Nets forward Mikal Bridges reacts in the first half of...

Nets forward Mikal Bridges reacts in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Nets knew the stakes going into Tuesday’s final group play match for the in-season tournaments. As time ran out in their 115-103 win at Barclays Center, they turned up the pace to help their margin of victory.
They scored seven points in the final 1:08 to push the lead over the Raptors to 15 on a pair of free throws by Spencer Dinwiddie. OG Anunoby’s three-pointer at the buzzer brought the margin down but it didn’t matter.
The Celtics won by 27 over the Bulls just minutes earlier and that eliminated the Nets from Group C on point differential. The Nets were 3-1 in group play. The Celtics, 3-1, won Group C to advance to next week’s quarterfinals.
“Main thing was just winning that game and then play as hard as we can toward the end," Mikal Bridges said. "Just keep going til the clock stops.”
The Nets, who won their third consecutive game, had to win by no fewer than eight points of whatever Boston won by to win Group C. They were also eliminated from the wild card spot as the Knicks clinched it by beating the Hornets.
Still, the Nets’ furious finish showed they were aware of keeping their foot on the gas until the final buzzer.
“When it was 100 to 108, I ended up asking ‘Where do we stand?’,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We were thinking about continuing to score and I think it looked like our guys were engaged in the game, which was great for the fans.”
It almost didn’t happen as the Nets (9-8) were locked in a tight battle with the Raptors (8-10), who cut an eight-point third quarter deficit to one, 97-96, with 4:01 remaining after a Gary Trent Jr. jumper.
After a timeout, Bridges made a three-pointer to push the lead back to four. Royce O’Neale then gave the Nets some breathing room on a three with 1:55 left to put the Nets up 106-100.
Dinwiddie continued his hot scoring with a team-high 23 points, the third time in four games he’s scored at least 20 points. He also had nine rebounds and eight assists.
O’Neale made four three-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with six for the second consecutive game. He had 18 points and did most of the Nets’ long range work as they made just 13 threes after a season-high 25 on Sunday.
Bridges had 22 points and 10 rebounds while Cam Johnson also had 18 points and nine rebounds. The Nets out-rebounded the Raptors 59-46, which tied their second highest total of the season.
“You got guys playing hard and wanting to go to Vegas” said Bridges of where the knockout rounds would be played. “We were pretty bummed finding out we couldn’t go but [the tournament] just brings a little more competitive [edge] every night.”
With the Nets out of the NBA In-Season Tournament, they’ll play two additional regular-season games on Dec. 6 and 8 with opponents and location to be determined later.
Even though they lost Tuesday, the Nets appreciated what the tournament was intended to do. Bridges suggested it could maybe be held midseason to ramp up competition at a time when teams might relax more.
But as the Nets showed in the final 68 seconds Tuesday, there was enough incentive around the league to treat the first year of the tournament seriously without sacrificing a team’s primary goals.
“We knew we needed to have a sense of urgency. We needed to worry about a certain amount of points,” said Nic Claxton, who had 15 points, eight rebounds and a season-high four blocks after sitting out Sunday with a sore ankle. “At the end of the day, we won the game and that’s what matters. It was a good team win so I’m happy we got the win.”

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