Kawhi Leonard is in fact a buzzkill. Especially for the Nets.
With the Nets storming back in another late comeback, Leonard stepped into a 17-foot jump shot and put the Raptors up two with 4.2 seconds left. The Nets couldn’t find an open look for D’Angelo Russell, who missed a contested three as time expired.
The Nets lost their second straight game and for the fifth time in six outings, while the Raptors won their fifth straight, 127-125, Monday night in Toronto. The Raptors are 42-16 which is good for second place in the Eastern Conference. The Nets are now 29-29 with an unsteady lead for the sixth seed.
This was one of Brooklyn’s most balanced games this season, but they put themselves in a bit of a hole late and had to climb out. They trailed 120-114 with 2:45 remaining when Allen Crabbe (22 points) nailed two consecutive three’s to knot it up.
At this point, the Nets played a zone and it threw the Raptors off on this particular possession. They clanked a shot and Joe Harris was fouled on the rebound attempt, sending him to the line for two.
Kawhi then tied the game, but DLo answered with another three. He ran back laughing and yelling in joy. It all felt good for Brooklyn until Danny Green answered DLo’s three with one of his own. Harris missed on an 11-foot mid-ranger and the rest was history.
It was another good fight that showed the Nets can hang with the best of them. But there are no moral victories for these guys. Not anymore. Not this late when Kenny Atkinson is talking playoffs.
Although Harris missed the big one, he had one of the best nights of his career with 24 points on seven three-pointers made — a new career-high. He nailed five in the first seven minutes of the game and six in the first half.
His 22 points put the Nets up 50-46 at half, but the Nets couldn’t make a stop in the second half and allowed the Raptors to score 71 points.
The other key was Russell. He finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 14 assists. It was his 7 seventh double double of the season. He had eight in first three seasons combined!
They dished out 33 assists, shot 52 percent from the field and 48 percent from three. The 14 turnovers hurt them, but it isn’t why they lost. They lost because they couldn’t make a stop. The Raptors, led by Leonard (30 points, eight assists), shot 54 percent from the field and hit 18-of-20 from the line.
So this is where the Nets are with one game until the All-Star Break. They’ve lost five of the last six and six of the last eight. It wasn’t a bad loss nor having they been playing bad basketball, but man, they could really use the break to regroup.
By night’s end, the Pistons had won, Hornets and Heat had lost and the Nets were the six seed for another day. The Hornets remain a game back in the seventh seed and the Pistons have not leap-frogged the Heat and are in eighth, a game and a half back.
DLO STEAMING INTO THE ALL-STAR BREAK
Some telling statistics about D’Angelo Russell that got some national attention today, both accolades on the offensive and defensive ends.
Crazy stat… At age 22, D’Angelo Russell is the youngest player to hit 500 three-pointers in NBA history.
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) February 11, 2019
The Nets wanted D’Angelo Russell to buy in defensively. Have at it:
Among 89 players who have averaged 30.0+ mpg since Jan. 1.,
Russell’s defensive rating (103.7) is eighth-best in the NBA, trailing only Lonzo Ball and Donovan Mitchell among guards.
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) February 11, 2019
A couple telling things here: The Nets always knew about Russell’s offensive skillset. It was never so much about improving that area. It was about his defense — how much effort he would give and things like that. Here he is in the past month top-10 in the NBA for defensive rating and top-three among guards.
Then, you look at the three-point numbers. It’ll probably be broken by Devin Booker (and soon) but it’s still worth appreciating. Russell has improved from last year, shooting 35 percent from deep versus 32 percent last year. He’s attempting a career-high 7.2 per game.
It isn’t just improvement. He’s an All-Star and Most Improved Player Candidate.
HEARING FROM DINWIDDIE
Reporters caught up with Spencer Dinwiddie on Monday and it appears he’s in good spirits. I can confirm. Dinwiddie was all smiles before Friday’s game against the Bulls, understanding this isn’t an injury worth worrying about. Not a knee, ankle or foot… Just some pain in his thumb.
LOWRY ON NETS
Add Kyle Lowry to the list of those who praise Kenny Atkinson. Here’s what he said post-game. “They got an all-star in D’Angelo Russell and they surround him with talent and they’re really well coached”
For a different perspective, head on over to Raptors HQ, our sister site on SB Nation.
The Nets will face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. It’s their last game before the All-Star Break.