TORONTO - Time will tell if the Nets really can withstand exorbitant expectations and a spate of injuries. First things first. On Tuesday night, they proved that they can withstand a roadblock that has stopped them in their tracks lately: Halftime.
They did not swoon, collapse or even hiccup in the third quarter as they often have done lately. In fact, they expanded their halftime lead. What's more, they held on all the way to the finish and beat the Raptors, 102-100, at Air Canada Centre.
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Amir Johnson missed a shot from the corner with just over two seconds left after the Nets had squandered almost all of a 15-point lead in the final five minutes. They didn't make a basket in the final 5:23.
Still, it was a win, a desperately needed one.
"The guys in that locker room finally, I think, said they'd had enough," Jason Kidd said.
Maybe Kidd finally channeled his inner Knute Rockne and gave them a rousing speech at intermission. After being outscored in the third period in each of their 10 losses, they edged Toronto 26-25 last night.
Maybe it was the fact that they finally played a team from their own underachieving (and under .500) division.
"Luckily we're in the East, the NFC East, as Jason put it," Shaun Livingston said, referring to another shaky division.
Possibly it was that the Nets finally executed their plan. In any case, they ended their losing streak at five games with one of their best games of the season.
Andray Blatche and Joe Johnson had 24 and 21 points respectively, but just about everyone did something constructive.
The Nets shot much better than they have lately (50.6 percent). They dominated the paint and stifled Raptors star Rudy Gay (nine points, 3-for-12 shooting). Plus, their second unit was strong again. Again, Kidd said he probably should have left them in longer rather than taking them out in the final minutes.
"The last three minutes were almost a disaster," said Paul Pierce, who was on target this time, with his words and his shots (5-for-8, 16 points). "There are still some things we've got to work on, but at the end of the day, we got a win."
You name it and the Nets said before the game that they needed to work on it. Not necessarily in order, they mentioned rebounding, defense, urgency and the need to not focus on who is not here. Unsaid was that their third quarters had been disasters lately.
Tyshawn Taylor, who had a solid, energetic game off the bench -- as did Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic -- said, "We talked about what we need to do, what we should do to win. Coming in at halftime, we didn't say anything about the third quarter. We just went over the game plan and went back out on the court.
"I was on the other side of this last year when we had won early and kind of fell off. So I know that it can change," said Taylor, who had nine points. "We just had to get one."
One win. Kidd was proud that the Nets (4-10, only two games out of first place, believe it or not) played the third with the energy of the first quarter.
It gave them impetus to withstand DeMar DeRozan's 27 points, and a series of poor shots and turnovers down the stretch. They held on.
"It feels good, man," Johnson said. "Winning cures everything. Hopefully it can be the start of something."
Notes & quotes: Although he has been working out and he did recently sign a massive two-year contract extension, Kobe Bryant is not expected to return to the Lakers when they visit Barclays Center Wednesday night.