For a change, the Nets entered a game with a few things in their favor. The visiting Raptors were without two starters, their usual first-place swagger and much of their mojo. The Nets just could not hold on to the advantage, or anything else.
Most important, they could not keep control of the ball. They committed 16 turnovers in the first half, leading to 21 Toronto points and all but ensuring their ninth consecutive defeat and 20th in 21 games, 103-95. The loss to the depleted and reeling Raptors left the Nets vowing to make better decisions on offense but left no suggestion about when they might break their slide.
“We’re still not making the simple pass, the simple play,” Kenny Atkinson said after the Nets made a run in the fourth quarter, drawing within four points, before falling short.
Brook Lopez, who led the Nets with 20 points, said: “If you look at it, there are times when we move the ball just so well, it completely changes the game for us. It’s just a matter of, offensively, trusting one another. It starts at the top with me.”
If you looked at the opportunity yesterday, it did not look awful for his team. Toronto had fallen out of first place in the Atlantic Division with eight losses in its previous 10 games and did not have star guard DeMar DeRozan or starting forward Patrick Patterson, both injured. What’s more, Kyle Lowry, the key remaining player, was slightly ill, coach Dwane Casey said before the game.
It turned out that Lowry had enough in the tank to record a triple-double: 15 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists. “I played basketball for 40 minutes. I’m blessed and fortunate to be able to come out here and play basketball,” he said.
The day actually got off to an odd start, with the anthem singer losing her grasp on the words to “O Canada” and improvising the rest of the way (“We sing our hearts to thee . . . ”). For the Nets, the game unraveled after Lopez went to the bench with his third foul.
“I’m trying to tread the line so I don’t get fined, but if it happened again, maybe if one of our guys out there actually watched the play, he wouldn’t make that call,” Lopez said. “It’s the way it went. We have to learn to play as the team we are and play despite the calls out there and do what we can to control the game.”
Still, two of those calls were offensive fouls, and Atkinson pointed out, “Offensive fouls are turnovers.” Which meant that was part of the problem. The coach added that, on top of the turnovers, “I’ll add bad shot selection. It’s that simple. I thought we took a lot of quick shots, a lot of bad shots.”
In any case, with Lopez out, Raptors 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas dominated, making dunk after dunk and scoring 22 points in 26 minutes.
The Nets improved after halftime, playing better defense with only five more turnovers. Trevor Booker, the starter-turned-reserve at power forward, led the surge in his 15-point, 10-rebound performance. It just was not enough to grab hold of the game again.
With no turnover of personnel in sight, the Nets will just have to try to find answers on video and on the practice floor. Sean Kilpatrick, who scored 18 points but shared the team turnover lead with Bojan Bogdanovic (five apiece), said: “You’ve got to be selfless. Everybody on this team can score, but are you going to take less shots for the next man in line? That’s something we didn’t do today.”
For a team that has only one win in 2017, every day brings something not done. Atkinson said he and his staff will “keep hammering” on the basics and added, “We’ve got a long way to go, to improve.”