VanVleet, Barnes help Raptors feast on shorthanded Warriors

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 119-100 win over the Golden State Warriors.

1. The Warriors practically forfeited by resting all of their key veterans on the second night of a back-to-back. The Raptors happily took their chance with a professional effort against what can only be described as a G-League-level opponent, racing out to an early lead and maintaining control of the game from that point onward. The Warriors can afford to sacrifice a game when they’re 24-6, and the Raptors will happily take the result to move within one game of the .500 mark with another G-League-level team in the Orlando Magic up next.

2. Fred VanVleet put the Raptors on the front foot and kept them there. It was exactly the type of leadership you wanted to see from VanVleet, who knows that the Raptors have played down to their opposition many times this season. VanVleet torched the Warriors in every way possible in the first half, collecting 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds after two quarters while also intercepting a number of the Warriors’ plays, and that put the team into a comfortable space where the second unit could finish it out in the fourth. The only regret for VanVleet is that he was three rebounds shy of a triple-double, but as he joked afterward, his teammates didn’t give him the “Westbrook treatment,” where centres move out of the way for the point guard to pick up the loose balls. Still, there is nothing at all to complain about in a game where VanVleet splashed six threes, recorded 12 assists and didn’t turn the ball over once. It was perfect point-guard play.

3. The two-man game between VanVleet and Scottie Barnes was beautiful. Each of them assisted the other three times, with Barnes consistently finding VanVleet open on the perimeter, while VanVleet kept spotting Barnes on breakaways and him cutting through gaps in the defence. In the absence of Pascal Siakam, who was ruled out due to health and safety protocols shortly before the game, it was up to Barnes to step up as the second option, and the fluidity of his play with VanVleet was noteworthy. Neither player hesitated in finding the other one, there was no over-dribbling and they each made reads where the quality of the pass created the chance in the first place. If Siakam continues to miss time, expect this combination to be featured heavily.

4. Barnes’ vision was on full display. Not only did he record six assists, but three of his best passes were actually on easy shots that weren’t converted. In the second quarter, Barnes was bringing the ball up in transition on the left side of the floor, before jumping to the side to create a tight window where he slung a fastball down to Justin Champagnie cutting to the rim for an air-balled layup. Another missed opportunity came a few minutes later, when OG Anunoby had the ball at the elbow and fed Barnes on the cut to the rim with a pass over the top. The Warriors quickly sent two to Barnes in the paint, but Barnes outsmarted them both by tapping the pass out to the corner instead of catching it and trying to make a play, which led to a wide-open three for Chris Boucher but that also failed to drop. Finally, in the third quarter, as Barnes was leading the break, he threw a no-look bounce pass to VanVleet for the layup, except it also spilled out. Barnes has the right mix of creativity, skill, vision and audacity that all of the great playmakers possess.

5. Anunoby was understandably rusty in his return after missing a month. Anunoby wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he had been before his hip pointer, preferring mostly to take catch-and-shoot chances when the ball swung his way with the occasional isolation play mixed in. He had only two points at halftime with three fouls, but was much closer to his former self as he settled in for the second half, nailing a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line, while also driving and kicking to VanVleet in the opposite corner.

His defence also picked up, as Anunoby broke up a high-low pass that should have been a layup, and pressured a pass late which would have sparked a fast-break dunk for himself, except it was ruled as an over-and-back against the Warriors. Anunoby’s return gives Nick Nurse another creator who can help balance the lack of offence off the bench.

6. Precious Achiuwa was also sharp in his return. Nurse mentioned that Achiuwa was practically bouncing off the walls in practice after being held out due to an abundance of caution despite testing negative for COVID-19, and it showed in this win. Achiuwa picked his spots well on offence — starting with a smartly timed short roll where he made himself open for a pocket pass from VanVleet before stepping into a smooth floater — and carried that same approach throughout the night. He showed good patience in the post, taking his time to get to his spots before either banking it in off the glass, or turning over his shoulder for a short baseline jumper. Achiuwa then topped it off with one of the many highlights on the night as he plucked a lob from Gary Trent Jr. out of the sky for an alley-oop finish that forced Steve Kerr into burning a timeout.

7. Chris Boucher continued to start despite Achiuwa’s return. Boucher has been solid ever since joining the starting five, which has provided him more chances to finish plays set up by others, and his rim running gives VanVleet a decent pick-and-roll partner. Boucher nailed a pick-and-pop three to open the scoring from VanVleet, then finished off two rolls to the rim also set up by the Raptors’ star point guard. It’s hard to envision Boucher being as effective for the second unit because there isn’t a playmaking guard in reserve, and so it was smart of Nurse to keep him in the starting lineup. That will be short-lived, however, when Siakam returns.

8. Yuta Watanabe‘s aggression continues to improve on offence. He delivered 12 points in 21 minutes off the bench, which included a transition three and a left-handed jam after making a timely cut through the middle of the defence. Watanabe gets most of his points on catch-and-shoot threes, or simply as a function of playing harder than most players, which saw him collect two offensive rebounds and two steals. He also recorded a spectacular block in the final minute of the game, meeting Gary Payton II at the summit before sitting him down on the blocked shot, which is another example of how hard Watanabe competes. Even in the final minute of a blowout, he is still going all-out to make plays, and that’s why Nurse will keep rewarding him with minutes, even when the Raptors eventually return to full health.

9. The play of the game was how the Raptors set up a simple corner three for Watanabe. The Warriors blitzed VanVleet at the top of the floor, similar to how many teams defend Stephen Curry, with the goal of getting the Raptors out of their rhythm. VanVleet smartly beat the trap by flipping it out to Achiuwa, who had a 4-on-3 advantage at that point. He swung it to Malachi Flynn, who was open on the wing, but Flynn made the unselfish play by finding Barnes even more open in the corner. Barnes also made the smart play by turning down the shot in favour of driving the baseline, which caused three Warriors to swarm him, before kicking it out to VanVleet, who was open and red-hot at this point, except he makes the third extra pass on the play to feed Watanabe for a warmup jumper in the corner. In short, the Raptors gave the Warriors a taste of their own medicine.

10. Many fans were understandably frustrated with what became of primetime Saturday showdown. Not only was it a mad scramble to provide tickets after the province cut attendance down to 50 per cent, but the Warriors didn’t even bother sending their main players across the border. It was hardly the experience many people paid for, but then again, these are the realities of playing through a pandemic. The entire world has been making concessions over the last two years, and in the grand scheme of things, this is small. Still, it is quite jarring that Kevon Looney — who had his ribs broken by Kawhi Leonard on drive to the rim — was the only Warriors player in the lineup Saturday who also played in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.

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