As the Toronto Raptors kicked off game 1 of their 6-game road trip against the Orlando Magic, you could feel something special was brewing. Fred VanVleet has been one of Toronto’s most consistent players this season, and it came to a head in Tuesday’s 123-108 win.
Orlando started the game hot. Despite leading 11-0, Toronto settled in and Fred VanVleet quickly found his stride. After missing his 1st shot, he was lights out. He put up 17 points in the 1st and had 28 at the half. He scored 18 of the teams 32 in the 3rd. With 46 points going into the 4th, there was no question DeMar DeRozan’s franchise leading 52 was in his grasp. With 3:46 left, Kyle Lowry fed VanVleet in the paint where he scored the teams new franchise best 54 points. It seemed fitting he would pass his friend DeRozan with the assist from Lowry. VanVleet would go on to finish with 54 points on 17 of 23 shooting along with 3 steals and 3 blocks. He did it on both ends of the floor in the win.
After the game, he talked about playing the right way despite knowing he was closing in on DeRozan’s 52. Guys started looking for him more than the basket and he made it clear he wanted to win more than get 50 points. That speaks to the kind of player VanVleet is. He prides himself on doing it the right way, playing with the flow of the game. “In the past, I kind of shied away from being thirsty”, he said of going for individual accolades. But it was written in the books on Tuesday night.
Both Lowry and Nick Nurse knew the night could be special. “[The] ball was coming off his hands so easily”, Nurse told reporters. Lowry agreed. “Everything was in rhythm”, he said post-game. And neither guy seemed surprised. VanVleet is a competitive worker and thinker. He’s a winner who wants to help his team at the highest level. He is the kind of leader that buys in, and it affects the teams chemistry in a positive way. When you have a player who is more invested in the teams success than their own, it’s easy to want to buy in.
VanVleet’s energy flowed through the team. Norman Powell was back from his injury and dropped a quiet 23 points and 4 steals in 28 minutes. It has been a tough few years for Powell, who has seemingly been on the verge of breakout seasons but finds his success cut short due to injury. It’s nice to see him back and still producing. Kyle Lowry also had a solid night. He posted his second triple double of the season, with 14 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.
In the loss, Nikola Vucevic scored 21 points and 18 rebounds. Evan Fournier finished with 21 points. Despite outscoring the Raptors bench 37-16, the Magic have now dropped 4 in a row and fall to 8-14 on the season.
Game note: With his 54 points, Fred VanVleet put up the most points by an undrafted player in NBA history. He made 11 of 14 three’s, one bucket shy of Donyell Marshall’s franchise-leading 12.
Next up.. Toronto has 2 days off as they travel to Brooklyn to face the new-look Nets on Friday. Tip off is 7:30pm EASTERN at Barclays Center.