It wasn’t pretty – in fact, Jack Armstrong called it one of the worst games he had seen all season. But all that counts in the standings is wins and losses, and the Toronto Raptors (22-15) were able to flex some defensive muscle while beating up on the lowly Brooklyn Nets for a 91-74 road win. The two clubs combined for 36 turnovers and 92 missed shots, with neither team making 45% of their attempts from the field.
However, coming off a pair of losses that featured a combined 237 points allowed, the Raps are just happy to avoid another offensive explosion by an opponent. Unlike the potent Cavaliers and Bulls, the Nets had no answers for an active Raptor defense, shooting just 39.7% (31-78) from the floor and 31.2% (5-16) from the three-point line en route to their eighth straight home loss. Brooklyn was unable to register even 21 points in any one quarter and only one player on the home side finished with more than 12 points (Brook Lopez, with 24). For their part, Toronto played a safe, fundamentally sound game by getting on the glass (49-39 rebounding advantage), forcing some bad shots and letting Brooklyn make their fair share of mistakes.
The Raptors’ recent injury comeback kids encountered very different emotional experiences on Wednesday. Jonas Valanciunas enjoyed his best performance since fracturing his hand with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while DeMarre Carroll received disappointing news that he would require surgery on his troublesome right knee that will keep him out for the next 6-8 weeks.
JV back in form
After five game’s worth of modest but consistent production since returning from injury in Chicago, Valanciunas showed off what he could do with some additional playing time in Brooklyn. In 27 minutes of floor time, his impressive stat line included 8-13 shooting, a perfect 6-6 mark from the free throw line and four of his 11 rebounds coming on the offensive glass.
They say that it’s not how you start but how you finish, and the Raptors were able to carry plenty of momentum into each break thanks to some energetic late runs. In the first quarter, Toronto responded to a 6-0 Nets run with a 5-0 run of their own to expand a two-point lead into a seven-point cushion. In the second, they cruised into halftime on a 16-2 run that erased a five-point deficit to build a nine-point lead. The third ended on an 11-2 Raptor run that helped cement a 14-point lead that all but put the game away. By the fourth, the club’s garbage time unit (Delon Wright, Norm Powell, Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira and James Johnson) was out and a scorching finish had been rendered unnecessary.
Carroll hasn’t been right health-wise in some time, making his Wednesday surgery a necessary evil. In terms of the four Raptors’ key summer acquisitions (Carroll, Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola and Cory Joseph), you could easily make the argument that Carroll and his $60 million contract has been the most hard-pressed to live up to the expectations set out at the start of the season. If that slightly underwhelming play can be attributed to being less than 100%, hopefully surgery and a patient recovery will get Carroll back to where he needs to be physically. The suggestion that the former Hawk will now be healthy and rested in time for the playoff push might be a little too rosy, but he could emerge as something of a key addition right around the time of the trade deadline. Now, it’ll be up to Johnson and company to keep the team afloat until then.
How close has the rivalry between the Raptors and the Nets been over the years? Bizarrely close. Not only is their overall head-to-head record now knotted up at 39 wins apiece, but they split their four games last season with an accumulative score of 434-434 and their prior 15 meetings, including both regular season and playoff dates, have resulted in a 1,504-1,504 score.
It’s a big week for the Raptors 905, along with every other D-League club, who are heading to Santa Cruz, California for a big showcase event that will see them play two games in front of scouts from all 30 NBA clubs. The 905 will have some added help in time for the trip, too. They have signed former Mavs and Rockets forward Greg Smith and have brought in Raptors 2014 second rounder (37th overall) DeAndre Daniels, who is in the final stages of recovery from a broken right foot, which was incurred during Summer League play. Game one comes Thursday night against the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
The Raptors have claimed victories in their first two games against Washington this season, albeit in a pair of one-possession games. Could another close one be in store on Friday night at the Verizon Center (7:00pm, SN1)?
Prediction: Wizards 95, Raps 90 (record this season: 20-16)