Mamma mia! Nets serve up win

carter_250.jpg

TORONTO
– Not even four minutes into the game, an ad appeared on the video scoreboard
saying fans would get free pizza today with their ticket stubs if the Raptors
scored 100 points against the Nets. If? That popular Toronto pizza chain was sweating.

After all, the Nets give up 100 points as easily as the site
of Vince Carter incites the fans up here.

Well, Carter was booed, but the pizzeria was cheering. The
Nets played defense perhaps better than they have all season, beating the
Raptors, 94-87, Monday night in Air Canada Centre.

Think about this: the Nets came in allowing 335 points in
their last three games – all losses — and gave up 127 and 101 in two games
against Toronto
this season.

At the time of the ad, the score was 16-2, Raptors. But the
Nets, who improved to 12-11, didn’t quit on the defensive end, especially in
the fourth period when they held the Raptors to 17 points on 4 of 20 shooting.

Few were happier than Carter, because he loves winning in
Toronto, even though the fans were much tamer than the last time the Nets were
here. But the happiest person of all had to be coach Lawrence Frank.

He wants the Nets to be a defensive team first, something
they’ve struggled with this season because they don’t have the type of
personnel they used to have.

The Nets have no lock-down defenders, but he has been stressing team defense, and you saw what the
Nets can do when they play it collectively. Of course, some of the Raptors’
misses were good looks, but for the most part, the Nets contested shots and
played just as hard on the less fun end of the court as on the one everyone
loves.

“Our guys did a great job defensively,” Frank said.
“Usually that’s what it takes to win on the road. It’s not outscoring teams
like we’ve done in prior games. Holding them to 17 points in the fourth quarter;
I thought was tremendous.”

It was.

The Nets looked as if they were headed toward their fourth straight loss. They
had a bad stretch in the third that led to 13 unanswered points by the Raptors
and a 70-60 lead with under a minute remaining.

But down nine early in the fourth, the Nets picked up their
game on both ends. It was Devin Harris starting everything on the offensive end
of the floor and everyone chipping in on defense.

The Raptors opened the fourth period scoring with two free
throws with 10:22 left. Over nearly the next eight minutes, the Raptors scored
just two points. In that time, Harris led the Nets on a 25-2 run with 13
points. Ryan Anderson added seven in the surge that gave the Nets an 88-74
cushion.

It’s not often the Nets will win games with Carter
scoring just four points in the fourth period, especially not in this building,
where the fans bring out his best. But they weren’t badgering him as much, and
he wasn’t needed to score late because of the Nets’ defense.

It gave them the cushion they needed. They avoided a second
loss to the Raptors in four days, a fourth straight defeat and didn’t dip below
.500 for the first time since they were 6-7.

“We were in a desperate need for this win,” Anderson said.
“We needed to get it.”

 Pizza Pizza is relieved, relieved.

Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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