The Nets kept their late-season surge going as they beat the Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors 114-109 on Friday night at Barclays Center.
With the win, the Nets sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings at 35-40. They are 2-1/2 games behind the 6th-place Milwaukee Bucks (38-38), who beat the Boston Celtics. The Nets are a game ahead of the 8th-place Miami Heat (34-41) and 1/1/2 games ahead of the 9th-place Celtics, who fell to 34-42 with the loss to Milwaukee.
The Nets were led by Deron Williams, who had his best game all season. D-Will had 31 points on 11-for-18 from the field, 5-of-7 from behind the arc, 11 assists, and a rebound.
Brook Lopez continues his dominance, as he had 30 points on 13-for-24 from the field, with 17 rebounds. Thaddeus Young rounded out the strong trio that led the Nets, as he had 29 points on 12-for-15 from the field (0-2 on threes), with 6 rebounds.
The game started out with each team trading baskets, and Toronto led 11-10 four minutes in. From that point on, the Nets outscored them 24-16 to take a 34-27 lead at the end of the first. This is usual for the Nets, as was the fact that they gave it back in the second quarter, outscored 27-15 as Toronto took a 54-49 lead into the half.
In the third quarter, Toronto expanded their lead to nine on two occasions, the second one being when Jonas Valanciunas completed a three-point play to make it 71-62 Raptors with 5:49 left in the third. Valanciunas had 13 points in the third. Deron Williams hit a three to start a 9-2 run, which was capped by Williams setting up Young for a dunk that made it 73-71 at the 3:30 mark. The Raptors took a slim 79-77 lead into the fourth.
In the fourth, no team led by more than four points, and the Nets led 106-105 on a Young lay-up with 1:22 left. DeMar DeRozan responded by hitting a couple of jumpers, with a D-Will three in between them, to make it tied at 109 with 36.9 seconds left.
The Nets went for the quick shot, with Williams missing a running jumper, Lopez missing the put-back, then Young getting another offensive rebound and putting it back in to make it 111-109 Nets with 22.2 seconds left.
On the Raptors’ ensuing possession, DeRozan missed a short jumper, and Johnson got the rebound and was fouled at half-court with 9.6 seconds left. The Nets got a huge break, as it was ruled a clear-path foul, meaning two free throws and the ball. Johnson hit both free throws to make it a four-point game, and then he was fouled on the inbounds and hit one of two free throws from that to make it 114-109 Nets with 8.0 seconds left, and Toronto dribbled it out.
Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins said of the win, “I saw a lot of mental toughness. I saw some grit. In the first half, we were complaining a lot about calls and non-calls and I just told them, I said ‘You should be happy that they are calling them and just go out and play. We have to be physical. We have to be tough.’ And I thought the second half, we did. We came out and outscored them by 10. And we outscored them 37-30 in the fourth quarter. They made some big shots, but we got the stops that we needed. We executed offensively. We had some great performances offensively by Deron, and Brook, and Thaddeus. Brook’s 30 (points)/17 (rebounds). Thaddeus had 29 (points) but he had a big offensive rebound. When you look at, we only had 9 turnovers, they had 16; that gave us 18 points. We had 74 points in the paint, and we had 17 offensive rebounds. So we had 18 second chance points but whenever you get an offensive rebound, you get to reset the clock and use more clock. I thought Thaddeus’ rebound was huge down the stretch. Deron hit a big three. We ran a pick-and-roll out of a timeout and got a dunk that kept us in the game because they had started up when we got the three-point shot. Then, they called the foul and the guy made all three free throws. So we just hung in there and we defended.
“In the second half, I rode the starters. I just wasn’t confident in the bench and how they performed in the first half. The second quarter, we started off 34-27. In the second quarter, it was 27-15 their way. We just weren’t guarding and we weren’t scoring so I decided when I left the locker room that I was going to ride those guys and try to see if they could bring us home. In the fourth quarter, there was a lot of timeouts that got called, two were a replay, one for the flagrant, I think it was the three-point, and then they had another replay. Then they started calling timeouts. I took a 20 one time when it was my timeout and everyone was saying take a timeout, yours is at 2:59. And I was like well I’m going to make him take a timeout. He (Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey) wound up taking a timeout and not having one at the end of the game, which was huge. They couldn’t call another timeout and work their way to a three-point shot. They had to bring it up and lost time. And we were able to come away with a huge win.”
Hollins said of the lift Williams gave them in the third quarter, “He really did. He kept us close. He made big shot after big shot. He penetrated and then at the end, he hit the three. We ran the play for Joe (Johnson) and Joe didn’t have a shot, but he penetrated off the pick-and-roll and threw it back to Deron. Deron hit the big three that put us up by two after we were down one. So all of those plays are great. Deron has been playing well as I said from the All-Star break until now. But our whole group has been playing well. We’re figuring out how to help each other, and play for each other. It’s fun to watch.”
Hollins said of the addition of Young and the change it has made on the court and in the locker room, “It’s not really important. I look at it from playing. He played tonight 39 minutes and he had 29 points and 6 rebounds. I love KG (Kevin Garnett) but to have somebody that can play this huge amount of minutes is good. His versatility has helped us. His offensive rebounding has helped us. He posts up, he runs the courth, and just gives us another full-time player.”