It wasn’t exactly the start the Brooklyn Nets were hoping for in their first-round playoff series with the defending-champion Toronto Raptors, but there’s reason for optimism heading into Game 2 (Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. ET).
The Nets were battered 134-120 in their postseason opener, overcoming a slow start to cut Toronto’s lead to nine after three quarters, only to be outscored 39-24 in the final quarter.
“You have to give Toronto credit,” Nets interim head coach Jacques Vaughn said. “They are the champions and they’ve played on this big stage before and it seems like they were trying to deliver an early message to our group.”
They were mostly burned by Fred VanVleet, Toronto’s ascending guard who posted 30 points, including eight three-pointers, along with 11 assists.
VanVleet’s big night was predicated on his ability to pull up from deep, especially on the transition game that allowed him to get good looks from beyond the arc.
Vaughn admitted that the Nets made some in-game adjustments that allowed them to outscore Toronto 44-22 at one point, saying that they “shored” up their transition defense.
“That part was pretty encouraging to see that we can do it and now we’ll test our discipline and effort to do it for four quarters,” he added.
But VanVleet is going to be a tough man to stop this series.
“Some of those shots were pretty deep,” Vaughn said. “I think we’ll have to watch the film and figure out how to get to him a little sooner but at the same time respect his ability to get downhill.”
While their defense was a point of emphasis, there also comes the realization that the Nets’ offense needs to step up in order to make this a competitive series.
They got a decent boost off the bench from Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, who poured in 26, but none of Brooklyn’s starters eclipsed the 20-point mark.
“We’re going to have to be smart in the way we attack them but I think guys were able to recognize that we can get good looks,” Vaughn said. “Now we just have to make them pay for it.”
“We accepted that first punch from Toronto and the rounds will continue.”