The signs have been there all season, but you’re starting to feel it now. With Kyle Lowry’s career winding down, the Toronto Raptors are Fred VanVleet’s team.
A model of consistency since he earned his “Steady Freddy” nickname as an undrafted point guard off the bench, VanVleet has elevated his status along with his contract in 2020-21 by improving on both ends. Tuesday night was the culmination of that.
In a 123-108 win over the Magic, a game that became secondary to Fred himself, VanVleet scored a Raptors franchise record 54 points on 17-for-23 shooting — including 11-for-14 from three, one make short of Donyell Marshall’s franchise record from 2005.
VanVleet had 17 in the first and 18 in the third, making for two magic quarters — maybe the most fun I’ve had as a Raptors fan in a calendar year. It was all in the flow for VanVleet too; besides the hyper-efficiency, it just looked like Fred doing what he does — making deep threes, getting into the paint for tough layups, and finding creases thanks to attacks from other players. He was no slouch in other aspects of the game either, as he added three rebounds, two assists, three blocks, and three steals on an evening where he marked a +20.
The Rockport, Illinois native also broke new ground for undrafted players in the NBA, breaking Moses Malone’s record of 53 points by just a hair, really hammering the “bet on yourself” slogan in a bit more on an eager audience.
Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has scored the most points ever by an undrafted NBA player: 54 against Orlando, surpassing Moses Malone (53).— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 3, 2021
Quite simply, VanVleet was magnificent — but he wasn’t alone in a game where the Raptors’ offensive firepower made up for some inconsistent defense.
Kyle Lowry notched his 15th triple-double in a Raptors uniform — a headline on any other night — marking 14 points, ten rebounds and ten assists in 34 minutes. Toronto also got 23 points from Norman Powell, fresh into the starting lineup after a quad injury held him out two games, looking no worse for wear (save for a missed dunk in the first half).
It wasn’t all roses for the Raptors on Tuesday, though. The Magic opened the game on an 11-0 run, with the Raptors scoring their first basket over three minutes in (a Fred VanVleet three, duh). After a 14-5 Orlando start forced an early Nick Nurse timeout, Toronto’s starters responded well — going on a 14-5 run of their own, punctuated by an enormous Aron Baynes dunk set up by Lowry.
Fred took it from there, hitting back-to-back threes to put Toronto up 20-18, then finishing the quarter with 17 before taking his first rest.
Lowry started the second running the show with the second unit, as a lineup with DeAndre Bembry and Yuta Watanabe gave some returns on the offensive end of the floor. Unfortunately, miscues and poor placement by Terence Davis and Chris Boucher allowed the Magic to work their own offense, and the quarter was mostly a wash.
The combination of Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic, in particular, bounced back from a lacklustre Sunday game for the Magic — each would score 21 points to lead their team.
Down four after halftime, the Magic came out with a run again to start the third quarter, but just couldn’t sustain when the Raptors went to their bench — while keeping VanVleet on the floor. The same issues presented themselves in the second unit on defense, sure, but Fred’s shooting just overwhelmed Orlando. It also felt like the Raptors had active hands on every 50-50 ball, totalling 14 steals to just four for the Magic.
With a double-digit lead heading into the final six minutes, the game simply came down to Fred running up his points total. He couldn’t shake free for a three-pointer after the third quarter, but got a couple transition layups and some free throws to inch past the old Raptors record, held previously by DeMar DeRozan’s 52.
After the game, VanVleet spoke to passing his former teammate.
DeRozan was watching too.
Congrats to my brotha Freddy V! Kyle old ass couldn’t do it. Glad you did champ! Been telling you!— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) February 3, 2021
It was unmitigated fun, man — something that’s much needed when every day feels like Groundhog Day. It doesn’t have to get much deeper than that; 54 points was just a little more special given all the circumstances the Raptors and their fans are going through.
What’s left to say? Enjoy it.