Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 134-110 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1 of the 2020 NBA playoffs.
One — Lopsided: This was as advertised. The Nets made a hard charge in the third quarter, but the Raptors controlled this one from start to finish. Toronto raced out to a 32-point lead in the second quarter, and that’s about what you would expect from two teams with such a disparity in talent. The scary thing is that the Raptors didn’t even focus for an entire quarter, and there’s still more levels they can hit. If Toronto sustains their intensity, this will be a very short series.
Two — Elite: Fred VanVleet looked every bit like a Finals MVP vote recipient, as he exploded for 30 points and 11 assists for his best performance of the season. VanVleet was ruthless, and played the entire game as one long heat check. Any time he got a sliver of space, the shot was going up, and it looked like he couldn’t miss. Whether he was fading out of bounds, or if he was 32-feet out, or if there was a centre closing in hard, it did not matter. The most embarrassing move was the one he pulled on Nets rookie Jeremiah Martin, whose feet kept scampering south as VanVleet cooly pulled up. It was a scintillating performance from VanVleet who continues to be the Raptors’ MVP inside the bubble.
Three — Leader: Kyle Lowry’s role on this team is to set the tone. His scoring can be streaky, but his effort is maxed out at all times. Here’s a partial list of what Lowry did in the first half: He threw a full-court outlet pass to Pascal Siakam against a Nets blitz, he took three charges, he hit a 35-foot bomb, he pressured Caris LeVert to the bench and back, and just for kicks, he blocked Joe Harris’s jumper with 1.1 seconds left before halftime. As Lowry goes, the Raptors follow, and he set the tone for their dominant start. The Raptors just need to play with effort and concentration against the Nets, and Lowry made sure that they were ready to go.
Four — Spunky: You have to give credit to the Nets for not rolling over. That’s been their attitude from the start of the bubble. Even though they’re missing Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, and an a host of other role players you’ve never heard of, the Nets are still carrying themselves with the confidence that they belong. That’s how they beat the Clippers and Bucks as part of a 5-3 record in the seeding games. They have shooters, they share the ball, they have a center playmaker in LeVert, and they play with effort. The lesson from Brooklyn’s furious 44-22 run is that the Raptors can’t take their foot off the gas, because the Nets never will.
Five — Chess match: Most of this game boiled down to how the Raptors guarded LeVert, and how the Nets adjusted to it. Early on, the Raptors had their point guards in Lowry and VanVleet pressure LeVert on the perimeter, their center in the lane, and a third defender swiping across the perimeter to show help. It worked great for most of the first quarter, before the Nets adjusted by putting their best shooters on the wing so that LeVert could find him open one pass away. That’s how LeVert ended up with 15 assists, and how the Nets got back into the game. Nick Nurse countered in the fourth quarter by having his center trap LeVert far past the free-throw line, forcing him to surrender the ball to a lesser playmaker. Expect the Nets to review the tape, and to counter once again. This central chess match will determine the larger theme of the series.
first half vs. fourth quarter pic.twitter.com/WbTZlF38s5
— William Lou (@william_lou) August 17, 2020
Six — Counter: For Nurse, he not only has more tricks but also more options. The ace in the hole is to scrap the help-heavy schemes and just stick OG Anunoby on LeVert. Anunoby can confidently check LeVert, especially if Nurse has him go under screens and allow LeVert — a career 34 percent shooter — to settle for contested looks from deep. For now, Anunoby is on Garrett Temple, who is the least dangerous player on the floor at most times. Temple shot 1-of-10 from three, which only encouraged Anunoby to be more bold in his help defense.
Seven — Hustle: Serge Ibaka had his way with the Nets on offense. In his first shift, Ibaka picked up from a strong start by Marc Gasol and chipped in with a baseline jumper, a midrange two, and a three. He carried that on for the rest of the game, as Ibaka feasted on the matchup. Brooklyn’s defensive scheme calls for their center to loiter near the hoop, which allowed Ibaka to have open looks up top. Even when Ibaka went inside the paint, the Nets’ interior defenders were just too small to keep Ibaka off the offensive glass. Ibaka also showed his mobility on defense, as Nurse rode Ibaka for extended stretches since he was having such success trapping LeVert on the perimeter.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 17, 2020
Eight — Spark: The Raptors got contributions from deep in their bench. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was active in the first half, both as an experienced defender on his former teammate LeVert, and as a cutter on offense. In the second half, it was rookie Terence Davis who took Matt Thomas’s minutes by chipping in with a three to beat the buzzer, and a powerful drive plus the foul in the fourth. Davis even traded words at the end with former Raptors 905 forward Justin Anderson, who looked displeased at the end of a 24-point blowout.
Nine — Decent: This wasn’t a great game by Pascal Siakam by any means, but it also wasn’t bad. His jumper wasn’t falling, but Siakam was aggressive in going to the basket. Brooklyn doesn’t have any defensively-sound forwards on the roster, so Siakam should attack early and often. Siakam did a nice job of passing out of double teams in the post to start, and was less effective trying to face up and slash from the 3-point line. Many fans are growing anxious that Siakam hasn’t elevated his game inside the bubble, which is true to a large extent, but it’s coming.
Ten — Process: Brooklyn’s path to stealing a game or potentially pushing it even further is to catch fire from deep and hit 20-plus threes. Toronto’s defense will give up a surplus of corner threes, and if their subpar shooters can get hot, there is a chance for an upset. The Nets largely can’t guard the Raptors because there’s just too many mismatches in the frontcourt, but they don’t necessarily have to. All they need to do is continue to move the ball and to shoot with confidence.
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