The final score of Monday’s Game 1 between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors doesn’t remotely tell the story of the game. Yes, the scoreboard looks like a blowout at 134-110, but the context here is critical. Toronto jumped out to a seemingly insurmountable 33-point lead in the second quarter. Many teams would’ve laid down from there. the Nets didn’t. They fought back and cut the lead down to only eight in the third quarter. Despite their underdog status both in the game and the series, Brooklyn kept fighting.
That is going to be the tone of this series. Toronto has an undeniable advantage in talent, but the Nets won’t go down without a fight. Even if they don’t get 15 assists from Caris LeVert every night, this is going to be a more competitive series than the score suggests. But if Fred VanVleet shoots 8-of-10 on 3-pointers again? The Raptors will still walk away from this series with a victory relatively quickly. Here are three key takeaways from today’s Raptors victory.
1. Back to the drawing board for Brooklyn’s defense
Brooklyn’s defense is designed to prevent shots at the rim. They allow the second-fewest attempts within three feet of the basket in the entire NBA, but that means sacrificing on the perimeter. The Nets sag off of shooters, go under screens and generally sell out to protect the basket. That serves the Raptors just fine. Everyone in their rotation can shoot, and on Monday, basically, everyone in their rotation did shoot. Eight different Raptors hit a 3-pointer in Game 1, and the team made 22 as a whole on their way to 134 points.
Brooklyn is going to have to make schematic adjustments for the rest of this series, but looming over all of this is Toronto’s potential matchup with Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference finals. Brooklyn’s defense is a lesser version of Milwaukee’s. Only the Bucks allow fewer shots at the rim, and both go to extreme lengths to protect the basket. If Toronto’s offense works this well against the Nets, will it similarly thrive against the Bucks? That’s a question for another day. For now, we know that the Raptors are in good shape against Brooklyn offensively.
2. Point Caris?
Caris LeVert has been pressed into point guard duty through injuries to Kyrie Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie, but his focus, justifiably, has been on scoring. He is the only current Net capable of getting to the basket, so his 25 points per game in the bubble have been a better use of his talents than playing a more traditional point guard role. But Toronto has one of the best defenses in basketball and used it to limit LeVert as a scorer. So, during an inefficient shooting night, he adjusted. LeVert finished the game with 15 assists.
This is one of the last levels a player needs to reach before earning superstar status. The best players in the league know how to impact games when their shots aren’t falling. LeVert did so in this game. No matter what happens in this series, the Nets will be able to hold their heads high knowing what a valuable experience this was for one of their best young players.
3. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot may never miss another shot
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot started this season on a two-way contract. Now, he’s one of the breakout stars of the bubble. In eight seeding games, Luwawu-Cabarrot hit 45 percent of his 6.4 3-point attempts per game. That wasn’t remotely sustainable based on his pre-Disney career, so naturally, he came out in Game 1 and hit six of his nine 3-pointers.
Brooklyn’s priority this season both in and out of the bubble has been preparing for next season when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving give them a real chance to contend for the championship. Every player on their roster is auditioning for a role on that contender, and Luwawu-Cabarrot is making a very compelling case for himself. Star-led teams always need shooters to take advantage of the space those big names create.
TOR -9.5, o222.5
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Nice little jumper there from Jarrett Allen. That’ll be a weapon he’ll need to have in his arsenal next season when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving return.
Welp, if that Davis and-one didn’t clinch it, this OG Anunoby spin and foul will do the trick.
That and-one from Terence Davis might be the clincher. The lead is back up to 17. Never say never, but the Nets have only eight minutes to close this gap.
That’s EIGHT 3-pointers from Fred VanVleet!
Who else but TLC? That’s six 3-pointers for Brooklyn’s surprising star.
Raptor lead is back up to 15 after that big 3 by OG Anunoby. It isn’t over yet, but it’s looking grim for Brooklyn.
There goes Rodions Kurucs with six fouls, and the Nets are short a backup center.
Fred VanVleet has been Toronto’s savior today. He has 27 so far.