October 23, 2018

Nets get a red-hot burst of 24 points from D’Angelo Russell in the first quarter, but could not overcome Raptors’ energy force in second-half

For Brooklyn Nets fans, Tuesday night started off with a D’Angelo Russell show. Russell, with a little help from his teammates, scored 24 points in the first quarter against the Toronto Raptors, on 7-of-8 shooting from 3-point range and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Russell was on fire!

And, of course, postgame, D’Angelo Russell’s assessment of his first quarter performance was what inquiring minds wanted to know

“My teammates, they got me open,” Russell told the media postgame in the Nets locker room. “Transition – they found me, they made the extra pass to me. Give a lot of credit to them.”

Shout out to Spencer Dinwiddie, as three of his five assists went to Russell during the first quarter.

Brooklyn made nine threes in the first quarter, which marked a new franchise-record for 3-pointers made in a quarter. The Nets ended the first quarter up by eight points 40-32, and Brooklyn closed out the first-half up by 10 with a score of 67-57. The 67 points marked the most points scored by the Nets in a first half this season and the most points the Nets have ever scored in a first half against the Raptors.

But, then came the third quarter when the Raptors added 30 points to its ledger and the Nets only added 18 points, putting Toronto in the lead by two, 87-85. A two-point deficit at the end of the third stanza for the Nets, that’s not so bad. But then the Nets had few answers in the final quarter, and the Raptors just ran away with the game, gaining their ninth straight win, 116-102.

So, what did Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson have to say about the Raptor’s turnaround in the second-half?

“I thought (Fred) VanVleet came in and changed the game,” Atkinson responded. “I just think his pressure, his aggressiveness, his grit, he really changed the game. I think behind him, they have two big-time rim protectors in (Serge) Ibaka and (Jonas) Valanciunas, which allows them to be aggressive on the perimeter and that’s why they are a heck of a defensive team. I think a sign of a great team is a team that can beat you in different ways. I thought we did a good job on (Kyle) Lowry and (DeMar) DeRozan considering the great players they are, and Valanciunas had a great game. I thought CJ Miles – those three threes. We foul him once, give three free throws and then he hits two threes. That got the separation there.”

Kenny Atkinson's Assessment of the Nets' Performance against the Toronto Raptors

“I thought our guys, I thought we were aggressive,” Atkinson continued. “I thought we competed, I thought we were in it and it just slipped away at the end. We missed some shots, some bunnies, some shots I thought we had a good shot at making and they come down and they made their shots. That’s how the separation – I’m a little disappointed the score says what it says because I thought the game was closer than that. I thought we were in it pretty much the whole game and then, bang, that’s how explosive they are.”

Indeed, the Raptors were explosive. They had no other choice, as they are trying to hold on to their first-place standing in the NBA Eastern Conference.

For Toronto Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey, the second-half defensive adjustments were critical and necessary, and he didn’t mince any words

“It’s something called hard play,” Casey told reporters postgame about his team’s second-half adjustments. “It’s amazing how those two words impact the game. That’s the thing we need to start the game with. Our disposition to start the game was not good. We just talked about it in there, our starters need to come out with a better disposition, a hungrier mentality and understand they are going to get the other team’s best shots. Those shots that D’Angelo Russell made at the start of the game, we can’t let somebody come in and get hot like that. It starts from the first play. We can’t play our way into the game and put taxing minutes on our bodies trying to come back. We have to do better.”

And, Russell agrees that Toronto made those necessary adjustments after the break to contain him and the Nets.

“They trapped me, forced me to pass it,” Russell said explaining the Raptors’ defensive adjustments in the second-half. “We just missed shots down the stretch. I think if we make those shots it might be a different game.”

Russell scored a game-high 32 points (10-of-22 FG, 7-of-12 3FG, 5-of-5 FT) with a team-high-tying seven rebounds, one steal, and two blocks in 35 minutes against the Raptors on Tuesday. This was Russell’s third game of 30-plus points this season, and his 32 points on Tuesday against the Raptors marked the second-most points he has scored in a game this season. He scored a season-high 33 points on Halloween 2017 against the Phoenix Suns.

Other leading scorers for the Nets on Tuesday night against the Raptors were Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, and Dante Cunningham. Hollis-Jefferson totaled 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in 27 minutes off the bench. LeVert recorded 11 points, three rebounds, a team-high seven assists, and three steals in 29 minutes off the bench tonight. Cunningham tallied 10 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes. He scored in double figures for the third time in his 12th game for the Nets. This was also Cunningham’s first start for the Brooklyn Nets.

For the Raptors, three of its five starters scored in double digits: Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry. Valanciunas had a team-high 26 points and 14 rebounds; DeRozan tallied 15 points and seven rebounds, and; Lowry recorded 11 points and 11 assists. From the Raptors second-unit, VanVleet had 15 points, four assists, and two steals; Miles contributed 12 points and three rebounds, and; Delon Wright chipped in 10 points, three rebounds, and four assists.

Next up for the Toronto Raptors, as they try to hold onto the No. 1 seed position in the Eastern Conference, are the No. 3 seed Indiana Pacers on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at Indiana.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets have another date with the Philadelphia 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday, March 16, 2018.

In final game of the season, Nets general manager gives strong signal that Tony Brown won’t be back

Today was the last game of the season for the Brooklyn Nets. They hosted the Toronto Raptors at the Barclays Center, a team the Nets bounced out of the playoffs in the first round in 2014.

I thought there was an outside chance that the Nets could close out the season with a win, particularly since Toronto head coach Dwane Casey told the media in a pregame press conference that the Raptors would be without DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas. And, adding to the missing key Toronto players, the Nets started the game with a 21-4 run, which made me hopeful.

However, the 17-point lead seemed to vanish in an instant. By the end of the half, Toronto led Brooklyn 49-47; at the end of the third stanza, Toronto had a 12-point lead 78-66. When the music stopped, the Nets had lost to the Raptors 103-96, and in so doing, finished the season with a 21-61 record, the 3rd-worst in the league.

In the loss, Bojan Bogdanovic came up big for the Nets, scoring 29 points on seven 3-pointers. Sean Kilpatrick, a fan favorite, as they are still calling his name when he steps on the hardwood, added 12 points and tied his three career assist record. Donald Sloan scored 11 points, and Henry Sims chipped in 10 points and tied his career-high three blocked shots.

Like the Nets, the Raptors also only had four players in double digits; but they scored more points. Norman Powell led all scorers with 30 points and nine rebounds; Terrence Ross scored 24 points and 10 boards off the bench; Delon Wright added 18 points and seven assists; and Jason Thompson chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds.

Anyone following the Nets this season knows that this season is the team’s worst season in Brooklyn. The downward spiral caused the reassignment of general manager Billy King and the firing of head coach Lionel Hollins on January 10, 2016. Anthony (Tony) Brown, an assistant coach under Hollins was named interim head coach and played caretaker to a team that seemed to be in disarray. As one who followed the team, I don’t think the 21-61 record really reflects the potential of the Brooklyn Nets’ team as it is presently constituted. The team needs a stronger point guard, a defender around the rim, and a coach that has experience developing young players, and particularly millennials. The salary cap is expected to go up to approximately $89 million and with Nets current salary obligations it could have between $42.1 and $48.2 million for free agents. Attracting good free agents to the Nets will depend in part on who becomes the next head coach.

Sean Marks, the Nets new general manager has been in evaluation mode of both players and interim coach Tony Brown. There is no doubt some of the players will not be back next season and certainly Tony Brown won’t be back.

Brown told the media that the Nets’ young players are still being evaluated and was asked if he still believed he was being evaluated by Marks.

“I can’t answer that. I really can’t,” Brown said before Monday’s game against the Wizards. “We’ve got two games left. I feel like the situation has been tough from the beginning, I’ve tried to make the best of it and I’m going to continue to do that the last two games and whatever happens, happens. I’m not worried about my fate with this organization.”

As I watched Brown hustle out the door after the Nets final game against Toronto and there were no final remarks by Nets General Manager Marks, I guess we all have our answer soon enough.

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