Raptors turn to their starters to hold off Nets in Brooklyn

Raptors turn to their starters to hold off Nets in Brooklyn
Mindful that the game could be a first-round playoff preview, coach Nick Nurse said his team would play it close to the vest in their final meeting this season with Brooklyn. That didn’t mean he wasn’t going to ride his best players as hard as he had to.

Kawhi Leonard had 26 points against Brooklyn as three Raptors — Pascal Siakam (28), Leonard and Serge Ibaka (23) topped 2o points.  (Nathaniel S. Butler / GETTY IMAGES)

With mainly starters playing in the final five minutes of a tense, close game to get some welcome close-game experience, the Raptors pulled out a 115-105 victory at Barclays Centre, Toronto’s fifth win in a row.

After a group of five backups had almost frittered away a double-digit lead, Nurse went with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and a hot-shooting Serge Ibaka down the stretch.

They stretched the lead to 11 points with just about three minutes to go and hung on for the win.

Siakam missed the first five shots he took — including three three-point attempts — but finished 11-for-21 from the field and had 28 points to lead the Raptors.

If there was a discussion about a race between him and Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell as the league’s most improved player, Siakam may have scored a knockout with his performance.

Russell had 27 points but was stripped of the ball by Fred VanVleet on one of the crucial possessions in the final 30 seconds.

Brooklyn’s loss, along with Detroit’s loss at home to Indiana, an Orlando win in New York and Miami’s loss at home to Boston left the bottom of the Eastern Conference place in a muddle.

Heading into the last week of the regular season, the Pistons are 39-39, the Magic and Nets are both 39-40 and Miami is 38-40 in the race for the final three spots.

Ibaka made three three-pointers in his first five minutes on the court against the Nets (Green made seven threes against Orlando on Monday) as part of his 23-point night.

Ibaka finished with a season-high five three-pointers; he had four against Milwaukee on Dec. 9.

Anunoby was hit on the head late in that game. The team said he originally passed the NBA’s concussion tests that night but he has not played since. He took part in bits of a morning shootaround two days after the Chicago game but was an afternoon scratch for that game.

There is no word when he’ll be able to play again.

The graduate of the Raptors 905, with his two-way contract already converted to a full NBA deal, was named to the G League’s first all-star team, joining teammate Jordan Loyd.

Boucher was also named to the league’s all-defensive team. The Raptors 905 were eliminated in the G League conference semifinals last week.
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