Fred VanVleet continues breakout season, leads Raptors past Nets for franchise-record 14th straight win
VanVleet finished with 29 points and six assists
The Toronto Raptors have been terrific this season, and most of the coverage has been focused on their response to losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, Pascal Siakam's continued development and the ridiculous injury problems they've faced. And to be fair, all for good reason; those are important storylines. But it also means that Fred VanVleet has flown under the radar.
That's been the story for his entire career, so perhaps it's fair, but he's also putting together an impressive season, and it continued on Saturday night. With Kyle Lowry out, VanVleet took charge of the backcourt and dropped a cool 29 points and six assists to help the Raptors escape with a 119-118 win over the Brooklyn Nets. The win was No. 14 in a row for the Raptors, extending their franchise-record streak, and pushing them to 38-14 -- a better record than they had through 52 games last season.
Up by 18 in the second half, and 12 heading into the fourth quarter, the Raptors seemed to be cruising to victory until the Nets staged an impressive comeback attempt to get back in the game. Thankfully for the Raptors, they had VanVleet to help hold the Nets off, and secure the win.
The point guard scored 10 points in the fourth, including a crucial five-point stretch in the final few minutes to maintain the lead. No one else on the Raptors scored more than three points in the final frame, and as a team, they only managed 19. While Siakam ended up hitting the game-winning free throws with less than 30 seconds to play, they might not have even been in that position if it wasn't for VanVleet.
After starring in the Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals to help the Raptors secure their first title in franchise history last season, VanVleet has quietly kept up a high level of play this season. He's putting up 17.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game, all of which are career-high marks, and shooting 39.9 percent from 3-point land. His steady leadership, defense and outside shooting aren't the most exciting traits of all time, but they're instrumental in keeping the Raptors going.
Now just a few days away from the All-Star break, they're in second place in the Eastern Conference and have a seven-game cushion for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Without Leonard and Green, the Raptors' ceiling is definitely lower, but thanks to VanVleet, the floor hasn't dropped at all.
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