Fred VanVleet does it all for the Raptors in victory over Heat
NBA players love their rhythms. So when a 1:30 p.m. tipoff is on the schedule, things can get thrown a little out of sync.
It was an issue for Toronto Raptors' guard Fred VanVleet who felt a little drowsy before Monday afternoon's game against the Miami Heat.
"I knew it was an early start so we had to create our own energy, so I took a nice little energy shot before the game so I could get my wheels going," VanVleet said.
Whatever it was in that energy shot sure did the trick as VanVleet set a career-high in scoring with 36 points and made the game-saving defensive play, poking the ball away from Goran Dragic to clinch a 107-103 victory over the Heat.
After squandering a 17-point third-quarter lead, the Raptors found themselves up just two point, without the ball, with just 14 seconds left in the game. Canadian Kelly Olynyk inbounded the ball to Jae Crowder, who sent it back to Olynyk, and then to the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Jimmy Butler who was being held in check by the 6-foot, 196-pound Kyle Lowry.
VanVleet started the play on Dragic, but when Butler got the ball he slipped off to protect the baseline.
"I just think we were switching everything and just kind of being prepared for a slip out," VanVleet said. "I saw Jimmy coming back, you know he likes to base cut there, so just try to be another body at the rim."
Once VanVleet stepped away from Dragic, Butler threw the ill-fated pass that would clinch the game for Toronto.
"I saw Dragic make the cut, so just tried to beat him to the spot and I was able to get my hand on it," VanVleet said.
As the ball one-hopped to Dragic, VanVleet stepped up and poked it away. Pascal Siakam picked it up, and seconds later the Raptors escaped with their first victory over the Heat this season.
"I think the last three minutes we were awesome, defensively," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "And that’s another good sign, another step forward, it’s really good practice for us to be in a close game and have to get some stops. And really, really good there at the end when you need a stop, kind of a game-winning stop and to create a turnover. So, good, should build some confidence, which makes us better hopefully."
The defensive stop was just the capper on a career game for VanVleet, who exercised his Miami Heat demons this year with an 8-for-16 performance that included seven 3-pointers and 13 free throws.
"I should have a 40," VanVleet joked after the game. "But I think it’s 13 free throws, that’s the most important to me."
The most impressive of those 37 points came with just over nine minutes to go in the game when he sized up the 6-foot-6 Andre Iguodala above the arc and nailed a step-back 3-pointer in his face.
"Just tried to find a spot, shot clock winding down," VanVleet said. "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 tried a similar move to shake Alex Caruso as the shot clock expired against Los Angeles but his 3-point shot rimmed out.
Having lost the previous two games to the Heat, Monday's game had a bit of a playoff feel to it for the Raptors. The two teams play a very similar style of basketball, forcing teams out of the paint and into a lot of 3-point shots.
After shooting 6-for-42 from behind the arc the last time Toronto played Miami, the Raptors went 16-for-32 on 3-pointers on Monday, including three from Siakam in the first quarter alone.
"He’s at a pretty good level, I think he’s making good choices," Nick Nurse said of Siakam. "I like how he’s shooting the ball when he’s supposed to, quick release on those, making good decisions so far, he looks good to me."
Siakam finished the game 7-for-14 from the field with four 3-pointers.
As for Kyle Lowry, while Monday couldn't quite top his Saturday night 33-point performance, the Raptors' veteran showed his craftiness all afternoon. He scored 14 points including a 9-for-9 day from the charity stripe.
The Raptors will have the day off before returning Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET against the Orlando Magic.