For the first six games of the season the Toronto Raptors were being praised for its impressive defence, dedication to hustling on both ends of the floor and playing a physical style of basketball.
In one night that all came crashing down against the New Jersey Nets in a disappointing 97-85 loss at the Air Canada Centre. The final score is a little misleading as the Raptors were down by as many 21 points in the fourth quarter.
After its impressive 92-77 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night the Raptors seemed to riding a wave of confidence. But it looked on Friday that the team may have underestimated the Nets who came into the game losing six straight after winning its season opener. But New Jersey played with something that Toronto did not – desperation.
“Tonight I thought was about us playing a desperate team,” said Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey. “Somebody asked (before the game) should we beat the teams we should beat. There is nobody in this league that can’t beat anybody. We have to approach it like we are the desperate team each and every night.”
The Nets looked to be a team down and out, but instead of the Raptors taking advantage and rolling over its opponent the opposite occurred. It was New Jersey that played relentless defence and out-hustled Toronto. The most glaring statistic was in second-chance points where the Nets outscored the Raptors 28-8.
Were the Raptors overconfident after winning two straight games? Maybe.
Of course the team was not about to start making excuses but this looked like last year’s edition of the Raptors. A woeful perimeter defence and a lack of intensity were the main points of concern.
The lone bright spots for Toronto were Jose Calderon and Ed Davis while Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan were stifled by the Nets defence. Calderon had a team-high 19 points and eight assists while Davis quietly put in a strong effort with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Bargnani had trouble going up against Kris Humphries and finished with just 17 points while DeShawn Stevenson made DeRozan nearly invisible holding the Raptors guard to just three points.
For a young team adapting to a new system and culture the loss is being taken as a lesson learned.
“This is a great lesson for us to let us know we still have a long way to go,” said Casey. “I’ve said it all week and I’ll say it we have a ways to go to changing the mentality, changing the approach and keep it consistent.”
DeRozan learned another important reminder from the loss.
“Don’t underestimate anybody,” said DeRozan.
“Don’t read what the media is saying about us. We’ve won three games and all that rah-rah. You just have to keep playing, put the games that we’ve won and lost behind us and move on to the next one.”
Another area where the Nets excelled was from beyond the arc and shot an incredible 15-for-31. Nearly half of its points came from courtesy of the three-pointer. The Raptors protected the basket and still held the visitors to just 38.8 per cent shooting, but the perimeter defence could and should have been a lot better.
“We didn’t try to give them anything. They were hitting threes that they weren’t making before coming into this game,” said Calderon. “Tonight they got it going after all the second chance points.
“It’s tough. They get an offensive rebound and everybody is out of position and after they hit a few, it hurts even more. There’s not too much to talk about, it was a bad game. We have to keep working hard and stay on the same page.”
Deron Williams and Anthony Morrow both had big nights offensively for the Nets scoring 24 points each while Stevenson chipped in with 15. Aside from playing good defence, Humphries pounded the glass and hauled down a game-high 16 rebounds.
Although his team put forth a collective effort, Nets Head Coach Avery Johnson said there was one player who stood out the most from his roster.
“The player of the game for us tonight was DeShawn Stevenson. The defence he played on DeRozan was incredible.”Practice Makes Perfect
New Jersey credited the win with finally being able to squeeze in a practice on Thursday – the first since the season started. With the compressed schedule many teams will be in a similar position at some point during this lockout-shortened season.
The Nets used the time wisely as Johnson was able to work out some bad habits that were plaguing his team during the losing streak.
“We had a good practice yesterday,” said Johnson. “We cleaned up so many different areas and to get the carryover into today’s game was a thrill for us as a coaching staff and for our players.”
Williams thought the practice time was exactly what the team needed.
“Practice definitely helped – there is doubt about that,” said Williams who dished out a game-high nine assists. “Guys are used to practicing not just playing games and no practice in between. We haven’t had a chance.
“We made some adjustments, we were able to just get out and shoot and try to get our rhythm back a little bit. I thought we just came out a lot more aggressive. I think our starting lineup was a little better tonight in terms of spacing on the floor, making smart plays which enabled us to get out to a good start.”
It looks as if the Raptors could use a practice and get back to the drawing board as well, but there is no such luck. The team left immediately after the game to travel to Philadelphia where it will take on the 76ers on Saturday night. Friday’s game was the beginning of seven games in nine nights, including back-to-back games on three occasions.
“We needed this, especially going into the next couple of games,” said DeRozan of the loss.
“We have to get our minds back on track and understand what we have to do. We can’t ease into games. We have to jump on them from the back end as well.”This article was originally published on Oye! Times