Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry Power Raptors Past Nets to Take 2-0 Series Lead

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistAugust 19, 2020

Toronto Raptors' Marc Gasol, right, celebrates a basket against the Brooklyn Nets with Fred VanVleet, left, and Kyle Lowry during Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

The Toronto Raptors shook off a slow start to earn a 104-99 victory over the Brooklyn Nets and take a commanding 2-0 series lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series. 

Brooklyn came out of the gate strong with 33 points in the first quarter. Head coach Jacque Vaughn's team was firing on all cylinders, shooting 5-of-10 from three-point range in the first 12 minutes. The No. 7 seed led by as many as 14 points in the first half. 

Even though the Raptors' usually ferocious defense struggled initially, they started to look more like themselves in the second half. The No. 2 seed outscored the Nets 30-19 in the fourth quarter and forced 17 turnovers in the game. 


Notable Player Stats

  • Kyle Lowry (TOR): 21 PTS (7-of-14 FG), 9 REB, 3 AST
  • Fred VanVleet (TOR): 24 PTS (8-of-22 FG), 10 AST, 5 REB
  • Norman Powell (TOR): 24 PTS (11-of-17 FG), 6 REB, 2 AST
  • Pascal Siakam (TOR): 19 PTS (6-of-14 FG), 6 REB, 3 AST
  • Garrett Temple (BKN): 21 PTS (6-of-13 FG), 3 REB, 3 AST
  • Caris LeVert (BKN): 16 PTS (5-of-22 FG), 11 AST, 6 REB
  • Joe Harris (BKN): 14 PTS (4-of-7 3-PT FG), 15 REB

Fred VanVleet Becoming Raptors' Go-To Scorer

When analysts talk about Toronto's chances of getting back to the NBA Finals, the first thing that usually comes up is its defensive versatility. 

Jared Dubin and Krishna Narsu of FiveThirtyEight.com wrote about the 2019-20 Raptors defense earlier this week:

"First off, they are an outlier among this year’s top defenses. Of the top-10 point-prevention units in the NBA this season, six of them rank 189th or lower since 2013-14 in Variance+. The Raptors rank 12th, changing their schemes night-to-night 77 percent more often than the league-average team this season. The next-closest top-10 unit is the Lakers, who rank 99th."

Certainly, watching the Raptors makes it difficult to ignore how good and different they are on defense. They finished this season ranked first in points allowed per game (106.5) and second in defensive rating (105), per Basketball-Reference.com

But teams in the postseason are always going to need a go-to scorer who can get points when the rest of the group is struggling and in crunch time. 

Fred VanVleet's performance so far in this series indicates he is becoming that player for the Raptors. He scored 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting in a blowout Game 1 win. 

Things were much more difficult for the Raptors and VanVleet on Wednesday. He only shot 36.4 percent from the field but was instrumental in bringing his team back late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter.


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VanVleet, Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell all reached the 20-point mark for the Raptors, but this was an ugly offensive day overall for the team. 

Toronto's defense still showed up, holding the Nets to 46 points in the second half and 38.8 percent shooting overall. 

There was a lot to like about the Raptors and their versatility coming into the postseason. That's held true through the first two games of the postseason, with VanVleet's all-around ability giving them the late-game option they will need to make a deep run. 

Bubble Nets More Than A Feel-Good Story

Prior to the NBA season restart, no one was expecting the Nets to do much of anything. Their roster had been decimated because of injuries and players opting out, leaving them without Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler. 

Brooklyn was already going to be without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as they continued to rehab from injuries even before the season was suspended. 

Things looked even more bleak for the Nets when Jamal Crawford, who was signed on July 9, left his first game with the team after six minutes with a hamstring injury. 

Even though the running joke was that none of the Nets on the NBA campus knew each other, interim head coach Jacque Vaughn got his team to go 5-3 during the seeding games to secure the No. 7 seed in the East. 

This isn't a deep roster, as evidenced by only eight players getting into Wednesday's game and the bench contributing 17 points, but their ability to compete against an elite-level team like the Raptors proves they deserve more credit than just being a feel-good story.    

Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

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Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

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Brooklyn Nets @BrooklynNets

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The Nets' lower talent level was exposed late against the Raptors. They will have to play a near-perfect game to win one time, but at the very least Vaughn has his team competing under the bright lights. 


What's Next?

The Nets and Raptors will play Game 3 of their first-round series on Friday at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBATV.