Raptors head home to full house after silencing Nets crowd
It’s futile to try to figure out these Raptors in a crazy season of exhilaration, frustration, constant injuries and illnesses. It’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Reeling from two straight blowout losses, without their point guard and leader, with their best defender at a doctor’s office getting a broken finger looked at, with their all-star calibre forward limited to just eight points and their high-scoring shooting guard held basically in check, the Raptors did what they tend to do.
Confound. And entertain.
Good or bad, they always come up with something to talk about.
Scottie Barnes made the first 11 shots he attempted and finished with 28 points, Malachi Flynn started for the first time since December and ran the team like a seven-year veteran, and Toronto put aside two horrible losses with a 133-97 thrashing of the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.
Without Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, and with Pascal Siakam and Gary Trent not having great nights, the Raptors ran roughshod over Brooklyn from the opening tip.
“We were just really locked in, really focused,” said Barnes. “We really wanted to bounce back after losing those first two games (after the all-star break). Just really had to bring it tonight; that was the main emphasis.”
It was a significant win over the team chasing them in the Eastern Conference standings. And even though Brooklyn was without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris and Ben Simmons, it shouldn’t take away from an effort that was decidedly more impressive than the ones the Raptors put out on the weekend in Charlotte and Atlanta. They got great production off the bench, as Precious Achiuwa scored 20 and Thaddeus Young added 11.
The same teams play again Tuesday night in Toronto, in front of a Scotiabank Arena crowd that could reach a full 19,800 capacity.
“We’re certainly looking forward to that,” coach Nick Nurse said before the game. “It just helps the overall vibe and our overall mood and our overall energy throughout the game, and I think we could use that.”
What the Raptors needed most was a thorough performance after two uncharacteristically lackadaisical outings. They answered that question emphatically, pouring in 42 first-quarter points and never looking back.
Flynn, who last started a game on Dec. 28 and hasn’t played more than 25 minutes since then, had 18 points and five assists in 34 solid minutes.
“I was pretty confident going in there that he’d run the team well, because I think he’s just been doing that,” Nurse said of Flynn. “He got us organized, he got off the ball, he got it up the floor quickly, all those kinds of things that got the ball moving early. That’s just being a good leader out there, and a good point guard.”
Flynn had been solid in mop-up minutes in Toronto’s two losses coming out of the break, which gave Nurse enough confidence to move him into the starting lineup. Usually, the coach would go with Siakam or Barnes as the de facto point guard and insert another long wing into the starting group. Flynn’s play of late has allowed the coach a more traditional approach.
“He’s really had an uptick, I think, of his confidence in his play here lately,” Nurse said. “You’ve kind of got to read the game and take what’s there. If you’re blasting into the lane and there’s some space to create for yourself, you’ve got to do it, and if it closes down you’ve got to be able to make the right read.
“What I’m happy with is that he’s doing that.”
There is no definitive timeline on either VanVleet, who originally banged his knee in the first half of a game in New Orleans about two weeks ago, or Anunoby, who was to see a specialist on Monday night for his fractured right ring finger.
“I think the main thing with both Fred and OG is that they get better. That’s the main thing,” Nurse said before the game. “We’ve got to find a path to get them healthy.”