Caris LeVert shined throughout the eight-game restart to help the Brooklyn Nets get the seventh seed while emerging as a star.
Through two games, the Toronto Raptors have used a series of defensive adjustments to neutralize LeVert. The defending champions hope to do so again Friday in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round series.
LeVert averaged 25.0 points in six games once the league resumed from a nearly five-month hiatus. He shot 48.0 percent (59-of-123) in those games, continuing an ascension that had started before the pause.
So far, the Raptors have figured out ways to stop him or at least lessen his impact on the game. LeVert is averaging 15.5 points and 13.0 assists in the two games but is shooting at a sub-par 27.8 percent (10-of-36) and has yet to hit a 3-pointer on six attempts.
“They know he’s a big part of our offense and they’re trying to take it away,” Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen said. “Knowing the Raptors’ defense, that’s what they’re great at is swarming the ball and swarming Caris to make sure he doesn’t make plays.”
Not making plays was especially true in the second half of a 104-99 loss in Game 2 Wednesday. LeVert scored only four of his 16 points after halftime.
“I know at one point they went to a box-and one (zone),” LeVert said. “They were switching up their looks a little bit. We’ve got to adjust to that better.”
After leading by as many as 33 in the series-opening 134-110 win, the Raptors contained the Nets in crunch time in Game 2. Toronto forced five turnovers and outscored Brooklyn 30-19 in the final 12 minutes.
“Tonight, was really way more about gutting it out,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “There was a lot of matchup changing, coverage changing, that kind of stuff. We really had to hang in there.
“We were getting hit around pretty hard, they were trying to deliver a knockout punch to us and we just kinda hung in long enough to keep fighting and gut it out.”
The Raptors were particularly effective with Pascal Siakam on the floor alongside Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby.
“I think this is a really good example of playoff basketball,” Nurse said. “Each game takes a whole different shape. Now I would assume Game 3’s gonna take another one. It’s what makes it so interesting and intriguing, I think.
VanVleet scored 24 points and so did Powell. Lowry added 21 and nine rebounds while Siakam contributed 19 points.
If the Nets are not better than they have been through two games, they could get eliminated from the first round for the second straight season as early as Sunday night.
“You look at the first game, we didn’t play so well but we still had a chance,” Allen said. “So, the message is, it’s a long series, the series isn’t over and we can come and take it if we want it.”
LeVert will be tasked with even more responsibility Friday since Joe Harris will not play. After Wednesday’s game, the Nets announced Harris left the bubble for a non-medical reason.
Harris collected 14 points and 15 rebounds in Brooklyn’s starting frontcourt alongside Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Filling a void in the rotation is nothing new for the Nets, though finding someone who can shoot 3-pointers at a percentage similar to Harris (42.4 percent) could be another challenge.
–Field Level Media