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10 things: Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet lead Raptors to comeback win vs. Nets

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 121-102 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

One — Response: The Raptors were never going down without a fight, especially on the heels of their discouraging offensive display against the Miami Heat. Toronto’s offence sputtered to start — while Brooklyn was on fire from deep — and that created a 16-point deficit midway through the second quarter. But the Raptors picked up their energy, their main playmakers found a rhythm and it was game over from there. A 12-0 run cut the deficit to four by halftime and the Raptors crushed the Nets 73-50 from thereon.

Two — Nasty: Kyle Lowry is a man of many talents, and one of them is the ability to dictate the emotion of a game. Lowry imposed his broodiness on the second half after he got tangled up with Jarrett Allen on a rebound. He picked up a technical and heard jeers from Nets fans, which sparked his game. Lowry drew a technical on Allen shortly thereafter, stepped in for a pair of charges, cashed in a few dagger 3s, and was still breathing fire in the post-game interview. He was just determined to stick it to the home crowd.

Three — Alive: Fred VanVleet struggled to start, but he was the main reason why the Raptors assumed control in the second half. VanVleet scored 14 points and recorded three assists in the third quarter, and he buried a dagger with just over three minutes left that seemingly killed Brooklyn’s spirits. The Nets kept dropping their centers back into the paint, which gave VanVleet plenty of space on the pull-up jumper. VanVleet also found the touch on his layups (which has been on and off all year) and was in such a groove that he recorded an emphatic swat on Caris LeVert’s attempt at a layup.

Four — Worrisome: The only concern with VanVleet is that he asked to come out of the game late in the fourth. VanVleet was trying to push the ball with just over two minutes left when he bumped into Joe Harris who was mostly trying to get out of the game. VanVleet actually managed to find Serge Ibaka (who also might have picked up a minor injury of his own) for the and-one finish, but VanVleet immediately signalled to the bench and came out of the game. He didn’t look too distressed, but it’s worth monitoring.

Five — Difference: The Raptors won this game with their hustle and activity. One, the Nets committed 24 turnovers — which directly translated to 32 points. Two, the Raptors were unusually aggressive on the offensive glass — where they won 15-6 despite being undersized. In all, the Raptors were able to take 30 more shots than the Nets, and that alone accounted for the difference in this game.

Six — Belated: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came up short in the first meeting against his former team and he knows it. Hollis-Jefferson was a little too eager: He launched erratic jumpers and made preventable mistakes on defence, which got him benched by Nick Nurse. This time around, Hollis-Jefferson made sure to bring his A-game and was instrumental in the win. He set the tone for the Raptors’ defensive intensity, recorded four steals, and he chased every single loose ball. Hollis-Jefferson was even rewarded with extra possessions to attack in isolation during the final moments of the game where he scored a pair of twisting layups. But in the end, it was all love, as the Nets all came over to embrace Hollis-Jefferson after the final buzzer, as he was a favourite in their locker room before getting let go.

Seven — Experiment: Nurse extended another olive branch to Stanley Johnson, who has yet to find a role on the Raptors. Johnson played eight minutes in the first half and although his defensive energy was solid, the bottom line is that he failed to impact the game. And so in the second half, Nurse gave those minutes to Oshae Brissett, who chipped in with a layup and four free throws. Between the two, it appears that Brissett is more capable of impacting the game with his athleticism and activity, whereas Johnson is trying to avoid making mistakes first and foremost. Being aggressive without the ball can be difficult, but it seems to come easier to Brissett, whereas Johnson needs to handle the ball to be involved.

Eight — Prepared: The 2-3 zone limited the Raptors in their loss to Miami, and it’s clear that Nurse spent time to practice that in the two days since. The Raptors were much more coordinated in how they dissected that very same zone by Brooklyn and it was obvious from the start. On one instance, Hollis-Jefferson caught the pass between two defenders and drew a third before quickly slipping it to Ibaka for the finish. Shortly thereafter, Pat McCaw set a blind pick for VanVleet on one side of the floor to create a wide-open 3. The Nets quickly abandoned their zone defence and played man-to-man.

Nine — Improvement: The one area that the Raptors can tighten up is their closeouts. The Nets gained easy access to the paint with a simple pump fake because Toronto’s defenders were consistently leaving their feet or running out of control on the perimeter. Granted, that same frenetic energy also forced the Nets into rushing their offence and created turnovers, but the Raptors would have made their own lives much easier if they played more under control.

Ten — Soft: The officiating crew lost the plot in the fourth quarter. VanVleet picked up a technical foul for correctly gesturing that he got smacked on the elbow while draining a 3. A few moments before that, a Nets second-row assistant was slapped with a technical for just throwing his hands up during a timeout. These types of petty calls should not happen in what was still a tightly-contested game at the time. It’s not the job of an official to legislate emotion.

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