Skip to main content

This year has been a learning experience for Fred VanVleet.

For so long he was the Robin to Kyle Lowry's Batman. He was the sidekick who let the veteran do the hard work organizing the offense and playing facilitator in the half-court. But this year, the 27-year-old has been thrust into the lead guard role on a team without much offensive firepower. He's the one being asked to take this motley crew of ill-fitting offensive players and mold them into something workable. It hasn't been easy. He'd be the first to tell you about the sacrifice he's had to make. But he's learning, figuring out how to pace himself, and how to get others involved without being too passive.

"I just kind of took the approach of just sacrificing and taking less shots and being less aggressive for my own until late maybe third quarter, fourth quarter," VanVleet said earlier in the month. "So a lot of these first quarter, second quarter is trying to set guys up"

But on the second night of a back-to-back and facing a tough Philadelphia 76ers squad, VanVleet took a very different approach. He didn't let others work their way into the game early, knowing that if he played passive and it didn't work the Raptors wouldn't have the gas to storm back later. So instead, he did it himself early and often, scoring or assisting on Toronto's first 11 points.

"I think it really matters, you get out there and you see the game, how it unfolds, it's a screen and roll game for him to start," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. "So I think he knows that and he comes out aggressive knowing he's going to have some space in the three-point line or in the 17, 15-foot area or some driving lanes. So I think he was just ready to go and probably decided he would get us off to a good start by being aggressive tonight."

VanVleet put on a vintage Lowry performance Thursday night, taking control of the game with 32 points including a dagger corner three to clinch a 115-109 victory over the 76ers. It came coincidentally in front of Lowry's mother, Marie Hollaway, who hasn't given up her love for the Raptors even against her hometown 76ers.

"She's used to coming to Raptors games here for a lot of years," Nurse said of Hollaway. "She probably had it on the calendar, but that's nice that she was here."

Recommended Articles

After a hot start, VanVleet when quiet in the second quarter and the Raptors' offense nearly fell apart. They went four minutes with just one field goal, allowing the 76ers to build up an early 10 point lead. On a back-to-back, those can quickly end your night, but Toronto fought back and after a halftime break, VanVleet got right back to work. He banked in a 26-foot three-pointer and made a beautiful cross-court pass to find Mykhailiuk behind the arc to give the Raptors a five-point lead with just over five minutes to go in the fourth.

The 76ers wouldn't go away with Tyrese Maxey putting up gaudy numbers in Ben Simmons' absence. Philadelphia even pulled ahead late, as Maxey converted an and-1 for his 33rd point of the night, but OG Anunoby played hero. He twice hunted mismatches against Andre Drummond, getting the switch, and then turning the corner to attack downhill. Once the help came, he found kick-out passes first to Gary Trent Jr. and then to VanVleet to seal the game.

"That was good to see. I think it helped that we got him a little more faced up instead of back to the basket and working in tight quarters," Nurse said. "I think OG was pretty determined to get the switch, get the ball and take it past him and make a play."

Boucher Answers the Call

With Pascal Siakam and Khem Birch both sidelined, the Raptors had no choice but to turn to the struggling Chris Boucher for significant minutes Thursday night. He came into the game shooting a pitiful 33.3% from the floor and 18.2% from behind the arc. But when Toronto needed him, Boucher stepped up scoring, running the court, and connecting on a three-pointer to lead the Raptors bench with 17 points.

"Eventually I had to get in a little groove," Boucher said. "It’s just a mindset. I think the team did a good job of keeping me focussed and knowing it can’t always go down like that. I put in a lot of work in my game. It’s coming back."

Barnes Stays Aggressive

Scottie Barnes continues to heed Raptors coach Nick Nurse's advice. After being criticized for being too passive last Saturday night, the rookie has looked far more aggressive in his last two outings. 

He finished the night with 13 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

Up Next: Detroit Pistons

The Raptors will make a quick pitstop at home to take on Dwane Casey and the  Detroit Pistons on Saturday night before heading out to Portland to begin their first West Coast road trip of the year.