Nets deliver signature performance for 5-game winning streak

If the Nets were going to extend their winning streak to five games, it wasn’t going to be easy.

They’d have to do it in Toronto, a city they have lost in 10 straight times, against a well-coached Raptors team, in front of a rabid fan base that had its franchise relocated to Tampa Bay last season.

They’d have to grit out a win against one of the league’s best defenses, on the same night All-Star forward Pascal Siakam made his season debut returning from a shoulder injury.

They would have to play almost perfectly, against a stingy Raptors team that incorporated Rookie of the Year frontrunner Scottie Barnes into its system this season.

And they’d have to do it while one of their best players watches from afar, perpetually unable to help due to his vaccination status.

Yet the Nets answered the bell with a convincing 116-103 win at Scotiabank Arena that solidifies the idea that they are who they say they are: championship contenders, because contenders find ways to win, even if it’s a game they might traditionally lose. It was the best win of the Nets’ season, by a landslide, a statement game where the Nets proved teams won’t have an edge just by virtue of energy and effort.

The Nets countered the Raptors’ daunting defense with crisp ball movement, registering 29 assists with six players scoring in double figures. They continued to flex their newfound defensive muscles, holding the Raptors to just 25% shooting from three.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said two games ago that the defense was ahead of the offense. Well, that offense is starting to catch up. Cue the scary hours.

And when all else failed, the scary hours truly began. Kevin Durant scored 31 points and James Harden had his most explosive game with 28 points and eight assists to only two turnovers. Durant was the bail-out option: When the Nets’ offense faltered, Durant broke the Raptor defense down and either netted a pull-up jumper from the foul line or got to the basket and drew a foul.

Durant shot 11-of-18 from the line and dished seven assists, often as a result of the defense collapsing on him after he blew by a defender. Harden shot 10-of-20 from the field in easily his best game of the season.

And the Nets are now winners of five straight games, hitting their stride at the 10-game mark of the early season.

The Nets opened the floodgates with a 35-17 third quarter. Durant scored 13 points in the period, and said the team reviewed film at the half to see where they could get better in the second half.

Blake Griffin had his best game of the season and found his long-lost three-point shot. Griffin shot 4-of-6 from downtown and finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. It was his first double double of the season and a welcome sight after his struggles to start the year. And the Nets needed it against a Raptors team that didn’t lie down.

“They’re a scrappy team. I know it’s overlooked, but we can’t take anybody for granted,” star guard James Harden said ahead of the matchup. “Every game, we approach it like we’re focused on ourselves and we’ve got to get the best out of ourselves every single night.”

The Nets now head to Chicago to face a star-laden Bulls team, headlined by Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Lonzo Ball, looking to end its own losing skid. That’s just another tough challenge Brooklyn will have to solve to keep their winning streak alive.