stood out from the experience. “We talked about it, we had an extreme resilience as a group, a competitive nature about us as a group, and a sacrifice as a group for the men who came. And extremely grateful for this group and the time we spent together. Like I said, we’re forever linked and appreciate everyone who stepped on that floor and everyone who helped the men who stepped on that floor.”
LeVert shot 11-for-23 overall and 6-for-9 from 3-point range, plus 7-for-10 from the free throw line, with six assists and six rebounds. In his 10 games in Orlando since the NBA resumed play, LeVert posted three 30-point games and averaged 23.1 points and 6.4 assists.
“This was my first time being in that role for this extended amount of time,” said LeVert of stepping up as Brooklyn’s top offensive option. “I think my third year I was in that role before I got hurt. But obviously there were more players around, it was a more balanced attack. These past 12 games or so, I think I was the lead dog and I gained a lot of experience from that. The first couple of games, even the scrimmage games, I felt more comfortable in that role as the games went on. In regular games it showed the same and I think in the playoffs it was another step.
“I think with more games you get more experience and I think next year with more people out there on the court, it’ll be a lot easier for all of us. I think you kind of saw in the playoffs, they were kind of box-and-1, double-teaming, triple-teaming sometimes. I feel like next year they won’t be able to do that — no one will be able to do that with the talent that we have on the court. And I think that just playing in this environment definitely gave everyone who played a step up going into next year for sure.”
Jarrett Allen had eight points and 15 rebounds, becoming only the second player in Nets playoff history — after Buck Williams — to have three consecutive games of 15 or more rebounds. Allen closed the Orlando schedule with double-figure rebounds in his final seven games, and averaged 14.0 rebounds in 10 games. In addition, Allen flashed a new dimension in averaging 3.4 assists, including a career-high eight against Sacramento.
“I came down here and didn’t know what to expect,” said Allen. “I came down with a mindset focused on basketball, focused on being able to improve my game and just take my game to another level. Even take out offense, it’s just knowing where I need to be on defense, rebounding, being more physical. Then, second came offense, trying to expand my game as a passer like you saw in some of the games, expand my game as a rim-roller, just trying to expand all facets of it.”
Tyler Johnson had 13 points, Dzanan Musa had 12, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 11 and Garrett Temple finished with 11.
The Nets trailed 77-68 at halftime after Toronto shot 59.2 percent in the first half.
LeVert had 26 points at the break, the highest scoring half of his career, and scored 11 of Brooklyn’s first 22 points. But after Johnson’s 3-pointer put the Nets up 25-23, the Raptors closed the quarter on a 16-9 run and led 39-32 going into the second quarter.
Toronto pushed that lead to 17 points, going up 64-47 midway through the quarter. But that Nets cut into that with a 14-4 run that jumped off with a Temple 3-pointer. Luwawu-Cabarrot had five points in the burst, and Allen’s two free throws brought Brooklyn within 70-63 with 1:37 to go in the half. After Luwawu-Cabarrot answered a Toronto 3-pointer to keep it a seven-point game, the Raptors took a nine-point lead into the break.
The Raptors burst out with a 16-2 run to open the second half, making six of their first 10 shots, including three of four 3-pointers, with Fred VanVleet’s 3-pointer putting Toronto up 93-70 five minutes into the half. A 13-3 run had the Raptors up 110-83 after back-to-back Serge Ibaka 3-pointers, and Toronto took a 116-87 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I told them in times like these, me as an individual I lean into gratitude, and that I was extremely thankful for opportunity to coach them, thankful to our performance group for getting those guys ready to play, thankful for each and every person in that locker room, from whether they made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, whether they got a uniform ready, whether they made a free throw,” said Vaughn of his message to the team after the game.. “That we don’t know what’s going to exist in the future, and so I hope that they’ve learned one thing is that you take advantage of the now.”