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VanVleet sets franchise record in win over Hornets; Raptors clinch play-in tournament spot after Nets victory

Pascal Siakam scored 36 points, Fred VanVleet added 20 points and set a franchise record with 20 assists and the Toronto Raptors defeated the undermanned Charlotte Hornets 128-108 on Sunday to secure a spot in the NBA play-in tournament.

VanVleet became the first player in Raptors’ history to have a 20-point, 20-assist game.

O.G. Anunoby added 23 points for the Raptors, who clinched after the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Utah Jazz later in the day.

The Raptors (39-39) are now focused on seeding with four games left.

They entered the day tied with the Atlanta Hawks for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and looking to move up in the standings to secure a better chance of advancing out of the play-in tournament. The team finishing eighth needs just one victory; the team finishing ninth would need two to reach the postseason as the No. 8 seed.

“It’s really important for us” to get to the 8 seed, VanVleet said. “For the last couple of weeks it has been really simple for us — we’re in a win-every-game mode. There’s not much to think about. You have to go out and perform and play your best and try to take care of business. We are just trying to play our best basketball at this time of the year.”

VanVleet, who also owns the franchise single-game record for points, made sure the visiting Raptors were on top of their game.

The Raptors outscored the Hornets 90-44 in the paint in the opener of a two-game series, which helped offset 8-of-28 shooting from three-point range. The teams meet again Tuesday night in Charlotte.

“He was really good,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “He got the ball a lot of places where it needed to go.”

Hornets coach Steve Clifford stated VanVleet was “high intensity” from the beginning and his team couldn’t stop him on the pick-and-roll.

“He just crushed us,” Clifford said. “Every pick-and-roll, it didn’t matter, angle, high side, he either scored, got fouled or they got a wide-open shot. So we’ve mixed up the schemes but none of that worked.”

Svi Mykhailiuk scored a career-high 26 points and Mark Williams added 15 points and 12 rebounds for the injury-riddled Hornets, who played without all five of the team’s anticipated starters this season. James Bouknight added 21 points and Theo Maledon had 14 assists.

The Raptors dominated from the start.

VanVleet made his impact felt early, scoring 11 points and assisting on six other baskets in the first quarter as Toronto built a 35-25 lead.

The Hornets (26-53) had nine turnovers in the first half leading to 18 Raptors points, the highlight coming when Scottie Barnes came up with a steal and provided an alley-oop lob to a cutting Precious Achiuwa for a fast-break dunk.

Charlotte cut Toronto’s 18-point lead to 10 midway through the fourth after JT Thor knocked down a corner three but Siakam helped the Raptors push the lead safely back to 16 with eight points down the stretch.

“I thought we played really disciplined offensively,” Nurse said. “We didn’t make a lot of really good shots. We had some really nice two passes to corner threes and we didn’t make one of them. We’re still doing the right things and getting it where it was supposed to go, and that’s all you can do.”

Anunoby suffered what Nurse described as a “mild, mild sprain” of his ankle.

The Hornets were missing a number of key players including all three point guards in LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier and Dennis Smith Jr., along with Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington and Cody Martin

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