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Nets clinch playoff berth, defeating Raptors, 116-103

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The Nets cliched a playoff seed for the third-straight season after the win against Toronto.

Brooklyn Nets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images

For the third straight year, the Brooklyn Nets will be in the playoffs, the first step toward the ultimate goal... and in doing so, they got some revenge against the Raptors who had beaten them in 20 of their last 22 meetings.

After two losses to the relocated Raps, the Nets avoided a season-sweep with a 116-103 win in Tampa. As a result, Brooklyn became the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a post-season berth. They also improved to 42-20 on the season, one short of the franchise record for games over .500.

“It’s great. We have our eyes on bigger things but a nice first step to clinch a berth,” Steve Nash said. “For this group, facing all we faced to be in this position with 10 games left is very positive.”

With Brooklyn’s superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving having quiet nights, the Nets were led by their second unit down the stretch as well as balanced scoring. The Nets finished with seven of eight players in double-figures and dished 30 assists on 40 made shots.

Jeff Green paved the way for Brooklyn, scoring 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and 3-of-9 from deep. Green grabbed eight rebounds as well in a game-high 37 minutes of play.

Blake Griffin, whose gritty play provided more than enough spark, had a more-than-solid performance off the bench. The veteran scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds. He finished 6-of-11 shooting and 2-of-4 from deep in the win. Over the last five games, the 32-year-old is averaging 14.2 points a game ... and plenty of glorious plays that won’t be found on the box score.

“Blake was Blake. He’s making plays on both ends of the floor,” Green said of Griffin. “Being able to switch out. Offensively, putting defenses in a bind of being able to pop, playing in the post and he gave us a big post effort today when teams wanted to switch, so he was effective on both ends. He gave us a spark when we needed it.”

Mike James, the Nets 10-day guard, sparked Brooklyn’s late-game run as he finished with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field to go with eight assists and three rebounds. He was the only Net to play the whole fourth quarter and finished +9.

“He’s an athletic and skilled player. As long as he plays simple and makes good basketball plays like he has with us these first few games, he can play a role for us,” Nash said. “He has a burst of pace, gets in the paint, play draw-and-kick. He showed he can score the ball. We know that from his history,” Nash said. “If he can be that guard that ups the pace, that penetrates, draw the defense and makes the extra pass, that’s a huge value of our team.”

For the superstars, Durant finished with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from deep to go along with 10 boards and four assists in 33 minutes. Irving was the only Net to not finish in double-figures, contributing nine points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field.

“I think tonight, Toronto did a good job of junking up the game every time I touched the ball in my spots, they’d come and double” said Durant about his quiet(er) night. “So I just have to be patient and find the right pass and guys were open all night.”

The Raptors were led by Kyle Lowry, who had 24 points in 37 minutes followed by OG Anunoby with 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting in 32 minutes.

The Raptors came out of the gates with more energy, which was the difference-maker early. Toronto hit six of their first 14 shots while Brooklyn played sluggish, connecting on only two of their first nine shots. The Raptors forged a 10-2 run but the Nets remained in striking distance and upped their scrappiness.

While the Nets struggled to defend Lowry in the first frame, Brooklyn got a good boost from Griffin off the bench, scoring five points and snagging one board in five minutes. The Nets closed out the first frame with a rare two-handed slam from Joe Harris to cut the deficit to two.

The Raptors were dealing with foul trouble in the second quarter when OG Anunoby picked up his third while overplaying Kevin Durant on a backdoor cut. Other than the Raptors wing, Toronto had three other players with at least two fouls in the opening six minutes of the second quarter.

Given all of Toronto’s foul trouble, Brooklyn applied pressure on the driving lanes and in the paint to go on a 13-3 run while growing their lead to seven with 4:10 remaining in the second. The Nets, once again, got a boost from Griffin, who ended with 10 points and three rebounds at the break due to his scrappy play. Despite a slow final two minutes to end the first half for both squads, offensive rebounding, led by Khem Birch with five, from the Raptors did major damage to Brooklyn’s defense, resulting in 15 second-chance points.

The Nets shot the ball well in the first two frames, hitting 44.7 percent from the floor and 40.0 percent from deep, led by Green’s 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting overall and Landry Shamet with 10 points in 21 minutes. The Nets had a four-point cushion at the break.

Both teams continued to find consistency shooting the long ball. Matt Brooks hit it on the nail, noting how going small doesn't always have its perks.

Out of a Raptors timeout with six minutes remaining in the third, the 3-balls started to fall for Brooklyn as they did for the Raptors. Toronto began converting their stops into an effective transition offense, forging a 17-4 run that erased a 10-point Nets advantage into a three-point Raptors lead heading into the final 12 minutes of play. Despite trailing by three, Brooklyn wasn’t getting their usual firepower from their two stars. Durant and Irving combined for 19 points heading into the fourth and KD only attempted five shots (3-of-5 from the field) in 25 minutes.

It was time for the bench mob to show what it could do. Brooklyn got a 13-2 push from the second unit in the opening minutes of the fourth behind the gritty play of Griffin and Joe Harris’ marksmanship. James served as the floor general to create looks and hit two threes during the hot span.

“They were great. Tyler, Mike James was great. We played with a little more pace, which made it more difficult for them. We were able to spread them out, make plays, made some shots, made them guard in space and we were scrappy defensively,” Nash said on the second unit's play in the fourth. “Really proud of the second unit, for sure.”

The Nets continued to their late offensive charge and got the stops they needed late to hold off a late Raptors push, finishing with a 13-point win. Brooklyn outscored Toronto 36-20 in the final frame.

“Just all the adversity that we fought through this year with all the injuries, protocols, trade situations, guys getting in and out of the lineup,” said KD summing up the year ... so far. “Very proud of everybody top to bottom, everybody in the organization but especially our coaching staff that put us all in great positions to be successful every night. A lot of the credit goes to them.”

The Film Room

Look, this is a long season. A grueling, compact, volatile schedule full of highs and lows. There have been SO, so many games. So many recaps. So many film rooms!

Which is why it’s important to break up the monotony a little bit. Crack a smile. Sneak in a few jokes. Laugh a little bit. Life’s too short to not enjoy when the fates so kindly provide us with something to chuckle at.

And goodness gracious did this specific play down the stretch have me (hi, Matt here!) in stitches. Let’s set the stage a little bit. Mike James was raining hellfire on the city of Toront-, sorry, Tampa by knocking in 9 fourth-quarter points with the confidence that only a 10-day contract player fighting for his NBA life could have. He was swishing floaters, canning stepback jumpers, LOOKING OFF Kevin Durant for a foot-on-the-line 22-footer (again, this game was absolutely ridiculous and frankly hilarious). Sticking to its swarming defense while clinging on while down by just a 7-point deficit, the Raptors did the unthinkable.

They blitzed Mike James, who had literally been with the Nets for FOUR DAYS, at halfcourt...

...To leave a weakside of Joe Harris and KEVIN DURANT open with just one defender helplessly splitting the difference between the two top-10 snipers. Yes, that’s right. Mike James, who hadn’t played an NBA game since the year 2018, drew a double team with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, and Jeff Green on the floor, eventually leading to a wide-open three from perhaps the greatest scorer of all time. No biggie.

Like... WHY?!

I’ve seen creative methods of tanking before, but this might take the cake. Bravo, Toronto. Thank you for making my night with a much-needed laugh, even if it wasn’t exactly intentional. In a season like this, it’s much appreciated.

Steve Nash provides updates on James Harden, Nicolas Claxton, and Bruce Brown

Kickstarting a two-game road-trip, Steve Nash provided updates on some players placed on the injury report, starting with James Harden.

“He’s here with us,” said Nash about Harden prior to the game in Tampa. “He was shooting this morning. He’s just starting to build up what his capacity is, you know he’s not doing any high-intensity stuff but he’s shooting and doing all his strength and rehabilitation work. Positive signs there but he’s still I think aways to go.”

Bruce Brown, meanwhile, will be out the next two games due to knee swelling, though the team expects him back by Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

“Just some soreness, swelling in his knee so he’s not on this trip, but we expect him back on Friday. The word that he gave me was that it wasn’t limiting him so much, but I think when you have that much fluid in it, it’s beneficial to take it out, and then when you take it out, you do need a few days. He’s positive, optimistic as we are that he’ll be back Friday.”

Nash did not, however, provide any comments about Nicolas Claxton, who missed his fifth-straight game since originally being placed on the league’s health and safety protocols on April 27th.

Spencer Dinwiddie ahead of schedule but no update on when he will rejoin the Nets

Steve Nash said Spencer Dinwiddie is ahead of schedule in his rehab (partially torn ACL) and is progressing very well in his injury reports. The Nets head coach hasn’t spoken to his injured guard.

Nash also believes Dinwiddie will rejoin the team but there is no timetable for a potential return. It is worth noting that with Dinwiddie potentially rejoining Brooklyn, that doesn’t mean he’ll be available to play. He can rejoin the team just to be around his teammates.

“I haven’t spoken to him and day-to-day, I’m not sure on that, but he’s definitely doing very well progressing in his injury reports,” Nash said. “His rehab is going well, he’s ahead of schedule and is feeling really good for the stage of the recovery. I’m not sure when he’s coming back but the word is that he is going to be back with the team at some point. I don’t have a date, but I believe he will join us at some point.”

DNP’s include two rotation players

The Nets had 11 healthy players on Wednesday night. Eight played and seven scored in double figures. Only Kyrie Irving (nine points) finished with fewer than 10. However, two players who are normally part of the rotation got DNP-CD’s: DeAndre Jordan and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Rookie Reggie Perry was the other. As Steve Nash has said, he’ll be looking at minutes on a “situational” basis.

James contract situation .. a refresher

Mike James is now half way through his 10-day contract but under league rules, he can be extended another 10 days after the initial deal expires. His current 10-day will end on Sunday. The Nets do not have to extend him immediately. If they decide to extend him starting Monday, his second 10-day would end four days before the final game of the regular season. In theory, they could also wait and begin his second 10-day a few days later to ensure he goes through the end of the regular season on May 16.

In any case, if the front office wants to reserve a roster spot for him in the post-season, they’ll have to sign him to a standard (or two-way) contract before the playoffs begin. The NBA’s play-in tournament begins May 18 and the playoffs begin May 22.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will return back to action Thursday when the team travels to Indiana to face the Indiana Pacers. The game is the first game of a back-to-back and is scheduled to tip at 7:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Raptors HQ - our sister site covering the Toronto Raptors.