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Nets battle, but late run by defending champion Raptors is the difference

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie drives to the hoop

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie drives to the hoop against Toronto Raptors forward Chris Boucher and center Marc Gasol during the first half in Toronto on Saturday Dec. 14, 2019. Credit: AP/Cole Burston

TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard no longer calls Toronto home, having moved to Los Angeles to join the Clippers, but the defending NBA champions showed the Nets why “We The North” still describes where they rank in the Eastern Conference standings. The Raptors let a 16-point lead slip to two points in the third period, but they came on strong down the stretch to score a 110-102 victory Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.

Although the Nets made their first four three-pointers to jump to a 12-2 lead, Toronto responded by going 9-for-10 on three-pointers to build a 38-31 first-quarter lead, and it became 10-for-11 when they made their first three in the second period. That put the Nets in an early hole, but that wasn’t the reason the Nets lost because they held the Raptors to 4-for-29 shooting from three-point range the rest of the game.

The real culprit was 20 Nets turnovers that led to 29 Raptors points. Toronto led by as much as 16 points in the second period but after the Nets cut their deficit to 67-65 in the third period, the starting unit had seven straight empty possessions, ending with three turnovers as the Raptors regained a 13-point lead.

After getting back within four points late in the third, the second unit had 12 possessions that produced only two points and included four turnovers as the Raptors’ lead grew to 99-85 with 8:32 left in the fourth period. Game over.

“Offensively, we turned it over too much, and we didn’t make enough shots,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We had a lot of open looks. They didn’t go down, but the turnovers hurt us, too.”

Second unit point guard Theo Pinson struggled, committing four turnovers, and that number was matched by starter Garrett Temple, who has been called upon at times to take over ballhandling responsibilities when he’s on the floor with the second unit. Temple has played point guard in emergencies but really is a two-guard.

Asked about the Nets’ ballhandling problem, Atkinson said, “I think it is. That’s Toronto’s strength. They turn you over. I knew coming in the issue was going to be scoring on these guys. We did not handle the ball well enough. Not only the second unit, but I thought the first unit struggled, too.”

The Nets had were 12-for-46 on three-point shooting (26.1%) but Atkinson thought they had good looks that didn’t go down. “The one you can control is the turnovers. You don’t get a shot, and then turnovers usually turn into shots for the other team.”

Spencer Dinwiddie topped the Nets (13-12) with 24 points and eight assists, Temple added 16 points, and Taurean Prince had 14 points and 10 boards. Pascal Siakam had 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors (17-8), Norman Powell added 25 points and Marc Gasol totaled 17 points and 15 rebounds.

The Nets’ Toronto visit was the start of a brutal back-to-back that concludes against the 76ers, who eliminated them in the first round of the playoffs, Sunday at Barclays Center. That game will mark the Nets’ debut of veteran power forward Wilson Chandler, who has completed a 25-game suspension for use of a banned substance.

“I’m hopeful it’s going to give us a morale boost,” Atkinson said. “We have a new guy who has been an excellent player in the league. It’s perfect timing, especially on a back-to-back.

“We’ll limit him, but we’ll read it, too. He’s worked his tail off. I think he’s in shape. I know he can’t play huge minutes, but he’ll play a fair amount.”

Temple played with Chandler on the Clippers last season. “He’s a very savvy guy,” Temple said. “He plays the right way.”

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