The undermanned Brooklyn Nets are picking up playoff experience on the fly.
The Nets will be taking lessons learned in their loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series into Game 2 on Wednesday afternoon near Orlando.
The NBA defending champion Raptors made an early statement in Monday’s series opener by opening a 33-point lead in the second quarter.
The Nets put on a surge of their own to cut their deficit to eight points before the Raptors regained control and cruised to a 134-110 victory.
“They’re champions and have played on the big stage before, and seemed like they were trying to deliver an early message,” Nets interim coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I did like the way our group responded after halftime and accepted that first punch: The rounds will continue.”
The Nets are playing without Kevin Durant (recovery from right Achilles surgery), Kyrie Irving (right shoulder surgery), Nicolas Claxton (left shoulder surgery), Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince (COVID-19) and Wilson Chandler (opted out due to personal reasons).
When the Nets made their push on Monday, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet was a steadying influence. He scored eight points in the third quarter and finished with a career playoff best of 30. He made a career-best eight 3-pointers and added 11 assist in 39 minutes of action.
“Stating the obvious, he was awesome tonight for sure,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
“They were making a big run so I wanted to be a little bit more aggressive in the second half and the third quarter to kind of hold them off a little bit,” VanVleet said. “And then fourth-quarter time is who’s hot at that time and obviously we’ve got Pascal (Siakam) and we’ve got to get him a couple touches. But I was able to find my looks and they kept finding me and I was able to knock down some open ones. Just try to do whatever it takes to win.”
Siakam, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds, was quick to compliment VanVleet after the game.
“He’s an amazing player and definitely one of my favorite players in the league,” Siakam said. “Just seeing how calm he plays, just steady, and it always feels like he’s in control of the game. And we definitely need him.”
The Raptors have depth as well as playoff experience, as demonstrated by Serge Ibaka’s 22 points and seven rebounds off the bench in Game 1.
The Raptors did a good job of defending Caris LeVert, who has been the Nets’ big scorer in the bubble.
LeVert had 15 points, a career-best 15 assists and six rebounds in Game 1.
“They were trapping all of my isos, mid-post, top, all my ball screens,” LeVert said.
“Guys are going to have to make plays,” said Nets forward Joe Harris, who scored 19 points.
“That’s how it’s probably going to be for a majority of the series. Caris is our best offensive player, and teams are going to try to get the ball out of his hands.”
The Nets top scorer was Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who matched his career best with 26 points.
“(The comeback) was huge for us,” LeVert said. “We know the type of game we have to play. We know the type of mentality we have to play with on offense. And defensively, play with more force.”
–Field Level Media