The impact of Fred VanVleet’s defence and how it allowed the Raptors to thrive against Golden State in Game 1

Title: The impact of Fred VanVleet’s defence and how it allowed the Raptors to thrive against Golden State in Game 1
Date: May 30, 2019
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I wrote about Fred VanVleet and the Raptors’ defence coming through to go up 1-0 in the NBA Finals.

The Scotiabank Arena crowd engaged in a carousel of chants throughout the night. There were the usuals, like a raucous “Let’s Go Raptors” that flowed naturally from the ending of the Canadian national anthem about 10 minutes before tip-off. That chant resurfaced quickly before tip, drowning out the pleas of in-house MC Mark “Strizzzy” Strong to chant that this was their house. When Kawhi Leonard was at the free-throw line, he received his now-customary “MVP” serenade. There was a “Dan-ny” chant for Danny Green as he broke out of his shooting slump. Even Paul Pierce received a “Paul, you suck” from the section immediately beneath the ESPN booth.

The night will be defined by the unity of Raptors fandom across Canada. Outside of a raucous Scotiabank Arena were thousands in Jurassic Park, 20,000 more at Jurassic Park West in Mississauga, other outdoor viewing parties in Brampton and Burlington, Kingston and Kitchener and beyond. Later, fans took on Dundas Square, like they did Saturday. Somehow, that energy feels like it can coalesce from those outside sources and reverberate around the arena.

That the Raptors were winning almost the entire game helped. Yes, there was anxious energy for stretches. Raptors fans are conditioned better than to take leads for granted, and nobody has any false ideas about the Warriors’ offence, with or without Kevin Durant. As each minute ticked away, though, as they survived minutes with an odd bench lineup down Leonard, as they stayed steady through foul trouble for Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, the energy grew. The last six years have seen some truly amazing crowds in Toronto. This one, for a 118-109 victory that put the Raptors ahead 1-0 in the NBA Finals, might be the best yet.

“It was pretty crazy in there tonight,” Kyle Lowry said. “We have the best fans in the NBA and they’re showing it every night. We really appreciate it.”

As the Raptors entered the tunnel back to the locker room, one last chant broke out. It would have been deemed incredibly unlikely four games ago. Arms stretched behind him to wrap the back of his head in a towel, Fred VanVleet exited to “Fred-dy” echoing in his ears.

“It seems like each game it gets better and better,” VanVleet said.

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