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Short-handed Nets out-grind Raptors

Brooklyn snaps season-high six-game slide in Toronto

March 26, 2024 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Youth and desire proved to be the magic formula for the Brooklyn Nets as they snapped their longest losing streak of the season in Toronto Monday.

Second-year forward Trendon Watford scored a season-high 19 points and Nic Claxton pulled down 16 boards as the Nets ended a six-game slide with defense and rebounding, grinding out a 96-88 win over Toronto in front of 18,376 fans at Scotiabank Arena.

Brooklyn (27-45) found out just before tip-off that it would be without leading scorer Cam Thomas due to a back issue and starting forward Cam Johnson because of a sprained toe.

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Backup point guard Dennis Smith Jr. was also shelved with a sore right hip and forward Keita Bates-Diop remained out with a shin injury.

That allowed Watford and rookies Jalen Wilson and Noah Clowney to see serious action.

With the Nets desperate to get back in the win column as they pursue 10th-place Atlanta for the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference, Watford shot 7-for-10, including 2-for-4 from 3-point range.

He also grabbed seven boards in only 21 minutes off the bench.

“When it got down to crunch time, we just took care of the ball and executed,” said Watford, who put up a career-best 24 points in Los Angeles against the Clippers last April 8.

Wilson finished with 12 points and Clowney added seven and six rebounds as Brooklyn out-caromed Toronto (23-49), 50-30.

The Nets also snatched 16 offensive boards, helping them overcome 20 turnovers on a night that began with bad news and ended with their first win since March 10 in Cleveland.

Brooklyn outscored Toronto, 28-19, over the final 12 minutes.

“I told these guys it’s hard to win in the NBA,” Brooklyn interim coach Kevin Ollie revealed. “We’re going to get a nice team dinner. The wine is going to taste a little bit better.”

Nets interim coach Kevin Ollie revealed that his team would celebrate its first win in over two weeks with a late-night meal in Toronto. AP Photo by Doug McSchooler

The Nets may have savored their meal even more if not for a shocking result in Atlanta Monday.

The Hawks, down by as many as 30 points, rallied to knock off the NBA-best Celtics, 120-118, leaving Brooklyn 5 1/2 lengths behind in the chase for their sixth consecutive postseason appearance with only 10 games to play.

Dennis Schroder scored 19 points, Mikal Bridges had 13 and Dorian Finney-Smith added 11 for the Nets, who were eager to enjoy their late dinner north of the border before heading to Washington Wednesday for the finale of this four-game trip.

The slumping Raptors, losers of a season-high 11 in a row, were even more hampered by injuries and other issues than the Nets.

Toronto was without seven regulars, including four starters. All-Star Scottie Barnes was missing with a hand injury and the Raptors also were dealing with gambling allegations against center Jontay Porter.

Gary Trent Jr. put up 18 points and Javon Freeman-Liberty added 15 for Toronto, which will be at Barclays Center on April 10 for the Nets’ final home game of the year.

“We were focused on basketball, we were focused on the game,” Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic noted. “Nobody wants that kind of situation to happen to anybody, to any team. We’re just going to deal with it.”

The Raptors certainly weren’t able to deal with Claxton, who fell one rebound shy of his career best and scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in Brooklyn’s lowest-scoring win of the campaign.

“Nic really attacked the backboards and got us some extra possessions, which was huge because we had 20 turnovers,” Ollie told the Associated Press.

Ollie indicated postgame that he wasn’t sure if Thomas would be ready for the Wizards in our nation’s capital on Wednesday.

“We’ll have to get him a few extra pillows in his hotel room,” jabbed Ollie.

Nic Claxton fell one rebound shy of his career best in Toronto, helping the Nets to their first win in seven contests Monday night. AP Photo by Morry Gash

NOTHING BUT NET: Brooklyn took a 2-1 lead in the regular-season series with the Raptors. After visiting the Wizards, the Nets will open a two-game homestand on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Friday night vs. Chicago. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will visit Brooklyn Sunday. … Bridges went 3-for-12 from 3-point range Monday after hitting 10 of 23 shots from beyond the arc in his previous two games. The Nets held Toronto to a dismal 5-for-27 effort on 3-balls. … Lonnie Walker IV came off the bench and went 0-for-6 with a quartet of missed 3-pointers for Brooklyn.

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