Already down two games in what could be a very brief postseason this summer, the Brooklyn Nets look to halve their playoff deficit when they take to the floor on Friday for Game 3 against a motivated Toronto Raptors side. Can they keep the ball out of an in-form Fred VanVleet’s hands and make it 2-1, despite a depleted roster?
Brooklyn Nets vs Toronto Raptors: Nets keen to avoid going down 3-0
Tip-off time: 6.30pm BST on Friday, 1.30pm EST, 10.30am PST
Despite some shaky scoring numbers, VanVleet was again impressive on the whole – becoming the first player in Raptors history to record successive 20-point, 10-assist playoff performances.
The big question in Game 3 is whether Brooklyn can nullify him while making it tougher for Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam to score.
By all accounts, the Nets delivered a spirited display in Game 2 and yet find themselves slowly edging closer to a first-round exit.
Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen combined to good effect as the Raptors were down 14 early.
Despite clawing back level after work from Siakam and co, the Raptors were still down by ten in the third quarter.
VanVleet had other ideas though, sinking a couple of threes before Garrett Temple did the same for Brooklyn.
He had 21 points on 6-of-13 shooting! For context, in 62 regular season games, the 34-year-old only recorded more points three times.
Joe Harris, who had 14 rebounds and 14 points in 39 minutes, left the NBA bubble for an undisclosed personal matter yesterday. He’ll be sorely missed.
Key players to watch out for
Nets: Jarrett Allen
The young center had 14 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and a game-high three blocks in Game 2. They’re all above his season averages, but the 22-year-old can and still needs to do more if Brooklyn are going to turn this around.
Only LeVert (11) had more assists, but their star shooting guard also took better care of the ball in his hands.
No-one recorded more than his five turnovers, which isn’t a welcome sight at a critical juncture where every possession is magnified.
If he learns from his mistakes while being more aggressive and efficient on offense, the Nets have a real chance.
Raptors: Pascal Siakam
After a decent but unspectacular display in Game 2, it’ll be interesting to see if Spicy P is more efficient here.
He had 19 points, six rebounds, three assists, a block and steal – but shot just under 50% from the field (6-of-14).
No-one across the court missed more than his four free-throws (5/9), either.
It’s unlikely he’ll have to step up his scoring production until the later rounds, barring an unlikely collapse in this series.
But improved numbers and forward momentum wouldn’t exactly hurt a player who continued growing into a star this season.
Who’s more likely to win here? The breakdown
According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, Toronto are clear favourites (69.6%) to make it 3-0 against an undermanned Nets side.
FiveThirtyEight’s win probability statistics are even more emphatically in the corner of Nick Nurse’s men – 86% – which may seem harsh on the surface.
However, with news of Joe Harris’ bubble departure on Wednesday, another key player is missing for a depleted Nets roster.
Can they spring a surprise, like Orlando did to take Game 1 against the top seed Milwaukee Bucks?