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The End: Raptors sweep Nets in the 1st round, 150-122

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Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets - Game Three Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images

The next time you watch the Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be taking the court for them.

The Nets were swept out of the first round following a 150-122 loss against the reigning champs, the Toronto Raptors.

It’s 10 months to the day since the Nets opened their season at Barclays Center with a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, a game that featured a 50-point game by Kyrie Irving. In between, there were controversies, a string of injuries and illnesses, the unexpected firing of a popular head coach, a 142-day hiatus, daily social justice protests at the arena and, worse of all, tragedies, including the loss of 5,000 Brooklynites to COVID-19 ... and the death Sunday night of Joe Harris’ grandmother, announced at halftime.

They’ll now head home from Orlando with an eye on the search for the team’s next head coach, then the Draft and free agency. Honestly, there also has to be a sense of relief. They did their best in the worst of times, all that anyone could expect ... and more.

On the court, this is the second straight year the Nets have lost in the first round. This year’s sweep to the Raptors and last year’s 4-1 loss to the 76ers. They’ve made the playoffs five out of eight years in Brooklyn but have only made it out of the first round once.

They had their opportunities in the playoffs. They could’ve stole Game 2, but they squandered a 14-point lead. They never made it much of a competition in Game 3. Same goes for Game 4.

Oh well. It was, simply, not to be.

The Raptors fell in their own hole early, but it didn’t slow their pursuit of the franchise’s first series sweep. Fred VanVleet picked up three fouls in six minutes and Kyle Lowry exited the game in the first following an ankle injury. They still couldn’t get it done on the defensive side and allowed Toronto’s bench to score 100 points.

They went down by as many at 17 in the second quarter and gave up a franchise-worst 77 points in the first half. Caris LeVert did all he could with 26 points in the first half and 35 on the night, to go along with six rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Still, the Nets hung around and trailed by only nine at half, but Toronto adjusted and went on a 17-2 run to start the second half, which gave them a 24-point lead. It only went up from there — a 39-19 advantage in the quarter and 29-point lead entering the fourth.

Game over.

Toronto’s game plan was simple: Get the ball out of LeVert’s hands. And that’s exactly what they did. They utilized a box-and-one with Norman Powell as the primary defender.

It worked. Furthermore, they took Jarrett Allen out of the game again after they limited him to zero shot attempts in Game 3. In Game 4, Allen took just five shots. They took away Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll game and the defense wasn’t good enough to get stops and work in the open floor.

Jarrett Allen chipped in eight points and 15 rebounds and Tyler Johnson put home 13 points. Otherwise, there wasn't much help. The Nets shot 38 percent from the field, but they allowed Toronto to shoot 55 percent from the field and 46 percent from three. They also out-rebounded the Nets by 16.

Powell finished with 29 points, Serge Ibaka with 27 points and Pascal Siakam with 20.

LOOKING AHEAD

Post-game, Vaughn and his players spoke of the game, the season and the need for a rest after everything that’s happened since they gathered at HSS Training Center for camp nearly a year ago.

As Caris LeVert said, “Mentally, I need a break.” LeVert added that he believes in Vaughn and told reporters and that “It would be huge” if he returns as head coach next season, whenever (and wherever) that is.

Vaughn, asked if he’s confident he’d be able to coach superstars next season, responded, “What I am confident is my skillset as coach, my ability to communicate and relate to guys,” adding, “You can be examined by different eyes. That’s why it was so important that I showcase who I am…I hope every man in that locker room said I was authentic.”

Garrett Temple whose return will be up to the Nets —he has a $5 million team option said he too would like to see “JV” back. “I’m a big fan of JV…I’m a big fan of him. And I hope to be back here next year as well.”

And the always enthusiastic Tyler Johnson noted of his possible role in a crowded Nets backcourt next season, “I’m confident anywhere I go.”

THE BIG LOSS

Around halftime, the Harris family tweeted out that Alice Harris, Joe’s grandmother, had died.

Our deepest condolences to Joe and the rest of the Harris family of Chelan, Washington.

IT IS WHAT IT IS.

The Nets entered this thing without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Nicolas Claxton and Wilson Chandler. Even one of the players they signed to be a substitute, Michael Beasley, tested positive the coronavirus. In total, NINE Nets tested positive for the virus, four in March as the season shut down, then another five in June and July. At least two players had symptoms.

In the end, it was all on Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris; not to mention “interim” head coach Jacque Vaughn. Sean Marks picked up a roster full of replacements off the streets, guys like Tyler Johnson, Lance Thomas, Donta Hall and Jamal Crawford. He brought up some Long Island Nets’ G-League guys in Jeremiah Martin and Justin Anderson.

Brooklyn won five of their eight seeding games, including a historic upset over the Milwaukee Bucks and later another unlikely victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. They were projected to win two games by Las Vegas and came away with five.

Caris LeVert averaged 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game. He embraced the leadership role entering Orlando and thrived with the ball in his hands, showing an evolution in his game that we caught a glimpse of right before the season was suspended.

Jarrett Allen was a walking double double averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds on 67 percent shooting. Joe Harris stepped into the increase role and thrived, averaging 20 points on 54 percent from three.

Then, others came out of the abyss. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot came out of the wood work and averaged 15 points on 45 percent shooting from three.

Tyler Johnson, signed after being cut by the Suns in February, stepped up in a backup role and hit some big shots, scored a season-high and career playoff high all while chipping in 12 points per game.

Garrett Temple was the voice and veteran leader that they so longed for in such an unprecedented situation. He was a bit of an unsung hero through the bubble, averaging more than 10 points per game.

Crawford sat all three scrimmages and then the first two games of the seeding games. He checked in and made an immediate impact with five points and three assists in five minutes before injuring his hamstring, ending the anticipation around his return. Call it a noble experiment.

Finally, Vaughn showed his worth to this organization — and why he’s deserving of a head coaching position, whether it’s with the Nets or elsewhere. He expanded his bond even further with the team, both on and off the court.

It’s been a weird year, quite exhausting on a personal level having covered this team for seven seasons. The team’s next step is to figure out who will be coaching this team going forward. After that, the offseason.

And whenever it happens: KD and Kyrie will rocking the black-and-white come next season. And who knows who else?