TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors will not remember win No. 54 of the season with any fondness.
It took a fourth-quarter comeback led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to catch lowly Brooklyn and post a 116-112 victory Friday — Toronto's 12th straight over the Nets.
The two Toronto stars combined for 21 points in a final quarter that saw the Raptors outscore the Nets 32-21. Prior to that, the top team in the East looked shaky on both offence and defence.
"We were not sharp whatsoever," said Toronto coach Dwane Casey. "We didn't deserve to win that game. We found a way down the stretch but that's not playoff basketball, that's not winning basketball whatsoever. So many mental mistakes, it's like we're in a fog.
"And if we're serious about winning, we'll get some focus, throughout, with everybody, one through 15."
Casey made his feeling known when he gave the hook to starters DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, O.G. Anunoby and Serge Ibaka some four minutes into the third quarter.
"I don't want to embarrass players like that but, again, I owe it to the organization, I owe it to our fans to make sure we get guys out there who are going to compete," said Casey. "Whoever was out there tonight just wasn't in sync. We just had to get five guys out there to compete, to fight and have their give-a-crap level a little higher."
Casey pointed to a lack of focus, the kind that usually comes before Christmas or the all-star break.
"I don't remember anything encouraging," he said of the game.
The coach's bleak take was shared in the locker-room
"He wasn't happy, we weren't happy. We shouldn't be happy," said backup guard Fred VanVleet.
"It was terrible," added DeRozan, who sat hunched over his phone for an extended period after the game. "For us to come out and play like we did, it's terrible. We can't have lapses like that."
Brooklyn led by as many as 14 in the third. But led by Lowry's 10 points in the quarter, the Raptors closed the gap to 91-84 going into the fourth.
A driven DeRozan, who had just nine points on 4-of-12 shooting in the first three quarters, scored the Raptors' first five points of the fourth as Toronto clawed its way back.
Trailing 99-96 with 5:31 remaining, Toronto went on an 11-2 run to lead by six with 2:10 remaining. A DeMarre Carroll three-pointer pulled Brooklyn to within three at 112-109 with 31.3 seconds remaining. A subsequent five-second inbounding violation ended the comeback attempt with Toronto going 4-of-6 at the free throw line the rest of the way.
Lowry finished with 25 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds while Valanciunas had 23 points. DeRozan added 21 on 8-of-21 shooting. Six Raptors scored in double figures.
"Credit to them," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "They are an elite team. They have two great players. They made some tough plays down at the end."
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Allen Crabbe and D'Angelo Russell each had 18 for the Nets. Russell also had 13 assists and 11 rebounds for his first career triple-double.
The Raptors (54-19) came into the game having lost two of their last three — losses to Oklahoma City and Cleveland sandwiched around a win in Orlando — after tying a club-record with 11 straight wins.
The Nets (23-50) offered a reverse picture. They arrived having won two of three but had lost 20 of their last 25. Brooklyn had also lost its last 11 games with Toronto, its longest active losing streak against any opponent.
Brooklyn was coming off a painful 111-105 loss to Charlotte that saw the Nets blow a 23-point lead and Hornets star Dwight Howard score 32 points and pull down 30 rebounds.
Toronto's defence was missing in action early as Brooklyn, which ranked 25th in the league with 106.2 points per game, scored 64 on the Raptors in the first half to lead by five.
Prior to the game, Casey pointed — in part — to a congested schedule and resulting lack of practice for the team's recent defensive shortcomings.
Lowry, who was averaging 6.7 assists a game, had six in a first quarter that saw Valanciunas lead Toronto with 11 points. Brooklyn led 32-31 going into the second quarter.
Toronto started the second with a cold shooting hand and trailed 64-59 at the half despite nailing six three-pointers in the quarter.
Only Valanciunas, with four trips, made it to the free throw line for Toronto in the first half.
There was a break in the action in the third quarter as officials checked the level of the rim near the Raptors' bench, after a request by Lowry.
The Raptors have made at least 10 three-pointers in 15 consecutive games, a franchise record.
Lowry sank a three-pointer to open the second half to break his own single-season franchise-record of 212 three-pointers, set during the 2015-16 season. Lowry had made 18-of-29 three-point attempts in the three previous games.
Casey credited Lowry's work ethic and the fact that he is playing fewer minutes for his improved shooting from distance, saying "he's not as worn down as he has been the last few years."
"But he's made himself into a great three-point shooter," he added. "The guy works on it. We run a lot of sets for him to get them."
Toronto came into the game with a team record 849 three-pointers made this season. The previous single-season mark was 726, set in 2014-15.
Crabbe made two three-pointers in the first half to erase the Nets' single-season record of 169 set by Deron Williams in 2012-13.
Friday's game marked the opening of a three-game homestand for the Raptors, with games Sunday against the Clippers and Tuesday against Denver.
Toronto is an NBA-best 30-6 at home this season. The franchise record for home wins in a season is 32, set in 2015-16.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press