Patrick Patterson said the memory of last year’s Raptors’ playoff run, and the heartbreaking way it ended, was on his mind from the moment he woke up Wednesday morning.
If Wednesday night was a chance at payback, the Raptors accomplished it with a slam dunk — a 105-89 rout of the rival Brooklyn Nets.
“I’m definitely happy that we won the game, that we handled our business out there,” Patterson said. “It was a bit of revenge in my eyes, even though it’s a different team, even though they have different personnel, it was still a great environment, just like Game 7.”
Kyle Lowry had 20 points and 12 assists, while Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors (20-6), who reached 20 wins before Christmas for the first time in franchise history.
Patterson, Amir Johnson, and Greivis Vasquez finished with 13 points apiece.
The game marked the first meeting between the two teams since the Nets dispatched the Raptors in seven games in the opening round of the playoffs — a spirited series that saw Raptors GM Masai Ujiri drop an F-bomb, and drew thousands of fans to Maple Leaf Square each game.
But Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Wednesday’s game, which was also “Drake Night,” wasn’t about revenge.
“We’re on a different path. Next game. I’m already thinking about Detroit (Friday),” Casey said.
He said he’s proud of the team’s record as the fastest to reach 20 wins. But the coach is never one to celebrate.
“We are proud, everything we’ve done is to benefit the growth of our team,” Casey said. “But as you see, we have a lot of areas that we can improve on. I’m a realist, where I’m going to continue to pick out the places where we need to grow and get better.”
The Raptors entered the night with a half-game lead over idle Washington atop the Eastern Conference, and a full eight games ahead of the Nets in the race for the Atlantic Division title.
The two teams paced each other for most of the night in a game that saw 11 lead changes through the first three quarters. The Raptors took just a 76-73 advantage into the fourth.
But the Raptors have become known for their strong fourth quarters, especially at the Air Canada Centre, and Wednesday was no different. When Patterson drained a three-pointer with 4:35 to play, it put the Raptors up by 14 and brought the fans out of their seats.
The Raptors owned the Nets over the final few minutes. When Joe Johnson went 0-for-3 at the free throw line, chants of “Brooklyn sucks!” rolled around the arena. And by the time Vasquez scored on a three-pointer with a minute to play, it gave the Raptors an 18-point lead.
Much to the fans’ delight, rookie Bruno Caboclo made an appearance — the second of his career — for the game’s final few seconds, prompting chants of “Let’s go Bru-no!”
“He went in for the wrong guy, too. We have to get that cleaned up,” Casey said, with a chuckle.
“I tell you what, the young kid is going to be a player,” the coach added. “I’ve never seen a young kid work as hard as he works on his game each and every day. He lives basketball, he sleeps it. . . so he’s living the dream right now and I’m so happy for him.”
Mason Plumlee had 23 points to top the Nets (10-14), while Joe Johnson added 17.
The Raptors dropped Game 7 of last season’s playoff series in a 104-103 loss to the Nets at the ACC.
Casey said it took him a couple of months to get over that loss.
“Going over each play, what we could have done different — the whole series, the playoff approach,” the coach said. “When you’re that intense for that period of time, it takes a while to shut it down.”
Drake hosted his second annual “Drake Night.” All 19,800 fans were given keepsake T-shirts, and the Canadian rapper, who’s also the team’s global ambassador, did the pre-game player introductions.
Drake said he chose the Nets for his night because of the obvious rivalry.
“If there’s anybody that I want to beat, it’s the Nets,” Drake said. “Obviously, I’ve got much love for New York and Brooklyn but in this particular arena at this particular moment, the one thing I want to do is knock out Brooklyn.”
The Raptors allowed the Nets to shoot 59 per cent in the first quarter, and trailed by 11 points after a three-pointer by Mirza Teletovic with 1:38 left in the frame. The Nets took a 30-22 advantage into the second.
Johnson led the way with seven points and five boards in a second quarter that saw the Raptors outscore the Nets 31-22. Lowry banked a jumper off the glass to send them into the halftime break up 53-52.
Valanciunas poured in 10 points in the third, and the Raptors took a six-point lead on a dunk from Landry Fields. They led by three with one quarter left.
The Raptors are in Detroit on Friday, then return home to host the New York Knicks on Sunday. . . They head west for a gruelling six-game road trip while the world junior hockey championships are in Toronto.