VanVleet unstoppable as Raptors roll in Game 1
Fred VanVleet is about to get paid.
The Toronto Raptors' free-agent-to-be guard started the 2020 playoffs about as hot as he started last year's playoffs cold. He pitched something pretty close to a perfect game for the Raptors on Monday afternoon, recording his first career 30-point, 11-assist game, shooting 73.3% from the field while leading Toronto to a 134-110 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1.
"Oh man, he's an amazing player and definitely one of my favourite players in the league," Raptors forward Pascal Siakam said of VanVleet. "Just seeing how calm he plays, just steady and it always feels like he's in control of the game. And we definitely need him."
It looked like a continuation of the Raptors' seeding games when VanVleet led the Raptors with 17.8 points per game. It didn't take long for VanVleet to get going on Monday. He nailed an And-1 just two and a half minutes into the game and put the Raptors up 33 late in the second quarter with a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers off of Kyle Lowry assists.
Lowry had five first-half assists including a full-court pass to Siakam who he hit on a dime for an And-1 layup.
"It was me, Tom Brady, [Michael] Vick, all those great quarterbacks out there," Lowry said. "That’s what we do, us great quarterbacks.”
Despite the Raptors' seemingly insurmountable first-half lead, things got a little bit dicey for Toronto in the second half as the Nets climbed all the way back to pull within eight points late in the third.
"Just a little slow up the court," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said of the team's third quarter offense. "I think there was only two transition points that entire quarter, just wasn’t the pace and energy we were playing with most of the game."
Toronto did a phenomenal job of containing Caris LeVert in the first half. VanVleet started the game taking on the LeVert assignment with help whenever he touched the ball. They forced the ball out of his hands, which seemed to work early, but in the third quarter, he began racking up assists, using that extra attention to find teammates for open buckets.
"I thought we did a good job of limiting his looks, crowding the floor and he did a good job of making that pass when it was there," VanVleet said of LeVert. "You know, pick your poison, I thought we did a good job on him from a scoring standpoint and I think he ended with fourteen or fifteen assists, so they were knocking down the open threes. We’ve got to look to see how we can adjust there but we executed our game plan for the most part and, obviously, I take a lot of pride in my defence and felt like I did a decent job on him."
Up just nine entering the fourth, Lowry took control of the game. He attacked Brookyln's Tyler Johnson on the opening posession and got to the free throw line for two points.
"I think he set the tone for the fourth quarter there with that play," Nurse said. "We obviously had the ball and talked about what to run out of the timeout and he made a great read on the screen and roll and did his thing, barreled into the basket."
Minutes later OG Anunoby hit his first of two fourth quarter 3-pointers and the Raptors easily put away the game.
"We’re not going to blow everybody out all the time, this is the playoffs, everybody belongs to be here," VanVleet said. "Obviously we’d like to win by 40, but that’s not going to happen, those guys are pros too and they made a big run, so we’ll look at the film, see what we can clean up, but overall I thought it was a good win."
Rotationally, the Raptors seemed to switch things up early. Former Net Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the third Raptor off the bench, checking in as the eighth man replacing OG Anunoby with late in the first quarter. Then, with 12 seconds left in the quarter, Matt Thomas checked in as the ninth man for Toronto. They both stayed in the game to start the second quarter.
In the second half, Nurse went with Terence Davis II who finished the game with 11 points and four rebounds.
"I thought he was great," Nurse said of Davis. "He had a great attitude, thought he showed some life and even at the end he showed some life. Good little stretch for him."
Prior to the game, the Raptors arranged for the team's starting lineup to be announced by players' family members.
"It meant the world," VanVleet said. "I think anybody who knows me knows how special my family is, especially my kids, miss my girl, miss my mom, I miss everybody, man. Family is the number one thing in my life. So obviously I’ve been missing them, I’ve been gone about eight or nine weeks now, it’s the longest I’ve been without seeing my kids, so that was really cool to see that before our playoff game at that. I definitely got a little teary eyed there seeing my son get animated and hearing from my daughter. So that felt really cool."
"It got me going," Lowry said. "My boys, they’re my world. I kind of wanted to halfway cry. But I had to (calm) myself. That was awesome. I miss my babies even more now. That’s a memory that’s going to last forever."
Oh Canada was sung by Canadian Jessie Reyez who knelt atop the CN Tower in Toronto.
"It was awesome," Nurse said. "It was an unbelievable rendition. ... Kind of took your breath away a little bit."
The Raptors will return for Game 2 against the Nets on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. ET.