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Caris LeVert’s career night not enough to top scorching hot Raptors, 119-118

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The Nets almost pulled off a miracle...

Brooklyn Nets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Just a tip.

That was the difference between Brooklyn winning this game ... and the ultimate outcome, a 119-118 loss.

After trailing by as many as 18, Caris LeVert and the Nets came storming back in the fourth quarter. They trailed by one point with 22 seconds left. LeVert had the ball — the game — in his hands with 11 seconds left — a career-high 37 points to his name.

LeVert looked unsure what his heroic move might be. Confusion loomed and the Nets had a timeout, but they never used it. LeVert stepped back into a tough contested shot and missed completely. Wilson Chandler kept the ball alive and Joe Harris just barely missed a put-back as time expired. (See: Duke at UNC from earlier today).

“We wanted to go earlier,” Kenny Atkinson said after the game ... with countless replays showing him telling Spencer Dinwiddie to get into the play earlier.

While Toronto denied Brooklyn (23-28) a third straight win, Toronto (39-14) won their 14th straight game, 119-118, Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena. Caris LeVert was phenomenal with his career-high 37 points and a career-high tying six 3-pointers. Over the three games that Kyrie Irving has missed with a right knee sprain, LeVert has scored 89 points, a 29.7 point average.

It wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t because of the final play. It wasn’t because Kenny didn’t call a timeout. It was because the Nets failed to play good basketball for 48 minutes, specifically on the defensive end.

Toronto scored 33 points in the first quarter; 33 points in the second quarter; 34 points in the third quarter.

“Our defense, we just couldn’t get stops until the fourth quarter,” said Atkinson.

LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie opened up the game by scoring a combined 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting. Behind the lead of the backcourt duo, the Nets scored 36 points and led by three entering the second quarter, having shot 7-of-15 from three with only one turnover.

By halftime, the Nets trailed by 12. The Raptors started the second quarter on a 14-2 run and outscored the Nets 33-18. They contained the duo of LeVert and Dinwiddie to only two combined points, and the Nets missed 11 of their next 13 3-point attempts.

LeVert kept going, though. Down 11, he nailed a three plus the foul, matching his career-high for points (29) for the second time this week, while also cutting Brooklyn’s deficit down to seven with 9:37 remaining. At that point, he also tied his career-high for 3-pointers in a game (six). He’s scored 20+ points in three consecutive games.

A couple stops later, the Nets found themselves down six following two free throws from Garrett Temple. They fought throughout with the little bit of life they had left, something we’ve seen from Atkinson’s teams in the past. DeAndre Jordan then volleyball-spiked the ball into the hoop (literally) and LeVert nailed a 12-foot floater to bring the Nets within three, 3:01 minutes remaining.

It was a 9-2 Nets run — and a new career-high for LeVert. Fred VanVleet answered with an and-one to give the Raptors a six-point lead. Both teams went back and forth, ultimately leading to a two-point game with a minute left.

The rest is history. Speaking of history, the Raptors continued their dominance of the Nets. Brooklyn has lost their sixth straight loss to Toronto, and their 10th consecutive defeat in Toronto. That’s their longest road skid against any Eastern Conference foe.

“Their length and athleticism have given us problems. Taking care of the ball against their scramble defense has been an issue. We’ve got to take care of it. That’s No. 1,” Atkinson said. “Then we’ve got to get back in transition. We’ve got to limit their transition opportunities. They’re one of the best in the league at doing that. So great challenge for us.”

Dinwiddie was spectacular with 21 points, six rebounds and 11 assists — his sixth double double of the season and DeAndre Jordan had 15 points, including more than one spectacular dunk and 14 boards. He played the whole fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, LeVert’s 37 points were the most scored by a Net against the Raptors since Vince Carter notched 39 points in 2008. The only Nets to score more points against the Raptors in a game than LeVert’s 37 are Carter and Richard Jefferson, who put up 39 more than a decade ago. But that provided little solace for the 25-year-old.

“We’re not into moral victories or anything like that. I would have rather just played OK and got the win,” he told the media post-game.

Brooklyn will face a reeling Indiana team on the road on Monday. Indy has lost five straight. It’s unlikely Kyrie Irving will be back, but considering everything, Brooklyn continues to weather the storm.

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QUESTIONS AT THE 4

At half, Taurean Prince was 1-for-8 from the field and 1-for-4 from three. Wilson Chandler was 0-for-4 from the field, all behind the arc. Meanwhile, Rodions Kurucs, who finished with 12 points in Brooklyn’s 41-point win over Golden State, sat the entire game. It’s worth noting that Kurucs is shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from three this season.

Prince finished with 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Chandler finished with six points on 1-of-7 shooting. However, Chandler came up with two huge defensive plays in the last minute of the game.

At least on offense, it feels like all of this goes against everything Kenny Atkinson has preached over the past three years. He says stick with the hot hand, which is absolutely Kurucs when talking about the rotation of power forwards. Furthermore, the Nets like to instill confidence when trying to develop players. Kurucs, 22, is getting benched for 32-year-old Chandler.

The 4 is so crucial in Brooklyn’s game because if that man is hitting his 3-pointers, the entire paint opens up for Jarrett Allen and the pick-and-roll game. Allen finished with three points. Backup DeAndre Jordan picked up the slack and finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

Is Kurucs in the dog house. Nope, says the coach.

“He’s on deck at that 4 position,” Atkinson said.

MILESTONES

In addition to being his career high, Caris LeVert’s 37 points marked the third straight game he’s scored 20 or more points, matching the longest streak of 20-point games in his career. He previously tallied 20+ points in three straight games from Noveber 2 - 6, 2018.

DeAndre Jordan (15 points and 14 boards) has recorded his sixth double-double of the season off the bench, matching Ed Davis’ team-leading total from all of last season. Jordan leads the league in rebounds per game off the bench and 10-rebound games off the bench as well this season.

Spencer Dinwiddie (21 points, 11 assists) registered his sixth double-double of the season. Dinwiddie’s single-season career-high for double-doubles is seven (2017-18 season).

FRIEND OF KEVIN’S? THEN YOU’RE A FRIEND OF SEAN’S!

The Nets stood pat at the trade deadline, but Woj had an interesting bit on Brooklyn’s DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is set to make $40 million over four years, and quite frankly, shedding some of that money would’ve given the Nets some wiggle room to make moves going forward.

But, DJ came here with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as friends, “family”, and they weren’t about to give that up. Nets also see DJ as a glue guy.

Of course, FOK aside, Jordan proved his mettle vs. Toronto. His $40 million over four may cause some fans to blanch, but right now, he’s giving the Nets good value.

There’s something else as well. As more than one pundit has said, the Nets are going to be in an evaluation mode the rest of the season as they wait for KD. They were not going to make any rash moves. Sean Marks makes his biggest moves around the Draft, not at the deadline. They are disciplined.

BUYOUT DEADLINE

Will the Nets also be quiet at the buyout deadline, which is March 1? Any player not on an NBA roster by the end of that day is eligible to join a playoff team. Already, players and their agents are talking to teams about the parameters of buyouts. Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been been waived and bought out by the Hornets. Williams is headed to Milwaukee, Kidd-Gilchrist seems likely to join the Mavericks. Two point guards, Tim Frazier and Isaiah Thomas, have been dumped by the Pistons and Clippers respectively. No indication where they’re headed.

Others who could be moved include Evan Turner who was traded to Minnesota on Thursday, and the Pistons’ Reggie Jackson, who is considering a buyout. The Celtics may be interested in Turner.

Then, there are those young players who will have to be cut to accommodate veterans who sign with new teams. Dragan Bender, the 7’1” power forward has disappointed since being taken at No. 4 in 2016, but is still only 22. He was waived by the Bucks Saturday so they could sign Williams. Would the Nets be interested? Even if they were, they’d have to create an open roster spot.

Watch this space.

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In an Instagram posting, the Nets’ medical director, Dr. Riley Williams III recalled his first meeting with Kobe Bryant...

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For a different perspective on the game, head on over to RaptorsHQ.com, our Raptors sister site on SB Nation.

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Next up: Monday at Indiana.