Toronto Raptors use defense to beat Brooklyn Nets

By Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 7, 2016 at 1:47 AM
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NEW YORK -- For two games, the Toronto Raptors lost their defensive focus.

On Wednesday, the Raptors' defensive intensity returned in a big way.

Coupled with a 22-point, 11-rebound showing by center Jonas Valanciunas and a strong defensive showing, the Raptors pulled away in the second half for a 91-74 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

"We played good defense. I think the energy and the communication were better and we were able to get to our spots quicker tonight," Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry said.

The Raptors allowed a season low in points, and nearly matched a season low for points allowed in a half as the Nets had 36 in the first 24 minutes and 38 after halftime. Toronto held an opponent under 40 percent shooting for the ninth time this season and forced 19 turnovers, three shy of its season best.

"No matter what, we got to rely on our defense every single game," Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said. "We're going to have games where we're not going to be able to score. We got to understand we got to be able to win games in the 80s and keep teams like tonight in the low 70s, high 70s. As long as we do our defensive principles we got a chance to win every single night."

"Overall we needed a game like that from start to finish, to kind of put our defensive imprint on the game," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.

The stout defense came after the Raptors allowed 115 in a two-point loss to the Chicago Bulls Sunday and a season-high 122 in a 22-point loss at Cleveland on Monday. It also came hours after forward DeMarre Carroll underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery.

"I think it was the most talking we've had this whole year," Toronto forward James Johnson said of the defensive communication. "The talking was incredible. It all started with our scout (meeting). Everybody was locked in. We weren't trying to lose three in a row."

Valanciunas ensured the Raptors would not lose three in a row for the second time this season by turning in his most productive game of the season. He made his first six shots, finished 8-for-13 and recorded his seventh double-double while playing 30 minutes.

Lowry came up short in a bid for his fourth consecutive double-double, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Lowry missed all seven of his 3-point attempts but was 7-for-7 from inside the arc.

DeRozan added 15 for Toronto, which won despite shooting 4-for-22 from behind the arc.

Center Brook Lopez collected 24 points and 13 rebounds, but it was not nearly enough for Brooklyn, which has dropped its eighth straight home game. The home skid is the team's longest since the move from New Jersey in 2012 and the Nets were held to their third-lowest regular-season point total in the Brooklyn era.

"There's a lot of stuff we have to tweak," Brooklyn forward Thaddeus Young said. "Right now we're just out of sync."

The Nets (10-25) cut an 18-point deficit to 10 with about 4 1/2 minutes remaining, but Toronto finished it off on the next possession when Lowry hit a long jumper.

The Raptors (22-15) then added an impressive baseline dunk by Valanciunas and a nifty layup by Lowry on consecutive possessions, sending many in the crowd to the exits.

"Their quickness dominated us," Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. "It was just overall domination."

After a sluggish start, Toronto began taking control in the second quarter. The Raptors missed nine of their first 10 shots in the second quarter but closed out the half with an 18-5 run, turning a 31-27 deficit into a 45-36 lead. They never trailed after a 3-pointer by DeRozan with 2:35 left in the half.

Toronto opened the gap late in the third. The Nets were within 59-54 on a layup by Lopez, but over the next 3:15, the Raptors went on an 11-2 run and took a 70-56 lead.

NOTES: The Raptors do not have an official timetable for F DeMarre Carroll's return from arthroscopic right knee surgery he underwent Wednesday, but an unofficial estimate is that he will miss at least two months. Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Carroll elected to have surgery after treatments resulted in continued swelling. In the meantime, Casey said he will rotate Fs Terrence Ross and James Johnson based on matchups. He described the scenario as an "unfortunate opportunity." On Wednesday Johnson started and scored eight points in 26:18 while Ross played 19 minutes. ... Brooklyn F Joe Johnson sat out practice Tuesday and was questionable with a left quad contusion but started Wednesday night. Johnson was held to five points in 31 minutes, marking the 17th time he scored in single digits. ... Toronto was the last Eastern Conference team that Brooklyn faced.

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