Stationed along the left wing, VanVleet was taking passes from teammate Danny Green and letting fly shot after shot, putting his trademark side spin on the ball that normally always softly lands in the bottom of the net in these situations, only to see it hit iron more often than not.
This usually wouldn’t mean anything. But when a player takes an elbow to the head, has to get stitched up because he’s bleeding from the eye and loses a tooth to boot like what happened to VanVleet in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, these are the nit-picky things that will suddenly stand out like the Bat Signal shining across the Gotham skyline.
But when VanVleet got off the court and entered a sea of microphones, cameras and tape recorders about 45 minutes later, he settled things down with his calm and cool demeanour, like he always does.
"It’s a little blurry," said VanVleet of his right eye, under-which a distinctive bandage could be seen masking the seven stitches he was forced to receive to stop it from bleeding after Shaun Livingston’s elbow drove directly into it on Friday. "My eyes water at random points, but it’s not too bad. I’ve actually had worse so I’m doing alright."
Welcome news for the Raptors who have relied on VanVleet’s timely and accurate shooting from deep throughout these Finals with the Golden State Warriors.
Better yet for Toronto, the worst-case scenario involving VanVleet was avoided.
"Nope, no symptoms, no concussion, so you guys can leave that alone," he said. "We have great doctors and great staff and the NBA is great and they follow a protocol."
This is a huge sigh of relief for the Raptors because of the job he’s done on Warriors superstar Stephen Curry.
Over the course of these Finals, no Raptors defender has seen Curry nearly as much as the 132 possessions VanVleet has and in that time VanVleet has given Curry fits, forcing him to 8-of-26 shooting overall and 3-for-14 from three-point range.
The scary potential of a concussion loomed large on VanVleet but thankfully for him and the Raptors that won’t be an issue anymore meaning Toronto will have no issues unleashing its pit bull against Golden State’s two-time MVP, and the only thing VanVleet will have to worry about is his new grin.
"I’m not gonna smile for you or show you, but I’m back to normal," VanVleet said, adding that he got it fixed after receiving a CT scan to check for any additional bone damage as soon as he landed back in Toronto.
He’s wearing a mouthguard now, something he’s not too enthused about, but it’s whatever it takes to keep him out there because VanVleet knows the kind of task that’s in front of him.
With the Raptors up 3-1 and a chance to capture their first-ever championship on Monday, they now, for the first time all Finals, face the weight of expectation. Going from underdog to suddenly being expected to win can be a jarring thing for teams but this is something VanVleet has actually gone through before.
During his freshman and sophomore years at Wichita State, VanVleet was on teams that made the Final Four and then went undefeated. In both cases, the Shockers fell short of their ultimate goal, but there was a lesson in there that VanVleet learned that he’s now applying to the situation he finds himself in with the Raptors.
"At the end of the day all of that stuff is performance based," said VanVleet of the narrative of dealing with expectation. "[If] I tell you we’re locked in, I tell you all the right answers and we go out there and we lay an egg then you say we weren’t focused and the moment is too big. If I tell you something else and we go out there and we play our butts off and win then we were the most laser-like focused and locked in that we could be. So it’s all performance based."
Yes, no matter how VanVleet has looked – swollen eye, missing tooth, missing practice jumpers – performance really is all that matters, and so far he’s performed at a championship-calibre level.
Expect more of the same Monday night.