Raptors welcome back full arena in Toronto with tight victory over hobbled Nets

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A full arena stood and cheered on Toronto over the final few exciting minutes on Tuesday — a sound the Raptors hadn’t heard in two-and-a-half months.

The Raptors rewarded them with a win.

Gary Trent Jr., scored 24 points, while rookie Scottie Barnes had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead Toronto to a 109-108 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

“The whole time the last couple months it has been an empty arena. This is a big arena to be empty,” Trent Jr., said. “It was very quiet in here, you had to bring your own energy. But now we can do that with the crowd behind us and within ourselves.”

Pascal Siakam, who had 18 points on the night, added: “You could hear a pin drop when we played in here before.”

Malachi Flynn chipped in with 15 points, and Khem Birch and Thaddeus Young scored 11 apiece for the Raptors (34-27), who beat the Nets for the second straight night, despite missing starters Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby.

Former Raptor James Johnson led the Nets (32-31) with 19.

The Raptors had clobbered the Nets in Brooklyn 133-97 the previous night, stretching their seventh-place gap in the Eastern Conference over the eighth-place Nets. Toronto appeared poised to ride that momentum through Tuesday, racing out to an early 11-point lead. But it was short-lived and the Raptors trailed by eight to start the fourth quarter.

Barnes’ jumper with 4:06 to play capped a 7-0 Raptors run that had them up by a point. A floater from Trent Jr., then a dunk from Young stretched the difference to five with 1:50 to play.

But the Nets didn’t back down, and a three-point heave from Seth Curry tied it up with 51 seconds left. The Raptors locked it down on the defensive end over the dying seconds, and Trent Jr.’s free throws sealed the victory. Johnson connected on a three with less than a second on the clock but it was too little too late for the Brooklyn.

“Obviously a tough-fought game,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I told the team, they’ve got a lot of guys out there who played a lot of ball games, some experienced guys out there so I thought our guys did a good job of hanging in there.

“Really proud that we just hung in there and stayed with it when it was kinda tough.”

The delighted Scotiabank Arena crowd of 18,903 was just shy of a sellout of 19,800.

The Raptors hadn’t played in front of a full house at home since Dec. 13 versus Sacramento, when the rise of COVID-19 cases amid the Omicron variant saw Ontario locked down again. The Raptors played in front of a few dozen friends and family members in a desolate setting that Nurse had said “sucks.” But a capacity crowd was permitted as of Tuesday, under the provincial government’s accelerated lifting of restrictions. No proof of vaccine was necessary, and while fans were instructed to wear masks, many did not.

Nets guard Goran Dragic got a tough reception from Toronto fans, who booed the maligned former Raptor every time he touched the ball.

“They really have fun doing that. Don’t they? They were ready. Man, they were ready,” Nurse said with a laugh. “They didn’t take the foot off the gas the whole game. They really have fun with that. Get it out of your system.”

Dragic was briefly a Raptor but left the team for personal reasons in November. Toronto traded him for Young at last month’s trade deadline.

Nash, Durant out for Nets

The Nets were without head coach Steve Nash on Tuesday. The Canadian was placed in COVID-19 health and safety protocols shortly before Monday’s game. Assistant coach Jacque Vaughn ran the team in his place.

Brooklyn was also without superstar Kevin Durant, who’s missed 21 games with a sprained knee ligament plus Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons.

A night after Barnes hit his first 11 shots in Brooklyn, the rookie was a perfect 4-for-4 for 10 points to help the Raptors to an 11-point lead. Toronto led 33-25 to end the frame.

An 18-7 Nets run put the visitors up by four points midway through the second quarter, and the Raptors headed into halftime trailing 59-55.

A three-pointer from Young put Toronto up by two points late in the third, but the Nets fired back with a 14-2 run, and led 89-81 with one quarter to play.

The Raptors host Detroit on Thursday and Orlando on Friday before departing on a five-game road trip.

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