LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Toronto Raptors opened the defence of their NBA championship with a 134-110 victory Monday over the Brooklyn Nets.
Fred VanVleet scored a playoff career-high 30 points to top Toronto in Game 1 of the opening-round playoff series in the NBA’s bubble at Walt Disney World.
Seven Raptors scored in double figures. Serge Ibaka had 22 points off the bench, while Pascal Siakam added 18 points, Kyle Lowry had 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Marc Gasol finished with 13 points, OG Anunoby chipped in with 12, and Terence Davis had 11.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had 26 points to lead the Nets, while Joe Harris added 19 points.
Game 2 is Wednesday.
The Raptors appeared poised for an easy win, running roughshod over Brooklyn en route to a 33-point lead. But the Nets, who went 5-3 in the seeding round, outscored Toronto 35-22 in the third, and when Jarrett Allen hit a buzzer-beat to end the third, the Raptors led just 95-86 to start the fourth.
VanVleet’s second three-pointer of the fourth-quarter had Toronto back up by 15 points with 8:56 to play. Anunoby, who underwent an appendectomy on the eve of last season’s playoffs, drew a foul on a driving dunk, and then scored from behind the arc and it was a 17-point game with 4:26 to play.
Ibaka’s three capped an 11-0 Raptors run that extended their lead to 22 points. Both coaches subbed in their benches for the remainder of the night.
The Raptors had beaten the Nets in three of four regular-season games, their one loss in Brooklyn ending their league-high 15-game winning streak.
The NBA’s unprecedented restart comes after a four-month hiatus caused by COVID-19. While the Raptors would have played this game in Toronto in front of a raucous home crowd, the only fans in attendance Monday at Disney World were virtual. The 300 fan faces on the 17-foot-high video boards conjured images of a giant video game.
Still, the night got off to an emotional start. Juno Award-winning Toronto singer Jessie Reyez performed a goosebump-enducing rendition of “O Canada” while kneeling on the outdoor EdgeWalk atop the CN Tower. Canadian opera singer Doug Tranquada sang the American anthem.
Raptors and Nets players and coaches also knelt behind the big block letters that spelled out “Black Lives Matter” and locked arms during the anthems in a show of solidarity against social and racial injustice.
Raptors’ family members _ including Marc Gasol’s and Fred VanVleet’s two kids _ then introduced the team’s starters in a touching tribute via video. Lowry’s sons Karter and Kameron introduced their dad saying: “From North Philly to your city, No. 7, Kyle luh-luh-luh-luh-Lowry!”
Past Raptors teams have played poorly in opening games of series, going 4-15 all-time all-time in Game 1s before Monday, including last year’s first-round opener against Orlando.
But a theme of this season is that winning an NBA championship has been a terrific lesson in how hard they have to work. Nick Nurse and his staff are all wearing bracelets that say “Expect to win!” and “ASO” _ short for August, September and October, a reminder of how long the eventual NBA finalists will be living and playing in the Disney bubble.
The Raptors also rebounded from the coronavirus layoff like they hadn’t missed a beat, going 7-1 in the Disney bubble despite facing the stiffest opponents of the 22 teams in the restart.
The Raptors faced the Nets in a thrilling 2014 first-round series that saw the debut of “We the North!” and Jurassic Park, and was the first of seven straight post-season appearances for Toronto. Lowry, who’s shot at the Game 7 buzzer was heartbreakingly blocked, is the only player remaining from either roster.
Lowry set the tone early, knocking down a three for the game’s first points, hurling a long pass to Siakam for a running layup, and taking a charge before the game was five minutes old. The Raptors quickly took a double digit lead and Lowry’s free throws had Toronto up 37-20 up to start the second.
VanVleet, whose previous playoff high was 22 points versus Golden State in Game 6 of last season’s Finals, had four threes in the second, and his long bomb on the run with 4:42 left in the half stretched the gap to 33 points. The Raptors took a 73-51 lead into the hafltime break.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2020.