TORONTO — With five losses in their past six games, the record doesn’t reflect their progress, but the Nets are getting closer to whole as reinforcements arrive from the injured list.
Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert saw increased time off the bench Monday night at Scotiabank Arena, and Crabbe’s hot shooting at the end of the game nearly lifted the Nets to a victory over the Raptors.
But the new player who made the biggest impact was Marc Gasol, who scored 11 fourth-quarter points in his first Raptors home game since being acquired from Memphis. He sparked a strong finish that star Kawhi Leonard completed when he banked in the winning jumper with 4.2 seconds left in a 127-125 victory over the Nets.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Tough loss. But I told the guys we came up here two months ago and got our tails handed to us, and I thought tonight we represented ourselves well.”
Their fourth straight road loss dropped the Nets to 29-29 with a game in Cleveland on Wednesday night before they head to the All-Star break.
The Nets got terrific performances from D’Angelo Russell (28 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds), who missed a potential tying three-pointer at the buzzer, and Joe Harris, who had 24 points and shot a career-best 7-for-8 from three-point range.
Crabbe performed well in his third game back with 22 points, including a pair of threes that tied the score at 120, but in his second game back, LeVert scored only six points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Even so, a late 13-3 run that ended with two foul shots by Harris for a 122-120 Nets lead with 1:13 left was a good sign, and Russell hit a three with 50.2 seconds left that gave the Nets a 125-122 lead.
The Nets tied their season high with 20 made threes on 41 attempts, including a 6-for-10 effort from Crabbe. “Any time you can get a player of [Crabbe’s] caliber back and Caris, these guys help out so much on both ends of the ball,” Harris said. “They just make us so much better all the way around.”
Just not quite good enough to beat the Raptors (42-16), who have won five in a row and shot 54.3 percent for the game. Leonard had 30 points, Serge Ibaka totaled 18 points and 12 rebounds, Pascal Siakam added 17 points and Gasol had 16.
In his first three games back from a two-month absence because of right knee soreness, Crabbe has come out of the blocks quickly, hitting 12 of 21 three-point attempts. “It’s just the mindset, really,” he said. “That’s always been one of my biggest things that kind of held me back. Some nights, I’ll be aggressive and some nights I won’t. But I’m trying to get comfortable like the way I was playing before I got hurt.”
LeVert struggled in his second game back after a three-month absence because of a dislocated ankle. He committed five turnovers and was pulled briefly in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously, there’s some rust, but I just like having him out there,” Atkinson said. “Is he clicking on all cylinders? No, but I don’t care. I know who Caris is, I know what he brings to the table, I trust him.”
More good injury news is on the way for the Nets. Two weeks after having torn ligaments in his right thumb repaired, Spencer Dinwiddie called his surgery a success.
“Every several weeks, we’ve had to deal with something, an injury shaking up the lineup and us having to readjust,” Dinwiddie said. “Now we’re finally getting healthy, so it’s shaking the lineup again. It’s just something we’re going to have to get in tune with and get better at. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but that only gets to manifest itself if we can come together as a unit.”