The wounds that have mounted over the course of this condensed NBA season finally caught up to the Nets as they allowed a 13-point first-quarter lead to slip away and trailed by as much as 18 points on their way to a 114-103 loss to the Raptors Wednesday night in Tampa, Florida. A victory would have put the Nets first in the Eastern Conference because the 76ers lost to the Suns, but it was an opportunity missed.
The Nets lost control of the game when they were outscored in the third quarter, 36-23, as the Raptors rained in seven three-pointers. After trailing by 18 points, the Nets put together a 14-2 run spanning the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth to cut their deficit to 92-86 on a pair of Landry Shamet free throws with 10:35 left in the game.
But they ran out of steam on the second night of a back-to-back set. The Raptors responded with a 12-3 surge that included six points from Pascal Siakim to regain control with a 104-89 lead with 7:37 left to go. The Nets cut the Raptors’ lead to 106-101 on a pair of Kyrie Irving foul shots with 3:01 left, but they made only one basket the rest of the way.
"We came out flat to start the third (quarter)," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "Gave up 31 points in the first seven minutes of the (second) half, which is too much obviously. We just weren’t tight enough defensively. I think a big factor also was that our guys just looked tired. Couldn’t make shots. Open looks. They fought, they battled, they tried, but they just didn’t have that sharpness."
Irving paced the Nets (39-20) with 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, Bruce Brown had his second straight double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, Joe Harris totaled 14 points and Shamet added 10 on a tough 3-of-17 shooting night.
Siakim topped the Raptors (25-34) with 27 points and nine rebounds, OG Anunoby scored 25, Fred Van Vleet added 17, including a 5-of-10 effort from three-point range, and Kyle Lowry had 14 points.
The Nets started Blake Griffin (nine points) in the second game of a back-to-back for the first time this season, but they still were without superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden plus backup center Nic Claxton and were playing their third game in four nights.
Fatigue was an obvious factor.
"It’s obviously a difficult situation, but this is sort of the place that a lot of teams are in right now," Harris said. "You’ve got to play with the guys that you have. I still feel like we were competitive, we were there.
"At the start of the second half, we let them go on a few different runs. It was tough after a back-to-back, short-handed, but you can’t use that as an excuse because everybody is dealing with the same sort of circumstances here at the end of the year."
Thanks to four straight threes by Harris in the opening quarter, the Nets built an 18-9 lead and were ahead by 13 at the end of the period. But the Raptors closed the second quarter on a 17-7 run to cut their halftime deficit to two points and then dominated the third period to wear out the Nets.
After making seven of their first 14 three-pointers, the Nets were 6-of-27 from deep the rest of the way. Asked what adjustments the Raptors made to contain the Nets’ shooters, Brown said, "They didn’t change anything. They stayed the same the whole game. We just didn’t make shots at the end."
Maybe that was because the Nets were on their last legs at the end of a tough trip.