Moments that Mattered: VanVleet's late clock shooting, creating, and Gasol's Defense

Aaron Rose

Monday was Fred VanVleet day for the Toronto Raptors.

In full transparency, I fully expected VanVleet to struggle against the Miami Heat. He had shot 8-for-32 in his previous two meetings against the Heat this year and I thought he'd struggle again against Miami's size.

I was wrong.

VanVleet set a new career-high with 36 points on 8-for-16 shooting with seven 3-pointers made and 13 free throws.

Moral of the story: Don't bet against VanVleet.

There were a few moments that really jumped out from his game:

Play 1: Shot over Iguodala.

I got into this play a little bit in my game story yesterday, but it's worth revisiting.

VanVleet gets the ball at the top of the arc with seven seconds to go on the shot clock. He already has 31 points, so he's definitely feeling himself here. The rest of the Raptors clear out for VanVleet who is going one-on-one with the 6-foot-6 Andrew Iguodala.

VanVleet forces Iguodala back, collects, and drains a high-arcing 3-pointer.

"Just tried to find a spot, shot clock winding down," VanVleet said Monday. "I had the same few plays against the Lakers and it didn't turn out the way I wanted to, so I went back to the drawing board yesterday, got some good work in working on my late clock decision making, my late clock moves and was able to get a good look up over Andre, one of the best defenders in the league over the last few years, a long time, so I knew I had to put some arc on it to get it over the top of him and I was able to knock it down."

VanVleet averages two shots per game with less than four seconds to go in the shot clock. That's the eighth-most in the NBA. It's also something he struggles with, shooting just 24.5% on those shots, the sixth-worst in the NBA for players who have taken at least 60 shots in the situation, per NBA stats. While shooting badly late in the shot clock makes a ton of sense considering opposing defenses know you're out of options, it's something VanVleet said he's been working on.

Even improving that number from 24.5% to something closer to the 32% the Raptors average as a team would help the Raptors offense when VanVleet is the best creator on the floor.

Play 2: FVV beats the Blitz

VanVleet is not someone used to getting blitzed by opposing teams, but when you're on your way to a career-high in scoring, you can understand why teams might do whatever they can to slow you down.

Here, Serge Ibaka sets a screen for VanVleet and both Iguodala and Kelly Olynyk blitz, trying to pressure VanVleet into a mistake.

VanVleet doesn't panic. Instead, he keeps his dribble alive, finds an opening, and then fires a cross-court pass to Pascal Siakam for an open 3-pointer.

It was a perfect play, and what's ironic about the whole thing is that VanVleet didn't want to work on dealing with blitzes the other day in practice, according to Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

"He didn't want to do the drill we were working on because he said 'I'm never involved in them,' so it's a good thing that we encouraged him to stay in that drill and work on some of the blitzes there," Nurse said. "He's gonna see them, he's really smart with the ball, and he can shoot coming off, and he's a problem right, he's a problem on the screen and roll, and when you're a problem when you get it going you're going to get blitzed some."

Moral of the story: Listen to Nick Nurse

Play 3: Gasol's defense

Over the past two games, the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat have scored just 60.8 points and 79.6 points per 100 offensive possessions, respectively, when Marc Gasol is on the court. For comparison, the Golden State Warriors were the worst offensive team this season, averaging 104.4 points per 100 possessions. In their worst offensive game this year, a 116-84 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors scored 81.9 points per 100 possessions. Essentially, teams playing Gasol over the past two games have been worse offensively than the NBA's worst offensive team on their worst offensive day.

So much of what the Raptors do defensively has to do with Gasol's defensive ability. His ability to hold down the paint forces teams to shoot from elsewhere, which is part of the reason the Raptors allow so few shots at the rim and so many shots from 3-point range.

On this play, Gasol shows some defensive versatility, stunning in front of Goran Dragic's drive before sliding in front of a cutting Jae Crowder. He quickly shuffles his feet while staying verticle, giving Crowder no room to get a good shot off.

Having a little bit less weight certainly helps that kind of versatility and playing on the perimeter.

So far the Raptors have looked very impressive down in Orlando and things shouldn't be expected to change when they play the Jonathan Isaac-less Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

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