Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 116-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
One — Shutdown: This was the Raptors’ best defensive showing of the season and it’s not particularly close. The Mavericks came in on a back-to-back after losing to Chicago and the Raptors pounced all over them. Rick Carlisle tried to shake the Mavericks out of their malaise in the first quarter with a quick ejection over a blowup at the referees, but it didn’t work. The Raptors made life miserable for the Mavericks, especially in the third quarter where Fred VanVleet ripped the ball from Kristaps Porzingis, OG Anunoby mugged Luka Doncic for another takeaway, and Kyle Lowry followed it with a deflection of his own. That third quarter push put the Raptors into the driver’s seat and they cruised from there.
Two — Clamped: The main flaw for Dallas is that Doncic is their only consistent shot creator, which makes them vulnerable. Nick Nurse designed his entire defense around sending extra bodies to Doncic, showing him a bevy of defensive looks, and Doncic was never able to find a rhythm. Early on, the Raptors aggressively blitzed Doncic above the arc, forcing him to surrender the ball to lesser playmakers. The Raptors also relied heavily on a combination of zone coverages and switching, which also ensured that Doncic didn’t have anywhere to go. It helped that Dallas shot just 25 percent from three, but at no point did Doncic have control over the defense, it was always the other way around. Doncic had 35 points and 15 assists last night, as compared to 14 points and nine dimes tonight.
Three — Tenacity: The most important moment of the game came in the fourth quarter. Doncic had been frustrated all night, and had Stanley Johnson pressing him full court from his own baseline. Doncic threw a sly elbow into Johnson’s chest to create separation, but there was no call. When he got to half, Doncic subtly shoved Johnson with his off hand, and again there was no call. Johnson pressed right into Doncic the entire way and Doncic was fortunate to keep possession after losing his dribble off Johnson’s foot. Fred VanVleet argued on Johnson’s behalf and was assessed a technical. Going the other way, Doncic’s assignment was Johnson in the corner, but the Slovenian declined to close out and opted to wave off the threat instead, only Johnson calmly drained the corner three to bring the Raptors’ lead to 16 points. Johnson continues to deliver as a defensive stopper off the bench, and his physicality and tenacity gives the Raptors the luxury of being versatile on defense.
Four — Mastery: Even though it was a lopsided result, there were still several nervous and frustrating moments from the Raptors, and Kyle Lowry kept them level across all the bumps. Lowry picked his spots, but always seemed to come up with the right response to kill any hope of a comeback. Heading into halftime, the Raptors seemed to lose some momentum, and Lowry snapped them out of it by coaxing a foul to shoot two free throws, then getting to the rim for a layup to preserve the lead. Coming out of halftime, Lowry scored 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting, while also setting the pace and collecting a slick dime to a cutting Chris Boucher. His teammates eventually followed his lead and so Lowry could relax, but he deserves the most praise for this win. It wasn’t as dramatic as the 30-point comeback, but Lowry was just as good in this win.
Five — Flipped: It was a miserable first half for Pascal Siakam. He managed just four points in the first two quarters and his shot selection was just off. He settled for timid jumpers against a smaller and less capable defender in Willie Cauley-Stein, but then would try to post up Kristaps Porzingis who stands at 7-foot-3. Mix in some mixed threes and it was truly an empty first half. But that all changed in the third quarter. Siakam was more selective with his shots, opting to post-up when he had a mismatch against smaller defenders like Tim Hardaway Jr., while also playing faster and getting ahead in transition. When the Mavericks sent extra bodies at him, Siakam threw quick skip passes to find open shooters. Siakam is always better served if he can establish his interior scoring first, before extending it out to the perimeter.
Six — Belief: There is a quiet belief within OG Anunoby, and the results are slowly starting to match his confidence. Anunoby had a powerful drive in the first quarter against a much taller player in Cauley-Stein, yet Anunoby was able to use his strength to bump the center to create space for his layup. Anunoby was equally confident from deep, as he used a jab step to buy himself a half space versus James Johnson, only to then pull-up from three. Anunoby’s main role is to defend, and he was excellent tonight on the ball against Doncic while also taking shifts switching onto Porzingis in the post, but his biggest area of growth is on the offensive end. There are a couple of possessions every game where Anunoby surprises you with his skill, and his job is to take the surprise away by being consistent.
Seven — Efficient: Norman Powell built off the momentum of his 24-point performance against Charlotte with another strong showing tonight. Powell was relentless in his drives to the basket and forced the issue in getting to the line. That downward pressure is something that is lacking on this team, especially for the second unit, and Powell needs to find the right balance between making the right read and being aggressive. It also helps that defense are starting to stretch out to the three-point line against Chris Boucher, which is creating more space to drive, and Johnson is also there to take on difficult defensive assignments so that Powell isn’t saddled with foul trouble. There’s no reason why Powell can’t be this productive on a consistent basis.
Eight — Sloppy: Nurse gave Terence Davis a second chance, and the returns were promising at first. Davis slashed inside for three layups, including an impressive blow-by for a dunk, but then it all came apart. He committed three fouls in short succession, largely on needless reach-ins, but Nurse still gave him a second shot in the fourth quarter, where Davis committed another two fouls and was mercifully nailed to the bench. There is no denying that Davis can score, and that he is talented, but Nurse will not play anybody who he perceives to be a defensive liability. In Davis’ case, he’s not just a liability, but he seems to make it up as he goes along. He needs to completely eliminate those mistakes before Nurse gives him another shot.
Nine — Steady: This would have sounded completely whacky last season, but Chris Boucher is one of the steadiest players on this team. Boucher started slow, biting on a pump fake from Doncic which sent him to the line, and was a little light in guarding the post on Cauley-Stein, but Boucher settled in and delivered another standout performance. Boucher connected on two threes (he seems to always make them when he can take a one-two hop into the shot) and he keeps making himself available around the basket. Boucher’s best play might have been in the first half, where he read Lowry’s intentions on a pitch-ahead pass, pitched it right back once Lowry curled to the corner, before setting a brush screen to prevent the help defender from rotating over and challenging the shot. Boucher had 21 points and 11 rebounds with three blocks, and somehow it felt ordinary. That’s how far he’s come this season.
Ten — Momentum: The Raptors have now won four of their last six games, with those two losses both coming by one point. They have found their rotation and their identity and the results are starting to show. This is a team that excels through being active and versatile on defense. Aron Baynes and Alex Len don’t fit into that identity, so they don’t feature much, and thankfully the combination of Johnson and Boucher are picking up the slack. They still run into issues in halfcourt sets, especially with Siakam being up-and-down, but the other parts are there. They aren’t nearly as bad as their 2-8 record suggested.
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