Raptors show Nets what a good defense looks like

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NEW YORK — If the Nets needed more evidence to substantiate claims that defense is imperative, they discovered it in their 123-117 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday.

The Nets have three elite offensive superstars and a fleet of sharpshooters, but the Raptors have one of the league’s most connected defenses, even if it’s a down year for them by the numbers. That unforgiving Toronto defense made the Nets uncomfortable at home.

The Raptors forced 18 turnovers, with Nets star Kyrie Irving accounting for seven of those himself. Those turnovers contributed to the Raptors attempting 17 more shots than the Nets.

It’s extremely difficult to win games if you don’t protect the ball, and while the Raptors made the Nets uncomfortable, the Nets also had their fair share of unforced errors. It’s more of the same for a Nets team that has been excellent on offense, but whose Achilles heel has been carelessness with the ball — and an inability to get stops on defense.

The Nets couldn’t stop Kyle Lowry who was the best player on the floor Friday night. Lowry scored 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field, making six of his nine attempts from 3. They also couldn’t stop Pascal Siakam either. The fifth-year forward finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, hitting a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give Toronto a six-point advantage.

There was also a bit of confusion surrounding Kevin Durant, the star forward who only appeared in the game for 19 minutes.

Durant did not start the game and was forced to come off the bench due to the league’s coronavirus contact tracing health and safety protocol. He was later pulled from the game in the third quarter due to the same protocol, ending his night with eight points, six rebounds, five assists, a steal, a block and four fouls.

“Free me,” Durant tweeted after he was ruled ineligible.

Irving finished with just 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field, missing the shot in the final seconds that could have cut the Raptors’ lead to three. Joe Harris led the Nets with 19 points, making five 3s, and James Harden recorded yet another double-double: 17 points and 12 assists.

The Nets also got a solid performance from Landry Shamet, the reserve sharpshooter who made four 3s for 12 points.

The lesson in Brooklyn: It doesn’t matter how many 3s you can get to fall if you don’t protect the ball and you don’t get stops.