Anyone who knows basketball understands how difficult it is to play a team back to back within a few days.
Now imagine doing it three times within a week and a half.
The main challenge in such a quick turnaround is the absence of surprise. The team and individual player personnel scouting is essentially ingrained into the minds of players and by now, the opposing teams plays are impossible to forget. Each team knows the game plan inside and out. They know what to expect.
In this case, the Long Island Nets and Raptors 905 played Monday night for the third time in eleven days. On top of the challenge of both teams knowing each other very well, the previous two games were each decided within two points. In fact, the statistical results were basically identical.
PPG: RAP 114 LI 114
RPG: RAP 49.5 LI 51
APG: RAP 27.5 LI 27
FG%: RAP 44% LI 47%
3PT%: RAP 30% LI 31%
Talk about evenly matched. Without the element of surprise, a win from this matchup would be more about execution and details. It was anyone’s game.
Monday’s and last Thursdays matchup was almost indistinguishable: The Nets played well the first three quarters and yet, somehow managing to lose everything they worked for in the fourth, losing the first meeting and then barely hanging on in the second.
Déjà vu all over again. Taking an eight-point lead within the first four minutes of the game, the Nets started out well. Despite their inability to capitalize on the Raptors turnovers, resulting in empty possessions of contested threes or simply turning it right back over, the Nets were tied by the end of the first quarter.
And then…it began. The unforced turnovers. Sloppy. Lackadaisical. Unintentional. Both teams failed to value possessions, thus resulting in a “trading of baskets” in the second quarter. Still, the Nets headed to the locker room up four.
The Nets paid attention to detail in the third quarter. Although the turnovers continued, they stretched the lead to eight at the seven-minute mark and were up as much as 12 points in the third. John Egbunu came off the bench scoring in the paint and dominating the glass, a spark they needed. As a team, they were energized on the defensive end and knocked down some outside shots. Finally. A bright spot for the Nets all game, two-way forward Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, scored a team-high 20 points, along with six rebounds and three assists. For the Raptors, Tyler Ennis found the bottom of the net, finishing with 26 points. However, it was a buzzer beater at the end of the third quarter by Shamorie Ponds that foreshadowed the fate of the game.
Finishing games is one of the weaknesses for the Long Island nets this season. They’ve lost eight games within 11 or 12 points and five within five points…an unfortunate trend that continued against the Raptors. The beginning of the fourth quarter went as such:
Two point basket for the Raptors. Turnover for the Nets. Two point basket for the Raptors.
A double-digit lead quickly diminished into five points as Ponds went on a 7-0 run himself. Ponds knocked down shot after shot, putting the Raptors team on his back. The Raptors shot 8-38 from beyond the arc, but knocked them down when it counted. Ponds even got a three pointer to fall that bounced around the rim three times. A very FRIENDLY bounce. In addition to Ponds catching fire, it was as if the Nets were playing to “not lose” versus playing to win. They lacked a leader—someone to step up and be a consistent force in the fourth quarter. And similar to the rest of the game, the turnover epidemic continued to plague the Nets until the final seconds. Ponds finished the game with 25 points and the 905 Raptors walked away with an eleven-point road win, 106-95.
As frustrating as it may be for Nets players, coaches, and fans, there is a long season ahead. Focusing on “controlling the controllables” (turnovers) could be a great start in changing close losses to W’s. The Long Island Nets return to play Wednesday morning at 11AM ET for another home game matchup against the Westchester Knicks.