Last week, the Toronto Raptors erased an 18-point deficit at home against the Indiana Pacers, survived a final defensive possession that included a miss and a mad scramble off the rebound, and won 119-118.
Last night, the Raptors blew an 18-point lead at home against the Brooklyn Nets, survived a final defensive possession that included a miss and a mad scramble off the rebound, and won 119-118.
This is art, bro!
While you can’t say that Fred VanVleet is a perfect Kyle Lowry replacement — he’s got a ways to go before he can capture all the little things Lowry does that win games, and his court vision is long ways from Kyle — it is impressive how well VanVleet plays when Lowry’s out.
The numbers are there — he scores almost five more points per game when Lowry’s out — but it’s also a sense of the moment; Fred knows when the Raptors need a score or a stop and he does his best to make it happen. He led the Raptors with 29 last night, on 11-of-20 shooting, and generally controlled the game well when he was on the floor.
He can’t do it all quite as well as Lowry, but he’s a worthy protege.
Terence Davis got the start last night and was great once again, but it was another undrafted rookie who opened some eyes in this one. Matt Thomas got some extended run — a career high 22 minutes. And he got up a career-high tying nine shots, making six of them, scoring a career-high 15 points.
It didn’t start off all that well — he was immediately targeted, and burned, by Caris LeVert on the defensive end, and he missed his first jumper. But he made a nice shot off the bounce to close out the first quarter, and then helped the Raps bust the Nets’ zone in the second quarter.
Of course, his highlight of the night was this incredible reverse-oop from Serge Ibaka:
And in what might have been the most important development, his defense, despite getting burned early, was pretty decent thereafter. He’s also a solid rebounder (tying his career high with six last night), and so I don’t think it’s entirely fair to pigeonhole him as just a shooter. It’s difficult for Thomas to get minutes on this team when everyone’s healthy but he’s showing he can play when needed.
More Lineup Madness
Thanks to the injuries and first-half foul trouble to Fred VanVleet, last night we were blessed with a bizarre lineup of Patrick McCaw, Matt Thomas, Oshae Brissett, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher.
Amazingly, this wasn’t the first time we’d seen this lineup — that group had played four total minutes before last night! And, uh, were a -14. But! They were better last night: +10!
Thomas’ shooting was a big part of it, but kudos to the lineup for finding him — that lineup had six assists on seven made field goals.
This certainly isn’t a lineup you want to see a lot of, but once again, the mad scientist found a balance that worked.
Brooklyn shot 15 three-pointers in the first quarter last night, and more than a few of them seemed like lazy “I can’t be bothered to swing the ball so I’ll just launch it” attempts. They hit seven of them, but it certainly didn’t seem to be a sustainable offense... yet they took 13 more in the second! And four more in the first five minutes of the the third quarter!
After that, though, they only took 13 the rest of the way... and that’s when the game started to turn. The Nets started getting the ball inside, working for good shots around the rim and even some open midrange shots. They also got to the line 12 times in the final 18 minutes.
This isn’t to suggest that shooting threes isn’t winning basketball of course, but rather, a good example of a team responding to what the D gives them — when the Raptors were locked in on defense, the Nets couldn’t generate great looks outside of bombing away, but when the Raptors got tired, and weren’t defending as well, the Nets took advantage.
Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are going to get most of the credit (deserdevely!) for the Nets coming back and making it a game last night, but am I wrong in thinking DeAndre Jordan was also a huge part of it?
In the times I’ve watched Brooklyn this year, Jordan has looked like a man just cashing his cheques and not giving a damn. But last night, he seemed engaged on both ends; his presence as a constant roll lob threat got LeVert tons of space in midrange (and he scored plenty of points himself that way) and forced the Raptors to constantly rotate, and his defense at the rim clearly bothered the (tired) Raptors — much more so than Jarrett Allen, who was ineffective in his 18 minutes.
Jordan finished with 15 points, 14 boards and three blocks in 28 minutes, and was a +7.
During that Nets comeback, as the Raptors’ deep bench lineup struggled and the starters looked completely gassed, I wondered if, finally, all of the injuries were catching up to them. Players who are playing above their heads eventually come back down to earth, and guys playing 40 minutes a night get tired — especially on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Raptors face another bad team on Monday (the Timberwolves, who somehow scored a million points against the Clippers — with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George! — last night, for their first win in 14 tries). Hopefully last night’s Nets comeback will remind the Raptors that they can’t coast to wins with these depleted lineups.
All-Star can’t come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned!