Timing is everything in sports, especially when it comes to playing the dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets.
On paper, the Nets are one of the most talented teams in the NBA. They have arguably the best player of the game in Kevin Durant, an elite talent in Kyrie Irving, a defensive wizard in Ben Simmons and a group of shooters that should make them nearly unstoppable.
However, it is impossible to know what to expect from this group from night to night. In one game, Durant is bound to score 50 points in a landslide victory. Next time, Irving might not even bother showing up. Even worse, he might hold a press conference.
There’s been a traveling circus feel to this group for a while now. It started with Irving’s refusal to vaccinate, continued with trade demands from James Harden and Durant, and then got worse when Simmons was acquired by the Nets at a time when he seemed to have forgotten how to play the sport.
The Nets have a lot of problems, yet they’re still good enough to beat them all when they have the right motivation, as they did in Wednesday’s 112-98 victory over the Nets. wild birds. After being embarrassed by the undermanned Philadelphia 76ers the night before, Durant’s crew wasn’t about to let that happen again 24 hours later.
“We’re working to win,” said Irving after his first game in Toronto since February 26, 2019. In terms of how embarrassing we should be, which is true. We just wanted to make sure we pay attention to the details tonight, get out there and respond.”
The Raptors at full strength would be a good test for these Networks, but Nick Nurse’s team hasn’t been anywhere near it for the better part of three weeks. Prior to the game against Brooklyn, the Raptors coach made the expected announcement that forward Scotty Barnes would not be able to dress due to knee soreness. Unfortunately for the nurse, his medical update didn’t stop there.
Returning for two games against the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, Fred VanVleet got scratched again with a non-COVID flu. Reserve guard Dalano Banton was also ruled out with a sore ankle while other unavailable players included Pascal Siakam, Otto Porter Jr., Precious Achiwa and Justin Champagne.
This left the raptors with only 10 healthy bodies, at least three or four of which don’t usually get regular turning minutes. After dealing with similar issues each of the past two years, it’s all stale for the nurse, who must be wondering if he’ll save his entire collection for more than a week or two at a time.
“Once in a while, you might enjoy a challenge, but not for three straight weeks here,” said Nurse, whose team fell to 9-9. “It’s not fun. Listen, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s like we didn’t play well, because I think we did.
“But what it does do is it causes you to spend a lot of other time away from focusing on the game. When trying to figure out when this guy is coming back, where is this guy, when is he being treated… Is he sick? Is it covid? There are a lot of things.” The other one you spend and occupy (your time), and that’s not what you really want to do. We want to focus on the games and put all our energies there.”
The Raptors hoped to do for the Nets what the 76ers did just one night earlier. On Tuesday, despite the absence of Joel Embiid, James Harden and Therese Maxi, the 76ers managed to snatch a win from the star-studded Nets thanks to their dominance on the glass. The 76ers outscored the Nets 49-35, including a 20-4 on offense end.
Nurse thought the Nets would focus on cleaning up that part of their game on Wednesday, but early on it was more of the same. The first 11 points the Raptors scored all came on second chances and by halftime they already had 11 offensive boards, putting them within one touchdown at the break.
The biggest problem was that the Raptors didn’t have an answer to the Nets offense, which led to them being outscored 60-47 in the second half. Irving led all scorers with 29 points on 11 of 16 shooting from the floor. Royce O’Neal scored 15, while Simmons went 7-for-9 in shooting to finish with 14 points, six assists and three steals.
All five Brooklyn starters finished with double-digit points as the Nets shot 54.9 percent to the Raptors’ 35.6. The baskets were coming easy for Durant and he didn’t need to be involved, shooting just 10 times to finish with 12 points and seven rebounds. It was the first time this season that Durant did not score at least 25 points.
“You have to take it by playing, you can’t look too far ahead,” said Simmons, whose team has won three of its last four games. “I felt in that Philly game, we were trying to win the game in the first quarter, every game we were trying to win it. That’s not how you win. You win every game at once and through focus.”
The Nets may have been embarrassing in Philadelphia, but there was nothing to be ashamed of in Toronto. They were focused and determined, and this undermanned Raptors team didn’t stand a chance, at least after Brooklyn’s wake-up call the night before. There’s no shame in that either.
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