TORONTO — For the second straight game, the Nets suffered a fourth-quarter meltdown. This time they blew a 13-point third-quarter lead on their way to a 116-112 loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors on Friday night at Air Canada Centre. And this time they shot themselves in the foot with a 19-for-31 showing from the free-throw line.
The Nets led by nine early in the fourth quarter when the Raptors began feeding DeMar DeRozan, who scored nine points in a 10-2 run that cut their deficit to 95-94 with 8:30 left. Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell each missed two foul shots in that span.
The Raptors regained the lead at 100-99 on Kyle Lowry’s two free throws at 4:50, triggering a 12-4 run that included nine points by Lowry for a 110-103 lead with 1:36 to play. The Nets moved within 112-109 on a three-pointer by DeMarre Carroll with 34 seconds to go and forced a turnover, but Caris Le Vert failed to get the ball inbounds in five seconds.
“DeRozan had that stretch where he really started to score against us,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “In the fourth quarter, we struggled to score. We got some good looks that didn’t go down. Overall, on the road against an elite team like this, I thought we competed our tails off . . . ”
All Atkinson could do was laugh at the mention of his team’s poor foul shooting. “Someone told me we’re the best foul-shooting team since the All-Star break,” he said. “I could be wrong. I love that we went to the free-throw line 31 times. Before the All-Star break, that was our m.o.”
Russell had his first career triple-double with 18 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, and the Nets (23-50) got 18 points from Allen Crabbe and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Lowry topped the Raptors (54-19) with 25 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Jonas Valanciunas added 23 points and DeRozan had 20.
All season long, the Nets have bounced back from tough losses with strong efforts, but Atkinson was uncertain how they would react two days after blowing a 23-point lead to the Hornets. “I was fearful,” he said. “That Charlotte loss was very tough. I really wanted to see what kind of group we have. We’re not into moral victories, but I did like our compete.”
Russell said the Nets took a constructive approach to the Charlotte loss. “We were one play away,” he said. “Coach keeps preaching it. I think everybody is buying in. A lot of our games come down to that one play. I think good karma is coming our way. We’ve just got to stay competitive and stay locked in these last few games.”