Kawhi Leonard scored 20 points and was able to head to the bench early with his fellow starters Friday night, as the Toronto Raptors clobbered the Brooklyn Nets 122-105.
The surprising Brooklyn Nets arrived in Toronto winners in 13 of their last 17 games and cruising for a playoff spot, but the Raps swiftly took care of them and let the bench play the fourth quarter. Pascal Siakam gave Toronto 16 points, while Serge Ibaka added 14 and nine rebounds.
It’s a fourth straight win for the Raptors, and seventh straight at home. They improve to 32-12 and continue to jostle for the first place spot in the Eastern Conference with the Milwaukee Bucks.
D’Angelo Russell had 24 points to lead the Nets, and Shabazz Napier gave them 15.
One of Toronto’s rare losses this season had come at the hands of the Nets in Brooklyn on Dec. 7. It happened in overtime, 106-105, and served as a turning point in Brooklyn’s season. It ended a Nets’ eight-game losing streak and kick-started a seven-game win stretch that would propel them upward in the East standings.
The Nets have missed the playoffs the past three seasons, but currently sit seventh in the East, now 21-23.
The two teams began the night playing basket for basket in the first quarter. But in the last three minutes, the Nets went on a 14-3 run – mostly versus Toronto’s bench – and built a 35-28 lead by the end of the quarter. D’Angelo Russell, who had thrwarted Toronto for 29 points in their last showdown, was rolling again, and ex-Raptor DeMarre Carroll appeared to elbow Kyle Lowry in the face.
In the second quarter, it was the Raptors who launched a big run at the end of the quarter – this one 15-3 as Leonard glided, leapt and contorted to score on layups and floating bank shots. The Raps lead 64-53 at half-time.
The Raps aggressively built that lead in the second half with scoring coming from all directions, Siakam and Ibaka were very active, and the Raps were getting steady scoring from throughout the bench.
Kyle Lowry had a relatively quiet night. He got his team going, delivered eight assists and scored four points on 1-of-3 shooting in 23 minutes. It was just his third back from a lengthy layoff as he dealt with a thigh contusion and lower back pain. The all-star point guard continued to lie on his back on the floor by his team’s bench each time he came out of the game.
“Every game's a different game, every game's gonna not be perfect, but we can still continue to move the ball better, play a little bit better defense,” was Lowry’s critique afterward. “There's things we can always work on.”
What began as a close game between intriguing teams turned into a total blowout in Toronto’s favour before the third quarter was over. The Raps starters headed for the bench early and the bench took it from there. They were thrilled with the team’s 32 assists on the night.
The Nets chipped away a little at Toronto’s 26-point lead while facing Toronto’s reserves. But it never got too close for comfort.
The Raps got double digit scoring from five different bench players: Delon Wright (10), Greg Monroe (10 and eight rebounds), Fred Van Vleet (10 and six assists)., OG Anunoby (13) and Norman Powell (13). CJ Miles appeared in his first game since Jan. 3, but went 0-for-3.
“I just think they were all individually pretty good. Delon, Fred, OG, and Greg were solid tonight too. There’s a big group of them right there. Even Norm was pretty explosive to the rim and pretty good defensively so that’s a good crew,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse. “We’re trying to get those guys to put in a little extra work, pre- and post- practice, and pre-game. On game day we’re really trying to get them together a little bit because it looks like that’s the second unit now. It’s taken us 45 games to figure it out but it looks like if we’re healthy, that’s the group. It should be a good group. It really should."
The Toronto fans, did not, however, get a first glimpse at the new guy.
The Raptors picked up a new free agent this week, a 6-7, 185-pound swingman whom they formerly introduced in a news conference before Friday’s game. Patrick McCaw, who comes to Toronto after stints in Golden State and Cleveland, has appeared in 131 career games over two and a half seasons, averaging 3.9 points and 1.2 assists and 15.9 minutes. Now 23, the UNLV product was a member of the 2017 and 2018 Warriors championship teams.
He did not come to a deal with the Warriors in free agency this past summer. The Cavaliers signed him he played in three games this season. Then the Cavs decided to let him go before his contract became guaranteed. He’s not expected to play a major role for the Raps.
The contest closes a three-game Toronto homestand. The team now hits the road to play against the Wizards and Celtics.