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Because he is Fred VanVleet and because he’s the smartest and most developed, the calmest and thoughtful, and maybe most interesting of all Raptors, you tend to look the other way.

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You tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Because of who he is. Because of what he’s done. Because he’s earned that over time. And because of that bet-on-yourself mentality, there is something inside of all of us that wants to be like VanVleet. So you hope he can be more than he is at times.

And then this playoff series began with the Philadelphia 76ers. Close to the same team a different Raptors squad beat on that final Kawhi Leonard shot three years ago. VanVleet wasn’t ready to make a difference in that series. He seemed too small in what looked like an opponent from the land of the giants.

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That was long before Kyle Lowry left for Miami and VanVleet established himself in a way that, deservedly and surprisingly, landed him a place in the NBA all-star game.

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The non-drafted undersized guy wearing the same all-star uniform as the biggest names in a sport filled with stars.

And now, it’s playoff time and this is when the stars really come out to play. This is when the best show why they’re the best. The established stars such as Steph Curry, coming off an injury and going off for 34 points in limited playing time with the Golden State Warriors.

Paul scored 30 points with 10 assists for the Phoenix Suns. Devon Booker, before getting hurt, scored 31 and 25 in two games for the Phoenix Suns. Donovan Mitchell had 32 and 34 for the Utah Jazz.

The frantic Jimmy Butler had 45 and 21 in two games with the Miami Heat.

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Around the NBA, you see it everywhere: Young Anthony Edwards with 20 and 36 in two games for Minnesota and old Kevin Durant with 27 and 23 for Brooklyn. The kid, Ja Morant, already a star, with 23 and 32 for Memphis and, yeah, Joel Embiid, the MVP finalist, still rather young, with 31 and 33 in the past two games for the 76ers.

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Since the first quarter of Game 2, which started well for VanVleet, he’s more than struggled. He’s taken 20 three-point attempts in the eight quarters counting the overtime of Wednesday night: He’s made three of those shots.

That’s 15%. From a 37.7% shooter from three-point land.

Is that because he’s tired, having played so many minutes during the season? Is that because he’s playing hurt, which is possible? Is that because the Sixers are that great defensively that the three-pointers are clanging around and not dropping? Or is he just not getting it done?

One more basket and the entire series changes. One more three-point bucket in Game 3 and suddenly Game 4 means the world instead of having his team facing a possible sweep and the now inevitable ending.
VanVleet had some good looks in Game 3. He had some open shots. Even if he shoots 30% from three — which is below his season number of him — that’s nine more points from the Raptors in the past two games. One that went to overtime. One that almost got close in the fourth quarter. The difference that fine, that delicate.
All around the NBA, you see stars leading their playoff teams. Former Raptor DeMar DeRozan, terrible in Game 1, bounced back with 41 points in Game 2 against Milwaukee. Emerging star Jordan Poole had 30 and 29 in the first two Golden State wins.

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In Game 3 on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena, the big names Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, both who have been all-stars, both who had strong seasons — Siakam emerging in the second half as one of the most unstoppable players in the NBA — have not done the all-star thing yet in this series with the 76ers.
Siakam scored 24 and 20 in the first two games, but in neither game did he look like the kind of dominant player he had been at times in the second half of the season. VanVleet scored 20 and 18 the first two games — and again had moments, just not enough of them.

Siakam, shooting almost 50% on the season, has shot 34.4% in this series.

VanVleet a 40.3% shooter, is at 35.4% for the series. And since the opening quarter of Game 2, for the next eight quarters, he’s had no touch to speak of.

In Game 3, at home, the one you had to win, VanVleet scored 12, Siakam scored 12. That’s about half what you would expect from them. Combined, that’s 24 points. Embiid and Tyrese Maxey combined for 52 points after scoring 54 in Game 2 and 57 in Game 1.
That’s what stars do.

The Raptors can’t expect those kinds of numbers from VanVleet and Siakam. but they sure can anticipate more than they’ve gotten thus far. This is playoff time. This is when the stars come out to play.

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