PREVIEW: Red-hot Fred VanVleet leads Raptors into Brooklyn

By Field Level Media
Aug 23, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) scores a three point basket against Brooklyn Nets guard Garrett Temple (17) during the second half in game four of the first round of an NBA game in the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Toronto Raptors saw their title defense fall short in the NBA bubble last September, they dismantled the Brooklyn Nets, and their best player in the series was Fred VanVleet.

The Raptors are off to a slow start, but VanVleet is coming off a record-setting performance heading into Friday’s visit to Brooklyn, the first meeting of the season between the teams.

VanVleet, who is averaging a career-high 20.4 points this season, scored a team-record 54 points in Tuesday’s 123-108 victory at Orlando. VanVleet’s quick start comes after he dominated in Toronto’s sweep of Brooklyn in the conference quarterfinals last season by averaging 21.3 points on 52.8 percent shooting (58.5 percent 3-point shooting) in a series Toronto during which averaged 126.3 points.

“Just a special night, obviously, a lot of different levels,” VanVleet said after Tuesday’s game. “So just trying to enjoy it for now, but it’s not a championship or anything like that. It was a good game for me, and I’ll enjoy all the love for a couple hours and get ready for the next one.”

VanVleet shot 17 of 23 from the field, 11 of 14 from 3-point range in 37 minutes. He broke the team mark of 52 set by DeMar DeRozan. It also was the most points by any undrafted player in NBA history, surpassing Moses Malone’s 53 points.

“Tonight, is really special, because it came from a kid who was undrafted, worked his way to an NBA player and an NBA starter, and possibly this year an All-Star and possibly an All-Defensive Player,” Toronto guard Kyle Lowry said. “That’s what makes it really special.”

Toronto enters Friday on an upswing. The Raptors lost eight of their first 10 games, with half of those defeats coming by five points or fewer, but they are 7-4 since.

The roster Brooklyn used in the playoffs is a vastly different one than the group that will take the floor Friday. Caris LeVert led the Nets in scoring in that series but was traded as part of the deal that brought James Harden from Houston on Jan. 14.

Also absent from last summer’s postseason were Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who were recovering from injuries. So far the duo has fit in well with Harden, and the Nets have gone 8-3 since acquiring “The Beard”.

The latest victory was a 124-120 win over the Los Angeles Clippers that gave Brooklyn its fifth win in six games and a sixth straight home win since a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 10. On Tuesday, the trio combined for 90 points on 64.7 percent shooting (33-for-51) and scored 21 of Brooklyn’s final 23 points.

Kyrie Irving scored a season-high 39 points, Durant added 28 while Harden finished with 23, 14 assists and 11 rebounds for his fourth triple-double with Brooklyn.

“As we continue to progress, the beautiful thing is that we’re interchangeable,” Irving said. “So, some nights, one of us can have a big night, the other guy can have multiple assists, multiple rebounds and we just want to complement each other well as a group.”

The Nets already were a productive offense before the trade. But since Harden’s debut, they are averaging 127 points on 51.8 percent shooting. They shot 57 percent Tuesday.

–Field Level Media