Last year, Fred VanVleet's struggles against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals were well-documented. Quite simply, the 6-foot-1 guard had no answer for the challenges presented by the Sixers' stifling defence.
That certainly wasn't the case for VanVleet in the Raptors' 101-96 win over the Sixers on Monday night.
Despite dealing with early foul trouble, Toronto's fourth-year point guard was a driving force in the statement win. VanVleet finished with 24 points on an impressive 9-for-15 shooting to go along with eight assists and two steals.
Considering the fact that the Sixers' defence limited him to just 14 total points (on 21.4% shooting) over seven games just six months ago, it's safe to say something clicked for VanVleet on Monday.
It wasn't just his numbers, either, it was how he got it done.
As indicated by the shot chart, VanVleet didn't just do his damage as a jump shooter - he was able to get into the lane and effectively finish around the rim, with two especially difficult finishes coming in spite of being guarded by larger defenders:
Early on in the game, VanVleet drives past the 6-foot-7 Furkan Korkmaz and is met by the helpside defender, 6-foot-6 James Ennis III. Through contact, VanVleet floats a layup over two larger defenders to bring his total in the first quarter to eight points.
In the second half, VanVleet drives against the 6-foot-5 Josh Richardson, employs a Pascal Siakam-esque spin move and finishes over the length of Richardson's 6-foot-10 wingspan.
While he made things happen inside against the Sixers, VanVleet didn't stray away from his bread and butter, sinking half of his six 3-point attempts in the game. Through 16 games, VanVleet has knocked down a team-best 40 triples at a 37.7% clip.
Clearly, perimeter shooting is a hallmark of his game.
Admittedly, one big change this season that's had a hand in VanVleet figuring things out is his emerging from a reserve role to a full-time starter. He's also assumed the majority of lead-guard responsibilities as Kyle Lowry works to recover from injury.
Marc Gasol said as much postgame when he told reporters that both VanVleet and Pascal Siakam now "have a chance to have a much better feel for the ball. Last year, last series, they had seven or eight possessions that they were the focal point and now they have 60 to 70, maybe 80 times a game where they're the focal point.
"I'm sure (with) those gaps and that space, you're in rhythm the whole time," Gasol added. "I thought that we did a better job screening their sides and allowing Fred to separate from the action and get into the 15 to 17-foot area and once you start making those, that's what helps you out."
As he displayed in Toronto's big win on Monday, Fred VanVleet continues to grow in ways that will continue to benefit this team, especially once major contributors Lowry and Serge Ibaka return from injury.
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