Toronto Raptors welcomed by roaring crowd after capacity limits lifted in Ontario

TORONTO — 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.

Pascal Siakam added 18 points, while Malachi Flynn chipped in 15, and Khem Birch and Thaddeus Young scored 11 apiece for the Raptors (34-27), who beat the Nets for the second straight night.

Former Raptor James Johnson had 19 points to top the Nets (32-31).

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.

A driving dunk from Johnson 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 Nets.

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

“I think it’ll be great. I think (the fans) will be revved up. They oughta be,” coach Nick Nurse said before tipoff. “They oughta be ready to cheer really loud and have some fun and let loose a little bit.”

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.

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 from him.

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

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

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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