Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 104-99 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of the 2020 NBA playoffs.
One — Tight: The Nets showed great resiliency in bouncing back after a lopsided performance in Game 1. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn made a number of adjustments, specifically with his defense, that flummoxed the Raptors for most of the night. Toronto trailed by 14 to start, went back down 10 in the third quarter, and had to ultimately earn the win on the final possession. Brooklyn threw its best punch, and the Raptors narrowly escaped with a 2-0 series lead.
Two — Redemption: Kyle Lowry made two costly defensive errors that allowed Brooklyn to close the gap. First, he overhelped on the baseline and left sharpshooter Joe Harris open in the corner for three which cut the lead to six. Then after a missed shot by Fred VanVleet, Lowry turned his head and lost track of Brooklyn’s other shooter in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who cut it to three. But in classic Lowry fashion, he made up for it. Brooklyn inbounded to Harris with 15 seconds left on the clock with a chance to tie, except Lowry was draped all over him. He stayed down on the pump fake, took away all of Harris’ space, then pressured the hand-off to Garrett Temple, who promptly mishandled the ball leading to a breakaway dunk for Norman Powell. That’s real accountability from your leader.
Three — Tricky: Brooklyn changed its defense after giving up 134 points in Game 1 to a switching scheme designed to keep guards out of the paint. The Nets had 7-foot center Jarrett Allen at the top of the floor at all times, and dared the Raptors to attack the mismatch. This was mostly aimed at quieting Fred VanVleet, who had 30 points and 11 assists in Game 1, and it worked to a point. VanVleet didn’t score in the first quarter and wasn’t able to drive and kick to find open shooters. But as the game went on, the Raptors found holes in the defense, and managed to create just enough offense in spite of their 9-of-35 performance from deep. Expect the Nets to remain in this coverage going forward, and likely against Boston in the second round, because the Raptors’ weakness is one-on-one scoring.
Four — Measured: Pascal Siakam was the first to crack Brooklyn’s switching scheme, as he scored 14 points in the first quarter. A lot of his success came when he received the pass around the elbow before getting to work against a smaller defender. Especially when Allen was out of the game, Siakam was able to drive deep into the paint and either finish strong or draw the foul. As the game went on, the Raptors’ guards took over, and Siakam feel out of favour in the offense, but it was a good performance on the whole. The best part was that Siakam wasn’t pressing for his own looks. Instead, he moved the ball around and was committed on defense. He came up with a key defensive rebound at the end to secure the win.
Five — Slash: The downside to having Allen switch so much is that he isn’t available to protect the basket, and that’s why Powell feasted with 24 points off the bench. Powell recognized that his outside shot wasn’t falling, so he was insistent on getting to the hoop. Powell used Rodions Kurucs as a dunk prop in the first of his two poster dunks, and was consistently able to slice through the gaps in Brooklyn’s defense. Powell has gotten so good at finding the angle, and driving hard through the lane for the finish. The Nets have no answer for him on the perimeter, especially since he’s largely going against their bench players in Chris Chiozza and Tyler Johnson. And as always, the more time Powell shares with the starters, the better.
Six — Elite: The sign of a great player is that they can adjust to whatever the defense throws at them. Sure, the Nets took away the pull-up threes that sustained him in Game 1, but VanVleet is the complete package. He read the defense and made the adjustment. VanVleet drove hard to the hole and finished off an assortment of reverse layups, came around screens for the catch-and-shoot three, and found his chances to still pull up from three when the defense mixed up their signals. VanVleet wasn’t as efficient, but he got the Raptors out of their second-half rut, and set them up for the finish.
Seven — Response: If it wasn’t for Kurucs, the Nets very well could have stolen this game. Not only did he have a bullseye on him defensively, but he also shook OG Anunoby out of his slump with a needless shoulder to the head. The play was enough to enrage Anunoby, who is as muted as they come, and he responded with a powerful take along the baseline for a right-handed dunk, then with a fearless move right at Allen to draw two free throws. Anunoby still needs to find ways to stay involved in the offense, as he’s been quiet in two games, but he’s been excellent on defense.
Eight — Lockdown: Caris LeVert carved up the Raptors in the first quarter, both with his herky-jerky drives and with his astute playmaking. The Raptors had to adjust once again, this time moving to a switching style of defense to keep LeVert out of the lane. Nick Nurse had wings guarding Allen instead of either Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka so that they could switch the pick-and-roll action, and it forced LeVert to attack more in isolation. The Raptors were also less aggressive with their defense and invited LeVert to try his luck from outside, where he shot 0-of-4 from deep. On the whole, he only made 5-of-22 from the field, including just 2-of-14 after the first quarter.
Nine — Versatile: This is where it helps to have two forwards in Anunoby and Siakam who can guard all five positions. Siakam spent much of the game banging with Allen, before switching onto LeVert. He was able to use his quickness to stay in front of LeVert and force him into contested jumpers, similar to how he guarded Eric Bledsoe in 2019 and John Wall in 2018. When it wasn’t Siakam’s turn, Anunoby took over and had the same effect on LeVert. The best defenses in the modern game feature multiple switchable defenders. In that sense, Anunoby and Siakam are like Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, who were the anchors of Golden State’s dynasty.
Ten — Rotation: Nurse went to a smallball lineup with Siakam at center to close the game. This is the second-straight game in which Gasol watched from the bench for the fourth quarter. Given how quick and versatile this Nets team is, it only makes sense to downsize. If Gasol were able to punish the mismatch down low, or fly around on defense, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But instead he was scoreless in 17 minutes, and looked a tad too slow on both ends.
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