In these 2020 NBA Playoffs, the story of the Raptors vs. Nets opening round series has been the play of Toronto’s defense and their guards. In Game 1, Toronto smothered the upstart Brooklyn team, pushing them around in various ways until they ultimately just gave up down the stretch. Watching Fred VanVleet shoot 8-for-10 from three also had something to do with that too.
In Game 2, however, the Nets pushed back and actually took control for much of the contest. Toronto’s guards couldn’t hit anything from range, and if not for an explosion from Norman Powell, who looked unstoppable going to the rim, things very well could have turned out differently. It’s worth noting too, that Toronto’s defense never quite clicked in Game 2 — and yet still, they overcame.
The unsung hero of Toronto’s defense is often OG Anunoby; his utility on that end of the court also acting as his main calling card. He’s not a shooter like VanVleet, or a scorer like Powell; he’s also not whatever Pascal Siakam is turning into for the Raptors. And given their years of experience, OG has many years to go before he can fill a Kyle Lowry or Marc Gasol-esque role on a title contending team. Nevertheless, Anunoby’s presence was felt around the court in Game 2 as he capably switched between various Nets, playing bigger or smaller as the situation called for it — and then, by making some big offensive plays too.
Now, a look at the lead tracker helpfully provided by NBA dot com tells the story of Game 2. The Nets held the lead for most of the first half (save for a brief moment in the second quarter), and then again for all of the third and into the fourth.
It was not a position the Raptors were used to in this series so far, given how things had gone for them in Game 1. While Brooklyn flew around the court with reckless abandon, Toronto’s squad looked slow to react. We waited for the moment when they’d put it all together and put the Nets away again. To their credit, they kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing. Until, unfortunately for them, they pushed to hard — and got the Raptors going the other way.
The turning point in Game 2 happened as the Nets headed down the court in the fourth with 9:24 to go. In the moment, they were clinging to a one-point lead, but still playing as well as could be expected. As their lone star Caris LeVert got set up on the left side, forward Rodions Kurucs came over to set a screen. What followed was a dangerous play for OG Anunoby — but also, as it turned out, for the Nets.
Closer look at the Rodions Kurucs hit on OG Anunoby #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/nCxNVV9eo9— Matthew (@Matt_Rodrigo_) August 19, 2020
As you can see in the clip and the appended GIF, Kurucs sets the screen on OG and then does a little appending of his own by lifting his shoulder into the face of Anunoby, knocking him flat on his back. It was an out-and-out dirty play, and not a surprising one from Kurucs, who has spent both games of this series (and most of his career) careening out of control around the court. In fact, his play had gotten bad enough that Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn went with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (who, admittedly, has been on fire) in Kurucs’ place in the Game 2 starting lineup.
Anyway, the refs looked into the play and deemed it a common foul — rather than a flagrant — which gained the Raptors little, save for possession (and the return of Jarrett Allen in Kurucs’ place). Anunoby had been shaken up by the play, staying down for several seconds, but he was now clearly — such as it is when you’re consistently stone-faced — pissed off.
On the very next trip down the floor, with the Raptors still searching for their first lead of the second half, Anunoby got the ball on the wing and decided he had had enough. Let’s watch:
ANGRY OG > EVERYTHING pic.twitter.com/gBlHonO3GS— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 19, 2020
The “angry” headline in that tweet applies. Anunoby dunked that ball with purpose — both to get the Raptors the lead and to show the Nets they shouldn’t mess with him. After a VanVleet miss and a LeVert make, the ball found OG on the wing once more and he tried it again, this time blowing by LeVert to meet Allen at the rim, drawing the foul. Two free throws later, the Raptors had reclaimed the lead — and this time they did not relinquish it until the final buzzer sounded.
Anunoby didn’t score again in Game 2 and only finished with six points on 2-of-8 shooting. But for a few minutes there, as the Raptors finally got going on both ends of the floor to seal the victory, OG looked every bit the fearsome forward we’ve expected him to be. And with his teammates playing off that vibe, the Raptors kept up their winning ways, ultimately sealing Game 2 with a defensive stand.
In all, it wasn’t the prettiest game for Toronto, but much like OG’s game: they got the job done with brisk authority.