TORONTO — As Nick Nurse exited his post-game press conference Friday, he left with a parting comment: "Good night for the Raptors."
Kawhi Leonard had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lift the Raptors to their fourth consecutive victory, a lopsided 122-105 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
But the Raptors coach was referring to other results in the East, particularly a Milwaukee Bucks loss, that combined with Toronto’s win vaulted his team back to first place in the conference.
Eight Raptors scored in double figures. Pascal Siakam had 16 points, Serge Ibaka chipped in with 14 points and nine boards, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell had 13 points apiece, Delon Wright finished with 12, and Fred VanVleet and Greg Monroe each had 10 for the Raptors (32-12), whose seventh straight win at Scotiabank Arena tied their season high.
"We went into this thing as a marathon," said VanVleet.
"We’re about halfway through and starting to ramp it up and get a little more urgent about things. I think we’re starting to see that. We performed well for the first half of the year and now we’re trying to turn our gears a little bit, shift and just keep building but get a bit more urgency in things we need to get better at."
Leonard scored 20-plus points for a career-high 18th straight game. But it was the bench that was impressive, combining for 60 points — two shy of the season high.
"Played well," Kyle Lowry said of the second unit. "They played with energy, they played aggressive, they played assertive, they played with confidence. That’s what we needed from them."
D’Angelo Russell had 24 points to top the Nets (21-22).
The Nets might be seventh in the East, but they arrived in Toronto on a hot streak, winners of 13 of their previous 17 games.
It was the Raptors, however, playing the third of a three-game homestand, who were in the driver’s seat for most of the night, shrugging off a lackadaisical first-quarter defensive effort to take a 12-point lead in the second. By the end of the third quarter they led 99-75.
"Our transition defence started out kind of poor and we started showing a little bit more length and deflections …." Nurse said. "We started getting to the rim a little bit more, we started moving the ball. I think we ended up with 32 assists tonight, which is a big number."
Nurse sat his starters for the final frame, allowing Leonard and Lowry a rare fourth quarter off. The Nets sliced the Raptors’ lead to 13 points with a 12-0 run capped by a Shabazz Napier basket with five minutes to play. But Toronto responded with an 8-0 run of its own, sending fans to the exits to beat the rush with a couple of minutes play.
"They capitalized on our turnovers (17 for 20 points), and they capitalized on our missed shots," Russell said. "I think we were there basket-for-basket early, until we started missing and turning the ball over a little bit."
The Raptors, who’ve won 13 of their last 14 games against Brooklyn, shot 45.7 per cent on the night and 31.4 per cent from three-point range.
The Raptors were sluggish on the defensive end in the first quarter, and paid for it — the Nets shot 60 per cent from beyond the arc and 50 per cent from the field. Napier’s driving hook shot with 15 seconds left in the frame capped a 14-1 run that gave the Nets a nine-point lead. Brooklyn led 35-28 after one quarter.
The Raptors bounced back in the second. VanVleet’s three was the punctuation mark on an 18-4 run that gave Toronto a 12-point advantage late in the half. They took a 64-53 lead into the halftime break.
The Raptors head to Washington to face the Wizards on Sunday, and battle the Celtics in Boston on Wednesday before returning home to host Phoenix on Jan. 17.