The Toronto Raptors beat the scrappy, no-quit Brooklyn Nets yesterday afternoon, and for only the second time in franchise history, they lead a playoff series 2-0. They’re also 10-2 in their last 12 playoff games! Life is good, right?
Before we jump into the thoughts, let’s all remember that when we say that Black Lives Matter, we’re talking about all Black lives, including the LGBTQ members of our Black communities, whose lives are among the most vulnerable. It’s critical that LGBTQ voices remain centred and protected in conversations about race, discrimination and police brutality. If you’d like to learn more about how these issues affect LGBTQ communities, check out the resources here or offer your support to an organization such as the Sherbourne Health Supporting Our Youth (SOY) Development Program.
On to the Game 2 thoughts:
1. Is That Milwaukee Norm or What?
The Raptors are running a short rotation so far in the playoffs, and with both the starting and backup centres struggling in Game 2, the Raptors needed a spark from somewhere... and it came from Norman “Playoff” Powell. Powell was pretty quiet in Game 1, but he was awesome in Game 2, showcasing every improved aspect of his game that we all marvelled at this year, including improved decision-making and patience; stepping into his shot without rushing it; and deft touch finishing at the rim.
Oh, and he also had some signature explosive dunks, too:
And of course, the dagger:
That last dunk definitely had a “Norman Powell against Milwaukee” vibe! Powell finished with 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting, with six rebounds and no turnovers. Playoff Powell, indeed.
2. DeAndre Who?
So how great was Jarrett Allen in this game? The Nets changed up their defensive coverages a bit, opting for more switches, which left Allen guarding much smaller and quicker players far more often. And Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet took advantage several times, to be sure. But everywhere else, Allen was a beast. The Nets abandoned the offensive glass in order to slow Toronto’s transition game, but Allen still managed four huge offensive rebounds. He blocked three shots, and changed several more at the rim. And his passing! Five assists? I didn’t know he could do things like this:
And that’s where pretty much all of those assists came: The Raptors would trap a ball handler, the Nets would get the ball to Allen at the top of the key, and he’d quickly rotate to find an open shooter on the weak side. Bang.
All told, Allen played 40.5 minutes, and the Nets were +14 in those minutes.
Hopefully Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are paying attention.
3. It’s Freddy’s Team Now
Remember when Kawhi Leonard went on that ridiculous 10-2 run in Game 5 of the NBA Finals last year, nearly single-handedly willing the Raptors to win? Fred VanVleet had a 10-2 run in the third quarter last night that was, if you squinted really hard, sorta similar? Maybe?
OK, maybe not. It’s the Nets in Round 1, after all. But still: with the Raptors trailing by 12, VanVleet put the team on his back and vaulted them back into the game, with a layup, a three-pointer, another layup and another three. It was a superb variety of plays that kept the Nets, and Allen in particular, on their toes.
Fred’s shooting wasn’t as lights-out as it was in Game 1; he finished 3-for-11 from downtown. But as often seems to be the case, when the team needs a bucket or a big play, it’s VanVleet making it happen. He even ran around a staggered screen for that last three like he was Matt Thomas or something! Fred also had a block, and check him out poking a sure offensive rebound away from Joe Harris here, that Kyle Lowry then recovers:
Just a perfect little play that saves a possession. This guy is so good.
4. What Happened to the Free Throw Shooting?!
I don’t know how a team follows up a 32-for-33 performance from the foul line in Game 1 with a 19-for-28 performance in Game 2, but these Raptors did. Are the rims that different between The Arena, site of Game 1, and the Field House, site of Game 2? Is there a breeze in there? Was it just the early start time?
I dunno. Obviously making free throws goes a long way to securing a win. And I didn’t think the whistle was particularly friendly to the Raps in this one either, so getting to the line 28 times was a pretty good showing. But only hitting 19 sure made things tougher than they needed to be.
5. Berserker OG
“You wouldn’t like him... when he’s angry.” Are we talking about the Incredible Hulk, or OG Anunoby?
After this egregiously dirty play that the officials somehow deemed clean, you could practically see the rage boiling over in OG’s eyes.
Some better angles here (warning: graphic content!):
As you can see, Rodions Kurucs clearly wound up and threw his shoulder into Anunoby. I don’t know how that wasn’t assessed a flagrant-1 on review. (Frankly I don’t think NBA refs have any idea what a flagrant foul is these days.)
In any event, it lit a fire under OG, who took the ball hard to the rack on his next two plays, resulting in a dunk and two free throws.
In fact, I think it woke up the entire Raptors team, as they went on an 11-2 run following the incident. Normally, I’d say “protect OG at all costs!” but I kinda like those results!
So now we wait to see: What can the Raptors do with this 2-0 lead? The last (and only) time they had one, in 2018, they quickly dropped two straight to the Washington Wizards before winning the series in six games. I’m hoping for a quicker resolution this time out!