Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 117-92 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of the 2020 NBA playoffs.
One — Demoralizing: To put it kindly, the Raptors stomped on Brooklyn’s hearts, killing any hope of a comeback. After taking their best punch in Game 2, the Raptors proceeded to leave no doubt in a commanding wire-to-wire victory. Brooklyn did their best to hang with the punches, but the Raptors delivered a series of highlight plays to cap off a dominant performance. It was ruthless, and it was exactly what they needed. What remains of this series is a mere formality. The Nets were already wounded — now they are broken.
Two — Command: The Raptors asserted themselves from the jump, with the starters racing out to a 16-5 lead. Fred VanVleet pulled up for 3 over Jarrett Allen, then Kyle Lowry followed with a 3 of his own. Toronto’s offence was scorching to start, and they were even better defensively, as the Raptors locked down the paint and Brooklyn couldn’t get an outside shot to fall. The Nets exhausted themselves trying to mount comebacks, only for the Raptors to reestablish the lead with short bursts of focus. It felt for most of the first half that the Raptors were playing with their food, and that was confirmed in the third quarter when the starters again viciously swallowed their pray before leaving Brooklyn to clean their own bones off the table.
Three — Pity: Whenever the Nets had an inkling of hope, the Raptors would crush it. Case in point: Caris LeVert broke out of his shooting slump and nailed two 3s in the first half, including a long trey to cut the lead to 12 with 0.8 seconds left. It set the Nets to go into halftime on a positive, except VanVleet answered right back by banking in a halfcourt heave. It’s not even so much about the score, so much as it was about the exchange. It was one of several demoralizing moments.
Four — Art: Serge Ibaka continues to assert himself in this series. Ibaka is matched up against Rodions Kurucs, who may be the worst playoff rotation player in NBA history, and Ibaka is schooling him every time down. Kurucs offers so little that the Nets have opted to go with five guards on the floor instead, and Ibaka has punished that strategy by working patiently in the post. Ibaka missed his first four looks, only to finish with 20 points and 13 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench. His whole skillset was on display: Ibaka was money with the jumper, he was steady in the post, flashed improved passing, and was lethal down the stretch, scoring an and-one and dunking the ball with ferocity to cap his brilliant night.
Five — Adorable: The Nets finally went to zone at the start of the third quarter, which wasn’t a bad idea. The Raptors ranked 30th in zone offence this season, and the Nets needed something to junk up the game. But it had the opposite effect, as it breathed life into Toronto’s otherwise average offence. What those zone numbers fail to mention is that Marc Gasol was out for much of the year and that he is the perfect zone breaker. They dumped the ball down to Gasol at the elbow and the Raptors made hard cuts around him, which resulted in beautiful passing sequences. Gasol had a pick-and-roll where he dished it to Lowry for a layup. He found OG Anunoby with a pass over the top which collapsed the defence and resulted in a 3 for Pascal Siakam. Then Gasol threw a bounce pass across the lane to lead Siakam into his sweet spot where he rose up and scored in the post. By the time the Nets called it off, the game was already over.
All-Star at work 🌶️— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 21, 2020
24 Pts / 6 Reb / 5 Ast pic.twitter.com/bAZR2Yocdg
Six — Creativity: The Raptors finished the night with 35 assists and had four players with five or more. Brooklyn’s zone opened up the game, but there were great sequences throughout the contest. One area in which the Raptors consistently generate good offence is when they find their bigs in the post, because the Nets often need to send extra defenders on the mismatch. That’s where Siakam (five assists) and Ibaka (two assists) got most of their dimes, while playmakers like VanVleet, Lowry, and Gasol also did their thing.
Seven — Energy: After sitting out for the first time all season in Game 2, rookie guard Terence Davis gave the Raptors a boost off the bench with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. At first it seemed like Davis was only in the game because Anunoby had his lip split open, but Davis must have showed enough to earn a second shift in the fourth quarter. Davis was a bit jittery at times, slipping and sliding in his matchup against waterbug point guard Chris Chiozza, but Davis’s confidence wasn’t shaken. On one play, Chiozza sat down Davis on a crossover, only for Davis to answer right back with a 3.
Eight — Simple: Having tortured LeVert with seven different defensive looks in Games 1 and 2, the Raptors changed it up entirely and went to basic coverage. LeVert did some damage with his three triples, but was noticeably less aggressive given that he was getting nothing in the pick-and-roll. Anunoby and VanVleet have figured out his tendencies — the short then long stride on his drive, cutting back to the middle off the high screen to get a defender on his hip, the tunnel vision once he gets within 10 feet — and it resulted in LeVert’s worst game of the series. Even though he shot 10-of-36, LeVert still contributed with 26 assists in two games. He was a non-factor on Friday.
Nine — Concern: The only downside to this game was seeing Gasol struggle with his scoring. The Raptors even made a concerted effort to feed Gasol early on, but he just wasn’t able to hit. He can’t seem to finish down low, he’s still settling for the loopy fadeaway jumper, and he’s strangely hesitant on the three up top despite being open for the majority of the game. Gasol at least made his impact defensively, and by throwing the pass of the night on a lookaway dime, but his inability to score is going to hurt the Raptors against tougher opponents in the next few rounds. The Nets are guarding him with guards that are half his size, and still he is passing up looks.
Ten — Business: Having covered the unspeakably lopsided Raptors-Cavaliers series over the years, the script will be simple for Game 4. The Nets are going to fight like hell in the first half, and it’s up to the Raptors to break their spirits for good. Stay in the game for the first three quarters, then when the Nets are physically and emotionally spent, make the final push. It should be the Raptors’ first sweep.
More coverage on Yahoo Sports Canada