TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors were lagging in the first half of Tuesday night’s game, showing the malaise that can creep in during the dog days of a long season.
So Dwane Casey reminded them, in a halftime speech sprinkled with "explicit words" according to Kyle Lowry, of just what they’re playing for.
Message received. DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points while Lowry added 23 plus nine assists to lift Toronto to a 104-99 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
"You’ve got to be excited about playing the game, play with passion," Casey said. "We’re playing for something. This organization? We may not be here again, there’s no guarantee that we’re going to be here again so let’s play with passion and some excitement and get that look in our eye."
Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson were solid off the bench, scoring 11 points apiece, while Bismack Biyombo had a team-high 10 rebounds for Toronto (42-20).
Brook Lopez scored 35 points to top the struggling Nets (18-46).
The Raptors were coming off a 113-107 loss to Houston, coughing up an 18-point lead down the stretch in their first defeat at home in more than two months. And for the first half Tuesday, the Nets looked poised to send Toronto fans home unhappy again.
"It shouldn’t take me going in at halftime jumping up and down and challenging them: ‘Who do you want to be?"’ Casey said.
"This is a fun game. I told the guys a while ago, you’d probably be somewhere in a gym playing basketball in a rec league somewhere if you weren’t an NBA player, you love the game. So why not play that way here… Let’s have fun, have a smile on our face and play with some excitement. We’re playing like we’ve got a two-by-four on our back."
The Nets — second last in the Eastern Conference — led by as many as 16 points before the Raptors clawed their way back into the game late in the third. They’d cut Brooklyn’s lead to 80-78 going into the fourth quarter.
The Raptors lit it up with four three-pointers to open the fourth, and a Patterson basket capped a 24-2 run that gave Toronto a 12-point lead. Biyombo had the Air Canada Centre roaring when he stole the ball off Lopez and then took a pass from Cory Joseph to finish with a massive dunk for a 14-point lead with 6:51 to play.
The Nets answered with a run of their own, cutting Toronto’s lead to just three points with 3:14 to play. Lowry finally put the game away for good with a floating jumper with 38 seconds to play.
Biyombo was strong on the defensive end on Brooklyn’s final possession — earning a hand slap from the team’s global ambassador Drake — to seal the victory.
DeRozan called Casey’s message "a good one."
"It was one we definitely needed, and the way we came out in the second half spoke volumes for how he came in and really got on us, and we responded like we were supposed to," he said. "Just go out there and not think so much, go out there and have fun, compete at the highest level but at the same time have fun doing it, and that’s what we did."
Lowry said people don’t understand the grind of an 82-game season.
"Yes we get paid good money and yes we are treated very well, but it’s a grind, mentally, physically on your body," he said. "But the love for the game and the passion that we have, we get through it and we appreciate every moment we step on that floor and play like it’s our last."
The Raptors rested Luis Scola for the night, earning Jason Thompson his first start since Toronto signed him last week. The Raptors shot 55 per cent in the first quarter and took a 28-23 lead into the second.
They could do little right in a second quarter that saw them outscored 35-14 by the Nets, and when Lopez hit a floating jumper at buzzer to signal halftime, the basket gave Brooklyn a 58-42 lead.
The Raptors host Atlanta on Thursday, and Miami on Saturday, before wrapping up their seven-game homestand against the Chicago Bulls on Monday.