Box – Raps 95, Mavs 74
Sweet poetic justice that the Raptors ended the Mavericks streak of 1,108 straight games hitting a three pointer, which dated back to February 1999.
The taste of victory was just as sweet, after six straight losses. 5-19 isn’t any good, of course, but it’s also much better (but less funny) than 4-20…the Raptors stole an article right out of Drizz’s laptop by not dropping to 4-20. Regardless, it felt like a night of validation for the Raptors who were in attendance. This group had at least been working hard for the most part, so coming through with a win (and a decisive one that let everyone get in on the fun) is a nice affirmation for them that the hard work will, at least sometimes, pay off.
As for the game itself, I was in attendance and the crowd was actually great. It’s my first game of the year, in town from Vancouver, but I had season tickets last year and can say that last night’s was an above-average crowd. That’s impressive for a 4-19 team, especially one that has been criticized a bit for the atmosphere of late (despite having the league’s eighth-best, Leafs-fueled attendance). I’m over booing Vince Carter, but the crowd was at least committed in booing him every time he touched the ball, which is fun if no longer warranted. Vince responded by going 1-for-8, which didn’t frustrate him, which is the whole point with Vince, I guess.
One other note from the live experience is that I set next to a teenager and a dad from Newfoundland who were attending the kid’s first game ever. As someone who’s been to a lot of games and probably takes the opportunity for granted sometimes, it was cool to share that experience with a young fan.
As for the actual game on the court, it was a great defensive effort by the Raptors. The Mavericks were bad, of course, but holding any team to 74 points gets your team a checkmark in the defensive effort column. Ross flashed his potential once again as a wing defender. He has the body and athleticism to be near-elite there, and the non-transition defense is starting to come along slowly. The Terrence-dactyl also had a beautiful alley-oop slam on a transition pass from DeMar DeRozan.
The only real trouble on the defensive end was with Chris Kaman early, as he scored four early buckets and looked ready to have a throwback to his 20-10 days. Instead, Amir and Davis guarded him capably to give Jonas Valanciunas, who is exhausted at this point (I can’t think of any other explanation for his recent drop-off than the “Rookie Wall”), a much-needed break. Amir and Ed didn’t have big games offensively but were both capable enough defensively that it allowed the Raptors to play small, with Kleiza at the four, for roughly 30 minutes.
And Kleiza…wow. When he’s allowed to just shoot and be the offensive initiator, he can have a big game, can’t he? We’ve seen it the odd time and see it regularly with the Lithuanian national team. Against NBA talent, he sometimes struggles with his offensive recognition and his shot selection, but last night those shots were dropping (5-for-11 from three, 20 points overall). He’s not great defensively, ever, but last night was allowed to play the four against Marion and James, which allowed him to hide a bit.
As for the rest of the offense, it was shared work. Along with Ross (18) and Kleiza, Calderon and DeRozan each chipped in 14 and John Lucas somehow led the way with six dimes. Lucas was out of control, as usual, but effective last night, including one insane falling mid-range fadeaway that looked to have only a 0.0001% chance of dropping and fell. It was that kind of night for the Raptors, where Lucas’ all-over-the-place game worked, Kleiza’s shots fell, and, get this, they actually GOT STOPS which allowed them to show off a potentially strong transition game.
Oh, and then there’s Casey’s favorite, Alan Anderson. Double-A made his return from injury and made sure to fire up all the shots he missed taking the past few weeks, going 0-for-8 in just 25 minutes. Still, he works hard defensively and hard workers like him get coaches wet, so he’s going to have a role whether or not people like it.
Quincy Acy got on the board, too, which, you know, good for him. Love that guy (as a Human Victory Cigar).
They played awesome, and even against Brooklyn I thought the reserves were kind of “sending a message” with their play. It’s clear this team CAN gel, CAN play well defensively and CAN beat decent teams. Maybe we were overrating them as a playoff squad, but the team you saw last night should only get better with Lowry. Bargs, well, that deserves it’s own article, but he probably needs to go for a bevy of reasons that go beyond just team defense.
I’m sure I missed some notes, so comment away. Apologies for the tardiness of this piece, but I am a bit hung over. Enjoy your Saturdays.