Two days after dazzling in a high-scoring Game 1 victory, the Toronto Raptors laboured before finding a way to win Game 2 on Wednesday.
Norman Powell drove to the hoop repeatedly in his 24-point performance – including the game-clinching dunk in the final seconds – as the Raptors beat the Brooklyn Nets 104-99 to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
Fred VanVleet also had 24 points, with 10 assists, while Kyle Lowry contributed 21 points and nine rebounds. Pascal Siakam pitched in 19 points and six boards.
The Raptors trailed for most of three quarters – labouring on offence and figuring out ways to counter Brooklyn’s defensive adjustments. They finally seized the lead midway through the fourth and held on tight.
Powell adjusted after a quiet six-point performance on 2-of-4 shooting in Game 1, in which he played fewer than 17 minutes compared to more than 32 in Game 2.
“I told Norm before the game this felt like a Norman Powell game,” VanVleet said. “He can get hard on himself when he doesn’t play up to his standards. Stay in his ear and understand that he’s going to have opportunities to crack gaps with the way they’re playing defence. He’s probably got an extra 20, 30 inches on his vertical than I do. So I’m getting in there, and I know what I’m seeing. I just want him to attack those same gaps that I do and rise up.”
VanVleet was fresh off a career playoff-best 30-point performance on Monday, when the Raptors won 134-110. He drained eight three-pointers that day, several of those from well behind the arc. The Raptors expected the Nets to come out with different coverages Wednesday.
Brooklyn started Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot instead of Rodions Kurucs. That seemed to have Toronto discombobulated, forcing the Raptors into uncharacteristic turnovers and long chunks of time without a field goal. Brooklyn jumped out to a 14-point lead and held VanVleet without a point in the quarter.
The defending champs answered quickly, going on a 13-0 run thanks to scoring from Siakam and Powell. They slowed up the Nets’ scoring in transition and made it a four-point game heading into the second quarter.
The Raptors kept it close with the Nets in the second quarter, refusing Brooklyn a single fast break point in that period.
But outside of VanVleet and Powell, the Raps struggled mightily to score in the second quarter. Marc Gasol was without a point and turned the ball over, looking quite unlike himself (he ended up playing just 17 minutes).
The length of Brooklyn big man Jarrett Allen in the paint was challenging. After dazzling with 22 three-pointers on Monday, the Raptors like a team looked lost from deep early on Wednesday. They misfired on 15 of their 21 first-half attempts from beyond the arc.
Brooklyn led 53-50 at the half.
When the Raptors slipped behind by 10 in the third quarter, VanVleet erupted for four successive buckets – a couple of runaway layups and a pair of threes on his way to a 14-point quarter. But the rest of his team couldn’t hit much, and each time Toronto got close, Brooklyn pulled ahead. The Raptors trailed by six going into the fourth.
“We had to switch a lot of things on the fly, a lot of coverages and a lot of matchups and a lot of stuff because it just wasn’t [working]. It was funky,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “That’s what you do – you keep searching and searching.”
Nurse used a smaller lineup down the stretch. Halfway through the final quarter, the Raps inched into the lead. Some scrappy defensive plays by OG Anunoby set the table. Buckets fell for more Raptors – a big dunk for Anunoby, an Ibaka hook shot off a crafty VanVleet handoff, then Lowry spun around his defender and finished at the rim. Powell went to another gear and became unstoppable as he unleashed a whirlwind of dunks and driving layups.
“He had some awesome drives tonight, really timely, too,” Nurse said of Powell. “We needed some of those. We needed some easy offence in the transition that he provided.”
Game 3 is Friday and Game 4 is on Sunday.