In the course of recent Raptors history, there’s been plenty of winning — but it hasn’t always looked easy. Even last year, facing an Orlando Magic team they owned in the regular season, Toronto got sideswiped by D.J. Augustin in Game 1 of the first round, forcing them to beat an inferior opponent in five.
Consider those past lessons learned then, as the Raptors finished a sauntering four-game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night, 150-122. In doing so, they scored a franchise playoff record for points; for the series, they outscored the Nets by 82.
Very quickly, let’s pivot to the main reason for the win — because, believe it or not, 100 of those 150 points came from the Raptors bench. That mark is an NBA playoff record, and was sparked by the incredible offensive play of Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka.
On a night of records, Powell earned one more: most points off the bench in a Raptors playoff game with 29. Shooting 9-for-14 from the field, including 5-for-9 from three, Powell’s game was a microcosm of Toronto’s as a whole — very confident on offense, getting to his spots, and finishing with authority.
NORMAN "PLAYOFF" POWELL— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 24, 2020
NUFF SAID pic.twitter.com/71AJGCKRvy
Then, you had Serge Ibaka. On any other night, he’d be the first player to earn individual praise. Starting 7-for-7 from the field and shooting 9-for-10 before halftime, Ibaka made an impact on both ends while scoring 27 points. Playing in lineups at both power forward and centre, Ibaka also pulled down 15 rebounds, made two solid assists, and marked two blocks.
Terence Davis and Matt Thomas also got into double digits off the pine with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Stanley Johnson, bless his soul, made a pair of threes and had 9 points.
As they have all series, the Raptors looked supremely confident against a porous Nets defense. Early on, Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn adjusted to a switching scheme, but without cloning Jarrett Allen there was simply nothing to be done. Both the Raptors starters and (obviously) the bench had no problem breaking down the Nets off the dribble, creating open shots, and beating Brooklyn at their own pace.
In the first quarter of Game 4, it was Toronto’s starting frontline that looked sharp. Marc Gasol finished an and-one and made a three, Pascal Siakam was adamant about getting to the rim, and OG Anunoby had a wicked spin move to score.
Siakam would finish the high scorer among Toronto’s starters with 20 points, while also marking a career-high 10 assists and grabbing six rebounds. His three-point shot wasn’t there in Game 4 (1-for-7), but shooting 8-for-15 on twos is something you take every night.
To the Nets credit, a hot shooting start for Caris LeVert and Tyler Johnson kept them within striking distance in the first half. LeVert would finish with 35 points, but his supporting cast petered out over time.
The one blow to Toronto in Game 4 came late in the first quarter, as Kyle Lowry twisted his ankle stepping on Chris Chiozza’s foot in transition. After briefly attempting to play on it, Lowry left the building for further testing — he didn’t return and reports on the injuries severity have yet to come back.
Even without Lowry, though, the Raptors would build their lead beyond a Nets comeback in the third quarter. Powell made two great takes to the rim, including the dunk you see above — just part of 13 points in the frame to help Toronto outscore Brooklyn 39-19.
The fourth quarter was a formality after that, as thoughts turn to the second round and the Boston Celtics. It’s a matchup we’ve yet to see — a bit surprising considering both teams have been good for quite a while — and one where both squads should come in well-rested. No word on when the Game 1 tip will actually go, but reports have it as early as Thursday.
NBA official says earliest start date for Raps-Celtics would be Thursday, for what it's worth— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) August 24, 2020
For now, it’s time to savour something we haven’t seen from the Toronto Raptors before — a playoff series that felt easy, beginning to end, and provided fans peak confidence heading into a heavily hyped matchup.