Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 150-122 win over the Brooklyn Nets to complete a 4-0 sweep in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs.
One — Sweep: The Raptors completed the first sweep in franchise history in emphatic fashion with their third blowout win in four games. Toronto had an overwhelming talent advantage, but it was also a case of will. Toronto was determined to kill the series from the tip in Game 1, and that focus carried them through the week. Brooklyn was just too small on the inside to guard against Toronto’s bigs, and when you add in the All-Star level contributions from Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, and Norman Powell, this series wasn’t even close.
Two — Lifeless: The Nets rolled over after losing Game 2. Sure, you can point to them being comically shorthanded, but the effort wasn’t there. It was as if they concluded every huddle by chanting “one, two, three, Cancun” because at no point did the Nets compete. Brooklyn was shockingly bad on defense, and tried to engage the Raptors in a track meet, which only plays into the hands of the league’s best transition team. Toronto led from start to finish and played its third-stringers for the entirety of the fourth quarter. There was more intensity during the scrimmage games a month ago.
NORMAN "PLAYOFF" POWELL— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 24, 2020
NUFF SAID pic.twitter.com/71AJGCKRvy
Three — Concern: The lone concern from this game is the status of Lowry, who left the game in the first quarter after rolling his left foot. Lowry tried to stay in for a possession, but wisely asked to come out. Lowry left immediately for imaging, and his status is to be determined. Lowry is tough as nails — recall that he played most of the East finals and the championship with a jammed thumb — so it’s cause for concern that he checked out. Game 1 against the Celtics begins on Thursday and hopefully that will be enough time for Lowry to recuperate before the next round.
Four — Explosive: After a quiet showing in Game 1, Powell steadily dominated the Nets. Brooklyn’s depth was practically non-existent, but even its starters couldn’t stop Powell. He opened the game with a hammer dunk on shot-blocker Jarrett Allen, and proceeded to torch them for 29 points in 24 minutes. Powell has found his groove coming off the bench, as he is getting to the basket at will while also knocking down every open three. There was some concern that Powell didn’t have his rhythm with the second unit during the seeding games, but he is now back to playing with the power and poise that fuelled his breakout season before the league’s shutdown.
Five — Untouchable: Serge Ibaka owned the Nets in all four games. Ibaka had 27 points and 15 rebounds off the bench, and didn’t miss a shot until the second half. Ibaka battled for post position against Brooklyn’s shrimpy defenders, and calmly made the right reads to beat their double teams. Ibaka is an entirely different player when he is confident and aggressive, and it’s most evident in his jump shooting. Ibaka is reliable from the midrange and from three, but only if there is no hesitation. There was absolutely none against the Nets in any of the four games, as Ibaka easily outplayed Marc Gasol in this matchup.
Norm x Serge =— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 24, 2020
56 Pts | 18 Reb | 8 3pm | 81 FG% pic.twitter.com/fjdxWnw4Hg
Six — Role: Pascal Siakam settled more into his game as the series went on. Siakam battled for post position and made the right reads in choosing between when to attack and when to distribute. Brooklyn’s wings were powerless to stop him, and only Allen ever gave him any pause at the basket, although he dispelled that from the start with a driving layup over the 7-footer. His outside shot wouldn’t fall until the third quarter when he nailed a stepback over Rodions Kurucs, but that’s less important. What Siakam did tonight resembled his early season form. He got to the rim at will, and made the right plays out of the double team. With Lowry injured and VanVleet in foul trouble, Siakam also extended time as a point forward, which was another staple of his early-season success. When Siakam drives, the defense rushes to the paint, and there are always open shooters around him.
Seven — Preview: Powell started in place of Lowry in the second half, and that lineup produced some of the best basketball of the entire series. VanVleet and Siakam served as the main playmakers, while Powell and OG Anunoby either finished sequences or kept the ball moving. They had a stretch where Anunoby swished a corner three off a pass from Siakam, then Siakam found Powell for three, before VanVleet forced a timeout with a pull-up three that pushed the lead to 23. That group ran the Nets off the floor, regardless of whether it was Gasol or Ibaka at the five, and it was a preview of what’s to come. That’s a championship-tested young core that will carry this franchise for the next half-decade.
Eight — Decent: Gasol showed more of an ability to score today, although that might be more a reflection of Brooklyn’s unwillingness to defend than Gasol’s skillset. Gasol’s defense wasn’t as valuable in this series because the Nets didn’t have any scoring bigs, nor did they put any real pressure at the rim, and so his offensive ineptitude was especially glaring. His post game isn’t there to punish mismatches, and his threes from the top are so rare that the defense can live with his makes. This will be a problem moving forward against Boston and beyond.
Nine — Spark: Terence Davis got extended run as the backup point guard with Lowry out, and brought plenty to the table. Davis put Kurucs on (another) poster with a hammer dunk, and shot 4-of-8 from deep for 14 points off the bench. Davis would see more minutes if he was more dependable on defense. He committed three needless fouls reaching in, and looks to be freelancing at times with his reads. On a team with so many strong defenders, Davis stands out.
Ten — Grudge match: The Raptors will face the Celtics in Round 2, setting up for a long-awaited battle that should run seven games. Boston is riding high after putting the Sixers out of their misery in four games, and went 3-1 on the Raptors in the regular season. Boston has a bit more top-end talent with two gifted scorers in Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, while the Raptors have more depth. Losing Gordon Hayward undercut the Celtics’ ability to overwhelm teams with their size on the perimeter, but that might be offset if Lowry misses any time. I will have a Celtics preview later this week.
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