Apologies in advance. I know no one wants re-live this game right now but as we shift from the end of the 2019-20 season for the Toronto Raptors and move into the off-season, perhaps no player will be more intriguing to follow than Fred VanVleet.
His free agency has been a major topic of discussion throughout the year and while his performance in the seeding games and the first round series against Brooklyn seemed to secure a big bag, the series against the Boston Celtics showed there are flaws that should pull back talk of a max contract.
After averaging 21.3 points on 58.5% shooting from 3-point range and 56.3% shooting within five feet of the basket against the Nets, VanVleet managed 18.7 points on 31.9% shooting from beyond the arc and 44.7% within five feet. The defence on Kemba Walker was stellar, limiting him to 30 percent shooting when guarding him. How much that plays on the minds of GMs in the free agent market will be interesting to see.
In this final Game 7, VanVleet’s decision making was particularly poor, and while fatigue may have been a factor for all involved, there were several occasions he seemed to be taking from Norman Powell in previous seasons with a predetermined plan to push the pace and get to the basket no matter what. Let’s start there.
TURNOVERS ON DRIVE
The box score shows three turnovers but two of the misses you see below were effectively turnovers. Play No. 1 can happen from time to time, the Celtics have tremendous length and Jaylen Brown happens to make a good play on the ball.
In the second play, VanVleet unnecessarily goes up in the air and doesn’t recognize Marcus Smart cheating off Serge Ibaka for the steal. This was compounded by the Celtics being able to get out on the break for a dunk by Jayson Tatum. The final play (0:45) suffers a similar fate, and is exacerbated by the fact Norman Powell is cutting perfectly for a dunk opportunity if VanVleet is even remotely paying attention to him.
What was frustrating to watch over the course of the game is that this is how the majority of Raptors’ turnovers ended and was ultimately the difference in the game. In a deciding game, 18 turnovers resulting in 31 transition points is only asking for trouble. Especially considering the Raptors’ overall halfcourt offensive struggles and their inability to create quality transition opportunities for themselves, Toronto will find it hard to accept that 13 of their 18 turnovers came in the second and fourth quarters while there were only five total turnovers in the first and third quarters.
The occasions that VanVleet got to the rim were a mixed bag. On the season, nearly two-fifths of his field goal attempts come there but he only makes 51 percent of his attempts — good for the 18th percentiles among combo guards.
In the first three plays, we see how recognizing exactly where he has an advantage and attacking it works in his favour. He’s unlucky not to get the goaltending call on Tatum, sizes up Robert Williams and beats him to the rim, then uses a solid Gasol screen (and tug on Tatum’s jersey) to create momentum going to the basket.
VanVleet clearly possesses the ability to break down defenders and build separation, but it’s what follows that creates problems for him. His size means he’s not covering enough ground quickly enough and so either bigs are able to help or his man is able to recover depending on their own length.
Several times the Celtics were able to screen VanVleet out and create downhill momentum for their guards and forwards.
VanVleet did take a couple quesitonable three-pointers, stamped by the final attempt that could have tied the game. That was again an occasion where he settled and didn’t really consider his options — including a timeout — but he was quite good with his stroke outside of that.
The season is over, there’s not much to say except that everyone will want to continue the trend of getting better just as they did entering the previous off-season. VanVleet will be making time to think about what uniform he’ll be wearing next season.
It’s something that the global pandemic gave him plenty of time to think about, and he expanded on how that thought process has been for him.
“I think you never sit down for that long and just reflect on your place and where you are in your job and what you do and your family,” VanVleet said. “Being at home for that long, it gives you a lot of time to reflect on things so, I’m sure – like all of us – everybody’s jobs were in jeopardy, I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen with the league, I wasn’t sure about next year with the cap and what the numbers would look like so it put a lot of things in perspective so, speaking on that, in general, it changed the way you would view everything and makes you appreciate things a lot more, so, like I said, I think that people have been talking to me all year about how much money I’m gonna make this summer and I’m a skeptical person so I gotta wait and see to believe it.
“So, that’s kinda what I’m speaking to there, is I’m not looking ahead or I was never looking ahead all year, I was focused on trying to win a championship with this team and we got the opportunity to come back here in the bubble and give ourselves a chance and that’s all you can ask for.”