The Toronto Raptors have a 3-0 lead in a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, and they achieved that lead in relative comfort, with a wire-to-wire win over the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets stuck around for as long as they could, but the Raptors won every quarter, and benefitted the first real stand-out performance that Pascal Siakam has had since the NBA restart. The result was a 117-92 win, giving them commanding control in this first round series.
The game initially looked like it would be over very, very quickly. Fred VanVleet opened the game by hitting a deep three against a Jarrett Allen switch, and while Tyler Johnson responded to that by hitting a three on the other end, the Nets’ answers would dry up quickly. The Raptors’ gummed up each of the Nets’ actions with Siakam and OG Anunoby using their length to effectively be in two places at once, covering shooters while impeding the Nets’ path into the paint. This created transition opportunities, and when the Raptors didn’t get to run they capitalized with white-hot three-point shooting. Marc Gasol once again struggled to score in the post against the Nets’ switching defence (he only manage 3 points on the night), but he still managed to leverage his passing to find those open perimeter shooters in the first, as he had 6 assists in the contest.
The Raptors went through a lull partway through the quarter that gave the Nets some life, however, they missed seven consecutive threes and, much like Gasol, Serge Ibaka initially struggled to finish on the interior when given post-ups against mismatches. The Nets failed to fully capitalize on the opportunity to get back into the game due to some cold outside shooting though, and thus the opening frame ended with the Raps holding a 24-17 lead.
The lead continued to grow steadily in the second. Kyle Lowry exaggerated some contact on what was ultimately ruled a Nets’ offensive foul, leading to some jawing between Lowry and current Net and former Raptors 905er Justin Anderson. Anderson received a tech and irritated Lowry, but surprisingly it wasn’t “poking the bear” that hurt the Nets. Instead, the Raptors got a lift from Ibaka, who found OG Anunoby cutting out of the post, and punished the Nets for over-helping off of him by pouring in jumpers, including three straight three-point shots.
When Ibaka exited the Raptors used increased margin as an opportunity to try to establish Siakam, to mixed results, as he had 12 points at the half but needed 12 attempts to get there. The Nets continued to scrap, but any effort they made to cut into the margin was undone on the half’s final possession when Fred VanVleet let the ball roll to near midcourt and then banked in a heave. Those three points brought VanVleet to 13 in the half (he had 22 on the game), and gave the Raptors a 57-42 lead going into the break.
A stat noted on the broadcast after the break was that the Nets only managed five attempts at the basket in the first half. This would be a trend that largely continued entering the third quarter, as early offense three point shots proved the most consistent way for them to score. Tyler Johnson led the way for the Nets, scoring 13 in the quarter all on jumpshots, but the Raptors counteracted this outburst as some excellent interior passing led to them consistently generating open looks at the rim. Siakam spearheaded this attack, as he had 14 points of his own in the frame, part of a night that saw him notch a team-leading 26 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists, by far his best performance in the bubble overall.
The Raptors bench came out strong to open the fourth, Terence Davis received regular run for the first time in these playoffs and was able to chip in by slashing to the rim for a couple of scores. Norman Powell contributed in much the same way, but it was Ibaka who shone brightest, taking advantage of the Nets’ lack of rim protection with Allen out, and then stepping outside to drill the jumper when he checked back in. Ibaka put together a 20 point, 13 rebound double-double all things told, and it was this surge from the bench that really put the Nets out of reach, stretching the margin past 20, where it would remain the rest of the game.
The Raptors put their starters back in for roughly 30 seconds, but Marc Gasol connected with VanVleet on a ridiculous behind the back pass, leading to a three, and Lowry splashed a transition three up from nearly 30 feet on the following possession. After hitting that shot Lowry took a foul, allowing for the starters to check right back out and for garbage time to begin.
When things wrapped up a few largely uneventful minutes later, the score was 117-92. Now the Raptors will have the opportunity to finish off what could be the first series they’ve ever won in a sweep when they take on the Nets on Sunday at 6:30.