After their 117-92 victory in Game 3, Toronto is leading a playoff series 3-0 for the first time in franchise history. That means the Raptors have never swept a playoff series either, and will have the chance to finally do so today. That’s not the only piece of good news. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was named the 2019-20 NBA Coach of the Year, winning 90 out of a possible 100 first place votes.
While being interviewed by the Inside the NBA crew, Nurse was congratulated by his high school basketball coach in what was a very heart-warming moment.
A highly deserved award for Nurse, who managed the Raptors to their highest regular season winning percentage in franchise history while becoming the architect of a swarming and versatile defense. Entering the season, few thought the Raptors would have competed at this level. And that’s before considering the high number of man-games Toronto lost to injury. Throw in the COVID-19 shutdown and restart, and it’s remarkable Nurse has kept things as steady as he has over the past year.
Now, Nurse continues his excellence by pushing Toronto to their first 3-0 lead against the team that knocked the Raptors out six years ago in seven games. The Brooklyn Nets are not the same team they were then, not the same team they were at the beginning of the season, and not even the same team they were in March. Their stars are injured and multiple rotation players have opted out of the bubble, which has forced interim coach Jacque Vaughn to get creative with his lineup. None of it has quite worked against the Raptors.
With Boston in the early game today, a Celtics win would mean they become the first team to advance to the second round in the Bubble. If Toronto gets the victory, the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals will be set with the Raptors vs. the Celtics — the first time these two teams will have met in the post-season.
Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today the Raptors play the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4. Here are the details for today’s contest.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 6:30 PM EST
Brooklyn – Joe Harris (personal – out), Jamal Crawford (hamstring – out), Spencer Dinwiddie (opted out), Taurean Prince (opted out), Wilson Chandler (opted out), DeAndre Jordan (opted out), Nicolas Claxton (shoulder – out), Kyrie Irving (shoulder – out), Kevin Durant (achilles – out)
Fred VanVleet has been spectacular this series and has been the constant for Toronto. Kyle Lowry is impacting the games in a way only Kyle Lowry can. The Raptors have had a deep team all season long with multiple contributors and five players averaging over 15 points per game. Game 2 it was Norman Powell leading the team in scoring, then Game 3 saw Serge Ibaka and his patented pick-and-pop elbow jumper got going. Toronto also has All-Star Siakam all the way down to a player like Matt Thomas. Simply put, Toronto has a lot of weapons.
Meanwhile, OG Anunoby is Toronto’s best defender with the ability to guard all five positions, and he doesn’t have to be a major offensive influence for the team. Having said that, he’s been averaging less than nine points per game and shooting only 30 percent from outside this series. In what could be the final game against a lesser opponent this post-season, the Raptors should look to get OG going to help bring some positive momentum into the next round.
Brooklyn’s Future Finest
What was once considered the worst division in all of professional sports could become one of the best next season. The Atlantic Division, with Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto will all have championship aspirations with three of them in a great position to do so. Brooklyn may be overmatched this season (just look at the injury report) but their resolve has not gone unnoticed.
While it’s looking like a straight sweep for the Raptors, the eye test shows Brooklyn playing hard on nearly every possession. Vaughn is currently the interim head coach for Brooklyn and he’s making a case to take over full time. It’s yet to be seen what type of player Kevin Durant will be when he returns, but if he’s even 75 percent of pre-injury Durant, the league better watch out. In that spirit, the Raptors will take the wins for now, and prepare for what’s coming.
Since entering the Bubble, Toronto has gone a league-best 10-1. With a win today, they will have won 11 of 12 and be full of confidence entering the second round. Their opponent — who will almost certainly be the Boston Celtics, currently up 3-0 on the cratering Sixers — will see a team peaking at the right moment in a quest to defend their championship. However, Toronto’s only loss in the Bubble has come at the hands of the Celtics. This potential series will not be a cakewalk.
Jayson Tatum has exploded onto the scene this season and since February has been playing the best basketball of his career. Jaylen Brown, who was once ridiculed for his play comparative to his extension, has made those doubters eat their words on way to becoming a legitimate two-way player and future All-Star. Kemba Walker will finally make it out the first round and will be hungry to keep it going. Boston and Toronto have the makings of a classic rivalry but the only thing missing was the opportunity to play each other in the post-season. If Toronto and Boston take care of business today, we should be looking at an incredible series for basketball fans all over.