The Brooklyn Nets should be credited for how they fought in the series against the Raptors. A depleted team that – by the time the playoffs kicked off – employed nearly as many players who would typically be G-Leaguers, as NBA players. They’re a superstar squad without a superstar to lean on, and even though Caris LeVert had a coming out party of sorts, they were thin like butter spread across far too much toast. The credit they deserve was earned through a willingness to fire away from deep, and a malleable defense that nearly caught the Raptors sleeping in Game 2. Since that game, and Norman Powell’s ascension in this series, every Nets run has been suppressed by the Raptors. It was no different in Game 4. The Nets brought their best, and it wasn’t remotely close.
Caris LeVert and co. had a remarkably potent punch to start yet another game. He and Tyler Johnson combined for 22 of the Nets first 25 points, and did so largely from downtown. LeVert was able to stir the Raptors defense initially and establish the drive and kick game that the Nets thrive on. Even finding some space as a catch and shoot option himself. They unloaded from downtown (taking 15 threes in the opening frame) got up and down the floor with a lot of drive, and after a great start found themselves trailing by 7 at the end of the first quarter.
The talent disparity was too much. The Raptors far too deep. After Gasol struggled to take advantage of the Nets uber-aggressive defense against him for the 3 games prior, he punched in 9 points on 100-percent shooting in the first quarter. Siakam tried his hand at point guard, as Kyle Lowry went down with an injury after stepping on an intrusive Chris Chiozza’s foot, and Fred VanVleet picked up 3 early fouls. The Raptors passed the ball around for 10 assists in the uniquely egalitarian looks they were forced into, and they pounded the Nets defense into submission. As it turns out, a 40-point quarter wasn’t an outlier, but a precursor for how the rest of the game would go.
“I won’t be very comfortable without Kyle out there.” Nick Nurse on the Celtics series, via Eric Koreen.
So, if the first quarter belonged to Siakam and Gasol, the 2nd quarter was unquestionably in possession of Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell. They combined for 25 points on 9/11 shooting, and ran roughshod over the hapless Nets bench, and starters. Ibaka was imposing on the offensive glass, remarkably sharp spacing out from beyond the arc, and Powell was a rapid weak-side attacker. The Raptors tertiary options both set records for bench contributions for the franchise (scoring over 25 points a piece) as the Raptors bench made its way to 100 points scored on the day – a new NBA playoffs record, easily passing the Mavericks at 86, and beating the regular season record as well, which the Warriors hold at 94.
The Raptors outscored the Nets by 82 points over the four game sweep. Despite VanVleet’s muted Game 4 performance (Nick Nurse was happy to let him rest with foul trouble, and it certainly paid off), he was the best player for the duration of these 4 games between the two teams. At series end, his splits are a robust 21/8/4 on an absolutely mind numbing efficiency at 53/56/80. It was a hell of a series, and perhaps adds some more context to his incredible run at the end of the 2019 postseason. It seems VanVleet is a lot closer to an undeniable All-Star guard than he is a lucky father of a newborn. His responses to the different looks the Nets threw at him were consistently excellent. A major point of optimism for the Raptors.
The second half was a hodgepodge of possessions that were commandeered by a newly confident Stanley Johnson, and Matt Thomas. The Raptors end of bench guys outclassed the end of bench pieces on the Nets by a significant margin. Ibaka and Powell combined for another 21 points in the frame, and the Raptors really started to run away with things (they finished with 27 and 29 points, respectively). The final 15 minutes of the game looked more like a scrimmage than an NBA playoff game, as the Nets followed their natural proclivity towards run-outs, 3-pointers, and matador defense to their impending doom.
Luckily, the game was sparsely physical and there was nothing of consequence outside of Lowry’s injury, which is admittedly, a huge consequence.
All in all, a monstrously successful game and series as a lot of the slumping Raptors came around. The Raptors flexed their muscles to the basketball world, and will have the chance to do so against the Celtics later this week. Hopefully, with Lowry in the lineup.
Game 1 vs. the Celtics is scheduled for this Thursday at 6:30pm EST. Be there or be square.
Have a blessed day.