• Erik Slater

Russell's hot start not enough as Raptors drop Nets

D'Angelo Russell started Tuesday night's game against the Raptors about as hot as you could imagine. The 22-year-old drained his first seven three-point attempts on his way to a 24-point first quarter.

However, the hot start was not enough as the east-leading Raptors stormed back to defeat the Nets 116-102.

Russell finished with 32 points on 7-12 shooting from three. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 19 points in 27 minutes off the bench.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey opted to put Fred VanVleet on Russell following his hot start. The second-year guard blanketed Russell, not allowing him to score in the second quarter.

"I thought VanVleet came in and changed the game. His pressure, his aggressiveness, hit grit, he really changed the game," Kenny Atkinson said.

VanVleet was a tremendous plus 31 on the night. The next highest plus minus for Toronto was plus 7.

Brooklyn rode Russell's first quarter explosion to a 10-point halftime lead. The Nets started the third quarter strong and extended the lead to 15. Despite this, the lead never felt like one Brooklyn would be able to sustain.

Toronto would go on a 15-0 run to tie the game. Brooklyn hung around, but ultimately the Raptors proved to be too much.

Throughout the game, Toronto scored in the paint while Brooklyn relied on the three-pointer. The Raptors outscored the Nets 62-36 in the paint.

Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka protected the rim wonderfully, not allowing Brooklyn to get comfortable when driving to the basket.

“They have two big-time rim protectors in Ibaka and Valanciunas, which allows them to be aggressive on the perimeter. Thats why they're a heck of a defensive team,” Atkinson said.

Valanciunas dominated the paint with Jarrett Allen sidelined. The six-year veteran scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.

Atkinson chose not to play Jahlil Okafor with Allen out. Dante Cunningham recieved the start with Quincy Acy receiving minutes off the bench.

Brooklyn's defense was once again a major problem. Each time Russell made a three in the first quarter, the Raptors would score on the other end with what seemed like no resistance.

The Nets led 92-91 with 9:30 remaining. C.J. Miles proceeded to score 12 points in the next 2:15 to open up an eight-point lead.

Brooklyn was able to cut the lead to three with 5:48 remaining. Enter DeMar Derozan. The All-Star was relatively quiet in the win, scoring just eight points through the first three quarters.

Despite the quiet start, Derozan scored seven straight points in the final 4:10 to close the door on Brooklyn.

This is what other teams have that the Nets do not, closers. Brooklyn shot 5-20 in the fourth quarter and scored just two points in the final 5:48.

This is the drawback of having a team as young as the Nets. Sean Marks and Atkinson will have 14 remaining games to access the Nets' roster.