VanVleet Rewrites The Record Books
Kyle Lowry watched as Fred VanVleet laid the ball up off the glass and raised his hands triumphantly as his teammate inched toward history.
“Fifty-two!” Lowry bellowed to the mostly empty Amway Center. A few moments later, Lowry threaded the needle to VanVleet in the paint and No. 23 spun around a defender as he pulled the pass in and scooped it home, setting the Raptors’ all-time single-game scoring record with his 54th point.
As VanVleet bombed away from three-point land, making 11 of his 14 attempts overall and hanging 46 on the Magic through three quarters, the narrative of this historic night started to unfold.
Names of legends ran through our timelines as VanVleet surpassed them. There was DeMar DeRozan, Vince Carter and Terrence Ross, the three past top single-game Raptors scorers. There was Moses Malone, the previous undrafted (as loosely as the term applies to the HOFer) single-game leader. A stat popped up that had VanVleet’s line listed with Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dirk Nowitzki and Anthony Davis.
A 50-piece is incredible any time it happens, but Lowry heard some of those names in the post-game and started thinking about just how incredible this one was.
“The hard-working kid that was undrafted from Rockford, Illinois. Y'all know how I feel about him. That’s my little brother, man and I’m proud of him,” Lowry said.
By the time they were talking with the media, VanVleet had already FaceTimed with DeRozan and likely saw how the basketball world came to a stop on Tuesday night to watch him at work. Lowry saw DeRozan score his 52 in Milwaukee three years ago and was on the court with Ross seven years ago when he went for 51. VanVleet’s game felt different.
“It came from a kid who was undrafted, worked his way to a NBA player, then an NBA starter. Then possibly this year an NBA All-Star and possibly an NBA All-Defensive player,” Lowry said. “That’s what makes it really special.”
Raptors coach Nick Nurse echoed that.
“I think it's an incredible statement, to be an undrafted guy to do that,” he said.
“It's incredible. He's got a pedigree for winning, every team he's been on his whole life. He took a smaller mid-major university through two incredible seasons. Had that Game 6 fourth quarter in the championship finals. Undrafted and just a tremendous competitor, worker, thinker, all that stuff.”
It was a career night for VanVleet, but one that will sit in the box score as a reflection of who he is and how he plays the game. The shots fell at an extraordinarily high clip -- he finished the night shooting 17 of 23 overall -- but they weren’t forced. He said as his first shot dropped that he knew he’d have a good shooting night. Once he hit his fifth triple -- that came in the dying seconds of the first quarter -- he knew he was on to something.
“The basket just kept getting bigger,” VanVleet said.
As he filled up the basket, he continued to work away on the defensive end. At the end of a magnificent third quarter that saw him score 18 points, he managed to chase down Ross and strip the ball off of him as he made a layup attempt. In addition to the 54 points, he had three steals, three blocks and two assists.
VanVleet is always about team, so it was fitting that his teammates seemed to get so much joy out of this night, too. They were all waiting for him in the locker room after the game and celebrated the moment with him. Lowry had corralled the game ball and presented it to VanVleet in front of the team. The past year has robbed us all of much of the joy we’ve normally found in our lives. Celebrating with his teammates helped restore a little of that.
“It's hard to get together with all these COVID protocols and things like that to team bond, but a night like that will bring us all closer,” VanVleet said.
The win is the most important thing, but seeing his teammates celebrate was the memory he said he’d take from this game.
“They see how happy I am for them as well, it’s a two-way street,” he said.
“You play with a pure heart and a clear conscience and a clear soul, then good things happen. Your teammates and your brothers will be happy for you. That's just a family thing. You’ve got to be able to be happy for other people before other people can be happy for you. That’s all that is.”
There was an abundance of that in the Raptors’ room after their second win in a row. It was DeRozan calling his old teammate to congratulate him on breaking his record and it was in Lowry letting his 17th career triple-double fall by the wayside to be VanVleet’s hype man. It was in the way that the entire roster doused him with water bottles and celebrated a player on his greatest individual night.
“I want everybody to pass my record. I want Freddy to break every record that I’ve got,” Lowry said. “That's just how it's supposed to be. Records are made to be broken.”