One to grow on: Raps pull out a tough win in Brooklyn

by Chris O'Leary

In as concise a manner as possible, let’s try to get a handle on what happened between the Raptors and the Nets on Friday night. 

In the Raptors’ first ESPN appearance of the season, they entered Barclays Center to face a Brooklyn Nets team that has a Mount Rushmore of modern-day NBA offence on its roster and is averaging 122 points per game. The Raptors were also without their top defender, OG Anunoby, for the fifth-straight game, thanks to a calf strain. 

Kevin Durant was yanked from the game during the anthems for COVID protocols, allowed back in almost eight minutes into the first quarter and was pulled out again in the third quarter for the night. 

Both teams battled calls that they struggled to grasp. At one point early in the third quarter a jump ball and a Raptors’ technical foul snafu dragged out and could have sapped the game of the good rhythm that it had. The Raptors led by 17 at two different points in the second quarter, but Brooklyn took the lead in the third, going up by as much as six. 

Simply put, as they fought for the lead through the fourth quarter, there was a lot going on for the Raptors and the Nets. 

That the Raptors stepped through the still-clearing smoke at the end of 48 minutes holding a 123-117 win felt substantial. 

Kyle Lowry had a season-high 30 points with seven assists, five rebounds and two steals. Pascal Siakam went to work under the basket and scored a game-high 33 points, with 11 rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block. 

It’s the Raptors’ third win in a row and with all of the attention surrounding the game as it progressed -- can you feel the eyes of the sports world fall on you in those big moments? -- it felt like one of those games that might be the exception to the one-of-72 rule that everyone tries to paint their season with. 

“I think we just continue to get better. We're just getting better every single day. I think we're just continuing to get better every single game,” Lowry said. 

“I think we’re starting to figure out what we want to be offensively, defensively. It’s one game at a time and...in this type of situation things are completely different, honestly, things are just...interesting.” 

Friday night was the most blatant example of just how different this season will be when it’s compared to every season that the league has had before it, last summer’s bubble included. Player availability is fluid; entire teams’ availability can change with one test result. 

The Nets enjoyed the obvious injection that Durant brought late in the first quarter and they felt his absence in the second half. As James Harden and Kyrie Irving tried to push the Nets forward in Durant’s absence, Lowry and Siakam refused to let the game get away from them. Lowry continued to bomb away from the outside -- he hit six of nine threes and was 12 of 18 from the field -- and Siakam played the midrange game and worked his way to the basket. 

Shorthanded, in the early stages of a long road trip, facing a juggernaut of a team that has no problem hitting 140 points and with the most lethal scorer the game knows today at the whim of health and safety protocols, the Raptors found a way to win. 

“I think any win for us right now is a good win,” Siakam said. 

“We felt like we lost some games that we could have won and we’re in a position where we have a losing record, so any win for us is a big win. A big game on the road against a team like that, that’s as talented as them is a good win for us. We’re going to continue to try to win as many games as we can, especially the way we started. I think any win is a big win right now for us.” 

Lowry has seen it all, basketball-wise, didn’t feign a sense of his team arriving. This season, like all of our lives right now, is full of unknowns. The Raptors are adapting and trying to find a way through it. Friday night’s win felt like they stepped out of the fog and into some clarity. 

“We’re just trying to figure it out, how we continue to grow and get better,” he said. “(We’re trying to) figure out our team and right now we need to just get healthy and continue to build.”

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