10 things: Fred VanVleet just couldn't miss on record-setting night

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·7 min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 123-108 win over the Orlando Magic.

One — Exhilarating: It’s probably not a good sign if two wins against the banged up Magic are the best wins of the season, but the Raptors definitely made the most of it. First, we’re treated to a petty beef between Aaron Gordon and Kyle Lowry, which resulted in two flagrant fouls and the discovery of the existence of Magic fans who called for Lowry’s head. In the sequel, the Magic jump out of a 14-3 start looking hell-bent on revenge, only to be humiliated in the end by being cemented in Raptors history. The most important part are the two wins, but it was also tremendous content in otherwise dry games.

Two — History: Fred VanVleet broke DeMar DeRozan’s record for most points in Raptors history with 54 against the Magic. The strangest part of the win was how effortless and natural it was. At no point did VanVleet really force the issue to get his own look, even when he checked into the fourth quarter with eight minutes left and 46 points already on his tally. The franchise record was obviously on his mind, and the Raptors were comfortably ahead by double digits, so it would have been easy for VanVleet to launch every shot, but instead he stayed patient and got to the record simply through the flow of the offense. The Raptors also showed good sportsmanship by not further extending VanVleet’s minutes just to rack up points, as VanVleet checked out with three minutes left in the fourth quarter having played just 37 on the night. He only missed six shots in the game, connecting on 11 threes, and all nine of his foul shots.

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, right, goes up against Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier for a shot during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Fred VanVleet wouldn't be denied as he toppled DeMar DeRozan's single-game Raptors points record on Tuesday night versus the Orlando Magic. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Three — Wet: The bulk of VanVleet’s scoring came from beyond the arc. He already made eight threes by halftime following an explosive 17-point first quarter, and he poured it on with another 18 in the third quarter. It was comical to see the Magic constantly lose track of VanVleet, but again it wasn’t as if VanVleet was jacking up 40-footers like Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard. Instead, the Magic stuck to their plan of loading up in the paint and sending double teams at every drive and on Pascal Siakam’s post-ups, so there were plenty of good looks from three. Of his 11 triples, 10 were assisted catch-and-shoot opportunities with the majority being wide open. There was even one regrettable play where DeAndre’ Bembry missed VanVleet wide open in the corner that would have made it a full dozen. A lot of it was good execution and great screening by the Raptors, but the Magic should be embarrassed in their next film session.

Four — Unexpected: VanVleet ended up breaking the record largely through broken plays. He scored the 47th and 48th points on a pair of free throws driving against Evan Fournier. He got to 50 on a wide open layup where he simply cut to the basket without a single Magic defender inside the paint. He got to DeRozan’s record on a terrible giveaway where Cole Anthony threw a perfect outlet turnover right to VanVleet for a streaking layup. His final basket came on another easy cut in the lane, where VanVleet even fumbled the pass and was still unchallenged on the layup. Fournier should have another two assists on his box score for how he guarded VanVleet down the stretch.

Five — Complete: Siakam committed a turnover to end the third quarter, which set Terence Ross sprinting out for what seemed to be an easy layup, except VanVleet sprinted out to a lung-bursting run to track down the play to strip Ross at the buzzer. VanVleet was clearly gassed, and although he was so good at scoring, his defense never wavered. That speaks to VanVleet’s character and his competitiveness. His focus was always on winning the game, and everything else comes secondary. Consider this: VanVleet is second on the Raptors in blocks this season, and collected another three tonight.

Six — Context: DeRozan was one of the first players to congratulate VanVleet on breaking his own record, and Kyle Lowry spent the entire post-game interview gassing up his protege. Those were VanVleet’s veterans as he started his career, and they were both brimming with pride to see VanVleet surpass them both. On the other end Ross, who previously shared the record with Vince Carter at 51 points, is good friends with VanVleet stretching back to their days together in Toronto and also happened to be involved. What sets VanVleet apart from the other four, beyond more total points, was how efficient it was. Of the four 50-point games in Raptors history, VanVleet needed the fewest shots and the least minutes.

Seven — Dominant: Lowry was looking for VanVleet all the way, especially in the fourth quarter. And despite him putting up a triple-double, Lowry pretty much only talked in glowing terms about VanVleet after the game. The boxscore has Lowry down for 10 assists, but he should really have 11 after tracking down the game ball on VanVleet’s behalf. You can never take for granted the importance of leadership and stability in the Raptors’ success over the better part of a decade. To go from Lowry and DeRozan, to be carried now by VanVleet along with Lowry is an incredible blessing.

Eight — Streak: It’s becoming normal again for Norman Powell to reach the 20-point mark. This is his fifth-straight game with 20 or more, and it’s even more impressive that Powell bounced right back from his injury to continue his streak. The game can be so simple for Powell because the offense caters so much to his skillset. He is an accurate catch-and-shoot option from deep, there are other players who can draw attention and to find Powell going downhill towards the basket, and the Raptors are second in the league in deflections so Powell should have lots of easy chances to use his athleticism in the open floor. Powell got off to a very shaky start to the season but has really settled in as a reliable scorer, and the Raptors’ offense has greatly improved because of it.

Nine — Good: He didn’t score 30 points for the third-straight game, but this was a promising game from Siakam on account of his eight assists. The Magic played him completely differently as compared to the first meeting, choosing to trap and double him every time instead of allowing him to play 1-on-1. Siakam didn’t force his shots, but instead was quick to recognize the double and to kick it out so the ball could find the open man. The Raptors also did a better job of screening off the ball when there was a double so that the opposite corner shooter was usually wide-open. The job of a first option isn’t to always force a shot, the burden is to create good offense for a team as the whole. Siakam struck the right balance tonight even if he only managed 12 points of his own.

Ten — Bad: The only small nitpick in Siakam’s game is his propensity to turn the ball over by jumping without a specific target in mind. This is hurting his transition game, where Siakam is scoring just 0.76 points per play (down from 1.17 in 2020 and 1.26 in 2019) in large part because he’s not making the right reads. Sometimes he keeps it for himself when the defense is clearly loading up for the charge, and other times he gets into his Eurostep, and is caught in the air when he is left with either a difficult contorting layup or to throw a bail-out pass that is prone to pick offs. The solution might just be to slow it down. Running a break is fairly simple, and Siakam has a long history of being an efficient scorer in the open floor.

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