Defense, Rebounding Optional as Mavs beat Raptors

Tough start was too much to overcome. 1-4 and paging Kyle Lowry’s ankle.

Vince Carter: the gift that keeps on giving, if gifts were turds.

Vince Carter: the "gift" that keeps on giving.

Mavericks 109, Raptors 104 – Box

Alright, I’ve made plenty of excuses for the Raptors already this season, but this was a game that we really had to have, and one that we should have, as well. Before we get to the game recap, a couple of quick notes – first, I covered last game for Daily Dime and you can read my mini-recap here, if you’re so inclined (I won’t post it in full on the Republic because this is going to be a long enough recap as it is).

Secondly, I’m sure most have you have heard the news that our favourite son is open to the idea of a return to Toronto. I don’t like this idea, for many reasons, but for now, let’s go with this – if you’re going to bring in a veteran to help develop/mould the young talent, don’t bring in a shoot-first guard who has already burned the organization with immature tactics in the past. Yeah, sounds like a fantastic role model. The idea of him coming back is fascinating though, from a soap opera standpoint – how long would he have to play on the team before the fans at the ACC stopped booing him every time he touched the ball? Twenty games? A year? Two? In any case, though, let’s get to the game.

Game Recap

Now, I realize that this was the second half of a back-to-back, but the Raptors came out on the floor tonight looking like the freaking Washington Generals. The first quarter was abysmal, yet again – that makes 66 points allowed in the last two first quarters for the Raptors, which seems to suggest the notion that rumours of this pre-season problem’s demise were greatly exaggerated. It makes for a very frustrating game to watch, as well, because the Raptors actually outscored the Mavs in every quarter following but still lost by 5 – that’s a poor start directly causing a loss, and a problem that Coach Casey will have to work feverishly to remedy. We can’t have slow starts cost us games, especially games like this against depleted opponents.

The other story of the first half was the Raptors’ abysmal rebounding efforts – team totals at halftime were an incredible 31-13 Mavs, made even more inexplicable by the fact that Dallas’ three best freaking forwards (depending on how you feel about Chris Kaman) weren’t even dressed. As we’ve alluded to a few times at the Republic, rebounds are largely an effort stat, and effort was something that the Raptors were lacking early in spades – at one point, Dallas rookie Bernard James went up 1 on 3 on a Mavs miss, caught his own rebound twice, and finally finished the hoop. That’s inexcusable, and shows how much this team needs Kyle Lowry to set the tone. I can’t help but feeling he would have provided the difference tonight, had he been able to dress – not even with his stat line, but from his effort and attitude on the defensive end. With him out, the team needs a sparkplug to get them going and they didn’t find it tonight until it was too late.

One subplot that continued through the game was the Mavericks’ ability to seemingly get inside the Raptor defence at will. The team switched to a zone defence late in the first quarter to try and slow the Mavs, but this almost seemed counterproductive to me: it seems like every game we’ve been saying the Raptors are a bit slow on switches, and playing a zone, which is heavily reliant on switches and intuiting which man to cover at any given time, played right into Dallas’ hands. It also highlighted what seemed to be almost an allergic reaction to boxing out, especially from Bargnani (who did pick up the effort substantially in the second half). The team went into the break down by 11 but it sure felt like a whole lot more, given the way the Mavericks seemed to score every time they touched the ball early and their dominance of the Raptors bigs in the second.

I realize that this write-up is starting to sound overly negative, but the Raptors did show some signs of life in the second half. With Lowry out, the team deferred to Bargs and DeRozan on offense (as they should), and both guys got going in the third quarter, which allowed the Raptors to slowly chip away at Dallas’ lead. One note on the offense, though: it was very strange to see Alan Anderson hoisting up shots like the ball was on fire. He finished with 9 field goal attempts (6 three-point attempts) and if he’s the number one scoring option off the bench then we’re going to be in trouble going forward – I really hope that Casey can put a good scare into him because one 18-point performance does not make you into a scoring threat. Strange, this is the second game in a row I’ve covered that I’ve really missed Linas Kleiza.

The team finally put a few strong defensive possessions in a row together in the third as well, forcing a shot clock violation and then running the Mavs down to 3 seconds before Anderson got called for a ticky-tack foul. Unfortunately, though, shots weren’t falling at the right time and the team couldn’t seem to bring the spread closer than 10 until the fourth. I hate harping on the referees but they were key to the Mavericks holding their lead late – it sure seemed like Dallas players were getting bailed out with fouls whenever a possession went awry. To some extent, I blame Toronto for this – you put yourself in a position to foul when guys are blowing by you at will – but it still seemed a little off. Dallas only finished with 4 more free throws than the Raps but those numbers were much more skewed towards the Mavs late in the game – Toronto held a 10-3 FT advantage after the first.

The fourth quarter began with the Mavs going on a 10-3 run that ultimately sealed the Raptors fate, punctuated by two dagger threes from our ol’ buddy VC. Every time you went to close the book on them for the night, though, they fought back – this team doesn’t have quit in it, and it’s nice to see our best quarter of a back-to-back be the last one. After juggling line-ups through most of the game (even getting Acy some blow!), Casey finally settled on a crunch time line-up of DeMar, Andrea, Anderson, Calderon, and Amir, which were our four most effective offensive players during the night and Anderson (and I can’t even argue that selection as Fields had an abysmal game). The team did turn up the heat when it mattered – Andrea had 6 boards in the second half and a noticeable change in effort – and did look better than the Mavs down the stretch, but the hole the team left itself in the first was too much to overcome.

All in all, another inconsistent effort from the Raps, and a frustrating loss against a depleted team. The Raps are a very young bunch, and I do expect games like this to start swinging our way later in the season – but you still can’t help but feel like this is one that got away.

The Starters

  • DeMar and Andrea both had excellent games offensively (and statistically). A 25 and 9 night for Andrea looks mighty pretty from a rebounding standpoint (and almost exactly what Blake said he needed in his pre-game piece), but he got repeatedly burnt on defence and his lack of effort in the first (only 3 rebounds in the half, one of which bounced straight to him) was a huge part of our rebounding woes. It’s games like this that really frustrate Raptors fans – clearly, the talent is there, but a consistent effort throughout seems to be a spotty proposition at best. Hopefully he’ll use his strong second half as a springboard into the next few games, as it was his best half of the season.
  • As I said above, DeMar had a pretty stat line as well – 24 points, with 7 rebounds (5 in the second half – see the common thread here?). He seems to be making better decisions with the ball on offense on a consistent basis: still too many threes for my liking, but 10 free throw attempts on the night is a great stat for him. As Arse said in his quick reaction, though, he was repeatedly burnt on defence by Mayo (understandable) and Carter (not understandable), who posted DeMar up twice for scores and emphatically blocked him in the fourth for good measure. Normally, we’d just chalk that up to DeMar’s game but the team’s general defensive struggles on defence amplified it tonight. All in all though, a good game from him, and the kind of game he needs to keep giving to let Raps fans exhale about that extension.
  • Jonas got in foul trouble early and was only limited to ten minutes on the night. I didn’t think too much about the proposition until Arse suggested it, but I do kind of wish Casey would just let him play through his issues somewhat – he’s not going to learn the NBA game glued to the bench, and the team could have used him for a couple more minutes tonight at least, given the way the bigs were being throttled on D. He had some trouble adjusting to the zone, which I’ll give him a pass on (it is only his 5th NBA game) but, in a nutshell, he needs to tone down his activity a bit – he’s actually a bit too enthusiastic going for boards, blocks and steals and it’s hurting him in the foul department (and limiting his effectiveness). Again, young guy, it’ll get better, growing pains, etc.
  • Landry Fields laid an egg tonight. These two point games are starting to become the norm rather than the exception, and his lack of scoring especially becomes an issue on a night like tonight, where OJ Mayo and Jae Crowder (and Vince, to an extent) seemed to be having their way with him on defence. I’m not asking him to become a scoring threat, but 2.5 points per game is awful, and sooner or later it’s going to become a big issue. I don’t know if a move to the bench is the solution but it seems like something has to be done.
  • In his return to the starting lineup, Jose actually played perhaps the best defensive game of any of the starters, which is surprising considering a) it’s Jose, b) he had the worst match-up, and c) the team as a whole played poorly defensively. But, he did a reasonable job stopping the far quicker Darren Collison from going off and submitted his typical 11-6 line (I think they’ve named that scoreline after Jose in Toronto). Decent game from him.

The Bench

  • Ed Davis: 5 minutes? Five FREAKING MINUTES? I hope people find this as inexplicable as I do, given the team’s rebounding woes on the night and the fact that ED has had a very solid start to the season. Statistically, he’s our best rebounder and it was shocking to me that he didn’t get more time on the court tonight. Maybe he was hurt?
  • Amir Johnson: The beneficiary of Ed’s inexplicable benching, Amir played an exceptional offensive game, finishing with 18 points on 6 of 7 shooting. Having Jose in the lineup immediately makes Amir a more effective offensive player – he benefits more directly from Jose than any one player on the Raps benefits from another. Don’t take that the wrong way, though – the guy hustles his butt off and plays decent defence, though he was not immune to the rebounding anemia that plagued the Raptors in the first half (11 total – ZERO before halftime).
  • Alan Anderson: I spoke about him briefly above and I won’t rehash it here. Too. Many. Threes.
  • Aaron Gray: I was actually waiting for Gray to come in in the second quarter, and he did what he does – provided a body and seemed to slow the Mavs enough for the Raptors to hang around until halftime. He did provide another classic Gray highlight, though: winging an outlet pass from the low block that probably hit the peanut vendor in the fifteenth row. Never a dull moment!
  • Lucas: Yikes, is all I can say. Fiteen minutes, zero points and a lot of running around. He did come one rebound short of leading the Raptors in boards after the first half, though, which would have been an early contender for stat of the year.
  • Ross: Got a bit of run in the first half but didn’t contribute anything other than a nice floater in the lane.
  • McGuire: Solid game from McGuire, who was brought onto this team to play situational defence and did a good job of that in the second half tonight, which was crucial with the other Raptor wings getting either blown by or posted up.
  • Acy: Congrats to Acy, who got his first regular season game time tonight. Best Acy moment – him waiting to come across the lane for a help block like a kid on Christmas morning. He couldn’t hide his excitment. Worst Acy moment: airballing his first shot in the NBA. That’s alright, these things take time.

A few days off for the Raps now – next game is on November 10th against the 76ers at the ACC. Here’s hoping we see Lowry back by then.

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