Sixth time’s the charm! Fred VanVleet stars in Raptors climb back to .500

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Courtesy: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

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Five times previously tried this season, five times failed. For the first time since November 13th, the Raptors have broken even in the win-loss column and finish their four game homestand at 3-1. Toronto has won three straight for the first time since November 3rd, where they won five in a row after improving to 6-3 in Washington. A big reason is the same reason really.

Freddy “Big Dog” Vandelay

Fred VanVleet’s impact was all over this game once again. As his all-star campaign keeps gaining more traction, Gregg Popovich was asked what he thought. He had a Pop like answer.

That’s very fair. Fred didn’t take long to make an impression, opening the Raptors scoring with a three. Flipping this shot in over his head on the drive was an early sign that this was going to be another great night.

Skip a little later to an inbounds play I loved. Fred broke free off a Chris Boucher and Khem Birch double screen immediately after throwing it in to Gary Trent Jr. Devin Vassell was stuffed and had zero chance of contesting the shot.

VanVleet had 13 points in the first quarter and 24 in the half off six three pointers. Outside of the tough flip shot layup he made, everything was in an smooth rhythm. The Raptors rank fourth from the bottom in assists per game, but much of that is an outlier considering how often makeshift lineups were being used earlier in the season. You could just see the chemistry flowing which led to the Raptors eclipsing their 11.7 made threes average with 12 in the first half alone, and a season-high 30 assists.

Fred also took a couple of midrange shots when the opportunity presented itself. Jock Landale found himself switched onto VanVleet after another Boucher-Birch double screen at the top of the key to begin a possession. The result was a filthy hesitation move that created enough space for a rainbow elbow jumper. Birch didn’t make a field goal in this game, but his screening was excellent to get VanVleet open on numerous occasions. Another one found former bench mob buddy Jakob Poeltl switched into drop coverage, which was way too far back. Fred basically treated it like a free throw.

VanVleet also dished out seven assists, one of them to a wide open Pascal Siakam trailing the play. That’s important to note because Siakam made both of his threes this game, which is more than he had made the last six combined (1-17). That’s probably the only thing that Spicy P had been struggling with lately, as he is playing like a bonafide all-star in his own right.

Early third quarter now, where Fred was still en fuego. So why not face up, jab step and flame a guy who is more than a foot taller than you because who cares right? Sorry Jakob.

This is the first game of a back-to-back, so Fred’s night didn’t extend to the fourth with the game well under control. VanVleet has shot 30-57 (52.6%) from three over his last five games. That’s the most makes behind the arc in a five game stretch in Raptor history. It’s also the first time a Raptor has scored 30 or more in three consecutive games since Kawhi Leonard did a four-peat in the championship year.

The Raptors now sit ninth in the East, and are a half game out of seventh. Wins will be at a premium in order to really stamp home VanVleet’s chances at his first all-star nod.

Quick FYI: During Fred’s five game stretch, one was in Brooklyn and the Warriors game had only half the fans in attendance.. He didn’t play in Cleveland, and then the streak intensified in front of almost nobody at all. I’m not being serious but maybe he likes it that way?

Justin Champagnie

Champagnie has a solid opportunity to earn some minutes with Yuta Watanabe and Svi Myhailiuk in Covid protocols, and possibly steal some of Svi’s minutes when he returns. The first impression Champagnie makes when entering any game is crashing the glass. One of his offensive boards led to a VanVleet three to put the Raptors up 14 in the second quarter, a play Nick Nurse specifically pointed out after the game.

What you normally don’t notice is his shooting. This game was different.

A new career-high 14 points and a big smile from Champagnie to how hyped his teammates were on that second clip. What’s most encouraging is those two late threes were not wide open, he caught and fired with confidence. Champagnie also made two second quarter threes, going 4-for-4 at one point. He came in 1-8 this season (12.5%), and has shot that same percentage in four G-league games.

“He’s been working really really hard on his catch and shoot because we figure a ball is going to find him out there,” Nurse said. “It was nice to see him get hot because he’s been working really hard. Coaches have been.. he’s coming in early staying late. He has a chance to fill a role for us and get some opportunities like tonight so it’s nice to see him cash in on them.”

Sidenotes

Mississauga, Ontario native Josh Primo played his first NBA game in his hometown with some friends and family in the stands. With some Spurs missing like Dejounte Murray (17/8/8 this season) Popovich gave the Canadian a season-high 28 minutes and Primo responded with 15 points, five boards, four assists, two blocks and a takedown of a row of courtside seats. I don’t know why they are even there with no fans to sit in them but I digress.

Primo has also made it known that he wants to be a part of the national team in the future, so Nurse got a good look at him in this game.

“He really shoots it pure. He’s a good catch and shoot guy, moves really well. We certainly have him in the fold at some point. It’s good to see another good sized shooter coming along,” Nurse said of Primo.

What’s Next

Quick turnaround, the champs are here! (in Milwaukee).

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