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Raptors go for commanding 3-0 lead vs. Nets: Preview, start time, and more

Game 3 between the Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets tips-off this afternoon. With a win, Toronto would put themselves into position to sweep their opening round series.

NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors will look to do something they have never accomplished in their history: go up 3-0 in a postseason series. A Game 3 win today versus the Nets would set that new mark.

The Raps are fresh off their Game 2 comeback win on Wednesday afternoon, in what was a feisty, inspired effort by the Nets. Despite it looking like it was going to be a disappointing loss, the Raptors fought back from an early 14-point deficit in the first quarter to take control late. In the end, their 30-19 fourth quarter output led them to the 104-99 win.

The Raps, yet again, got a huge boost from Fred VanVleet, putting up 24 points and 10 assists, and while he did struggle shooting the ball, going 8-for-22 from the field and 3-for-11 from deep, there was Kyle Lowry, as always, to lead the pack. The floor general was big down the stretch, recording 21 points and nine rebounds, helping Toronto overcome a six-point Brooklyn lead in the fourth quarter. With the two working hand-in-hand, expect the two-guard tandem to lead the team in Game 3 this afternoon.

As good as VanVleet and Lowry were, Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam’s performances were just as important and much-needed on Wednesday. In all, Powell was arguably the Raptors’ best player on the court. He gave them a spark off the bench, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, with a key steal and dunk with eight seconds left in the game to punch home the win. Toronto will need the real “Playoff P” to come through with a similar performance in Game 3, considering coach Nick Nurse has shortened his rotation to just Norm and Serge Ibaka at this point.

Siakam, on the other hand, got back into an offensive rhythm as he was out of sorts during the latter half of the seeding games as well as in Game 1. He isn’t quite there yet but did so flashes of his regular season self by attacking the basket while settling for fewer jumpshots. Look for him to further get into his groove this afternoon.

On Brooklyn’s side, their shooting looks to be on a downward trend as they’ll suffer another loss to their already-depleted rotation. As was reported yesterday, Joe Harris is leaving the bubble due to a non-medical family matter. The Raptors can breathe a sigh of relief in that regard, but this just makes matters worse for Brooklyn, who shot 13-for-42 from deep in Game 1 and 14-for-41 in Game 2, and will lose another shooting threat on the offensive end.

To add to their struggles, Caris LeVert didn’t have the best of games in Game 2, as he was out of rhythm all game long thanks to the Raptors’ defense. We’ll get to this in the keys to the game below.

As always, the Raps can’t look ahead to the sweep just yet. They need to just focus on the game at hand. In that spirit, let’s get to this afternoon’s game details and notes.

Where to Watch:

Sportsnet, 1:30 p.m. ET

Lineups:

Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol

Brooklyn — Caris LeVert, Tyler Johnson, Garrett Temple, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jarrett Allen

Injuries:

Toronto — Patrick McCaw (knee – out), Oshae Brissett (knee – out)

Brooklyn — Joe Harris (left bubble for a non-medical matter) Jamal Crawford (hamstring – out), Kevin Durant (Achilles – out), Kyrie Irving (shoulder – out), DeAndre Jordan (opted out of bubble after testing positive in June), Wilson Chandler (opted out of bubble), Nicolas Claxton (out – shoulder), Spencer Dinwiddie (opted out), Taurean Prince (opted out of bubble after testing positive in July)

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Get Going Early

Toronto was quick to find themselves down 26-12 midway in the first quarter of Game 2. It was a similar type of performance they had against the Boston Celtics earlier in the seeding games where their energy and flow on both ends of the floor were being outmatched by their opponent. We saw little ball movement on offense and lack of intensity and effort on defense.

So, what changed? Well, the Raps’ offense picked it up around the four-minute mark, after Siakam got under control and scored 10 of Toronto’s 17 points to finish the first quarter. To his credit, he looked confident and didn’t rely on jumpshots as much, instead taking it strong to the basket. Siakam and the Raptors will need to be aggressive from the jump in order to prevent the Raps from falling behind early.

Another key area where Toronto struggled at first but did improve upon later in the game was their ball movement. They weren’t passing as much in the first half of the first quarter but really got into their halfcourt sets later, moving the ball to get solid looks for Siakam, Powell, Ibaka to end the quarter. That trio scored the Raptors’ final 17 points collectively in the frame.

If they can get going early, this could end up being a cakewalk from the second half onwards, which is crucial because it’ll give the Raptors’ top seven guys some rest after playing big minutes in Game 2.

Establish the Defense from the Jump

The Raptors’ defense wasn’t up to their standards to start Game 2, but they did buckle down and to keep Brooklyn from running away with their 26-12 lead. It was Toronto’s transition defense that got them in trouble, allowing nine fastbreak points. All the Nets’ starters got in on some easy, poorly defended transition baskets during the first quarter, which led to the Raptors clamping down. After the four-minute mark and throughout the rest of the game, they held the Nets to just three fastbreak points. Assuming the Nets continue to play fast, expect the Raptors to learn from their Game 2 mistakes with a stronger effort in getting back in transition right from the start.

What the Raptors can credit themselves for is the stellar defense played on the Nets’ go-to scorer, LeVert. He shot 5-for-22 from the field for 16 points and was really forcing up tough shots in Toronto’s 2-3 zone defense. With LeVert failing to make a shot from deep, going 0-for-4, the 2-3 zone defense is what led him to drive into the lane where the Raps’ defense closed in and contested every one of his shots in the paint. Expect to see the Raptors throw more zone sets on LeVert — especially with Harris out.

Centre Play

Marc Gasol really had a tough time on both ends of the floor in Game 2. It was very uncharacteristic to see him not be a factor in at least one area of the floor. He couldn’t get anything to go on the offensive end, going scoreless on two shots and giving up three turnovers in 17 minutes of action. Sure, the Raptors don’t need Gasol to be a factor on offense (though that would be nice), it’s the fact that Toronto relies on Gasol to neutralize big men on both ends of the floor. In that, he just couldn’t contain Allen on the defensive end. Allen recorded 14 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, and three blocks.

Now, keep in mind the Nets did play small and did switch their matchups, which could be the reason why Gasol wasn’t effective on Allen. However, for Game 3, Toronto will need Gasol to be aggressive in containing Allen so they can expose that matchup on either end of the floor. We’ll see if their switching defense always has Gasol on Allen, especially if and when the Nets go small.

Still, whatever style the Nets play, it’ll be vital for Gasol to make an impact on either end of the floor for Toronto. As we’ve seen throughout the season, when he’s playing well, the Raptors are very tough to beat.