Raptors lock down Mavericks, improve to 3-0 at Summer League

Raptors 80, Mavericks 69 | Box Score

Playing the Summer League Toronto Raptors seems like perhaps the least fun thing one can do in Las Vegas. Short of getting dragged beneath the pit boss’ office for counting cards, there are few experiences on or off the strip as demoralizing as trying to score on this group. The only thing more depressing than the first-half effort of the Dallas Mavericks to do just that is the combination gun range-strip club being advertised at the airport and on cabs around the city.

The Raptors opened the tournament tying the Summer League record for the fewest points allowed in a game. Absent since the opener, Pascal Siakam wasn’t impressed, saying the team could communicate more and use their length better. Then-head coach Jama Mahlalela said there’s always room for improvement. The Raptors allowed a more reasonable opponent total in their second game, but they locked back down in the closing stretch to win.

They didn’t need that small reality check to get their defense on point on Monday. From the opening tip, the Raptors suffocated the Mavericks, forcing sloppy drives and late-clock heaves, jumping into passing lanes, and generally being annoying. When halftime rolled around, the Mavericks were stuck on 21 points, looking at a 15-point deficit, the ashamed owners of a 23.7-percent mark from the floor, a 2-of-15 mark from long-range, just two free-throw attempts, and a whopping 11 turnovers. The Raptors’ offense wasn’t even that sharp, but when 15 of your 36 points come off of turnovers, the half-court sets don’t have to be Spursian for the lead to swell.

Scrambling for a solution, the Mavericks opted to apply heavy pressure on the Raptors in the third. Off of makes – which became more frequent – Dallas was pressuring the primary ball-handler a great deal and, for a stretch, sending extra bodies in what amounted to a full-court press. It seemed the gambit was that if they weren’t going to be able to score on Toronto freely, they’d force the Raptors to play with a short shot clock, perhaps even getting a few additional turnovers. It mostly worked, too, save for the occasions on which Norman Powell played one-man fast break (on one play, Powell caught the ball on his own baseline six seconds into the clock and beat the half-court timer in, like, three strides).

That taste of their own medicine sat poorly with Toronto, and their lead was down to five entering the fourth. A quarter after holding the Mavericks to just six points, the Raptors conceded 28, and their bench-heavy units couldn’t keep pace at the other end, save for Fred VanVleet’s buzzer-beating heroics.

“I thought we got sped up a little bit there in the third but we were able to figure it out coming down the fourth,” VanVleet said. “The onus is really on the point guards to keep the pace and the tempo where we want it.”

And so the Raptors had another chance to gain experience closing out a game. The Mavericks kept up with the heavy pressure, trapping high on the pick-and-roll. Delon Wright showed a little less of the composure he drew raves for in the last game, committing a pair of turnovers driving into traffic down the stretch (he was disappointed in his outing after the fact). Otherwise, though, the Raptors responded well with the game in the balance, including an invisible-to-that-point Bruno Caboclo came through with a pair of big corner threes and 10 points overall in the fourth.

“I think all the work that we’ve been putting in is coming in to fruition for him,” Stackhouse said. “I think his confidence is huge right now. He made some big-time shots for us when they started to close the gap.”

Powell, too, turned the switch back on, to the point that he yelled at an official with the fervent heat of the desert sun for a non-call on a pull-up jumper. On the next possession, a drive-and-kick give-and-go with E.J. Singler saw Powell hit a clutch corner three, his ninth triple of the tournament (he’d add one more and is now 10-of-19 from outside). Seconds later, he’d throw a mic-drop of a lob to Caboclo in transition, then disappoint the crowd by declining to pad his stat line – 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting, three rebounds, two assists – with a dunk with the shot-clock off. He was huge once again and is a clear favorite to repeat on the All-Tournament First Team.

“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Stackhouse, himself a former big-time player, said. “He bailed us out a lot.”

The defense from the first two quarters returned, too. Jakob Poeltl flashed some nice touch and footwork in going 4-of-5 for nine points, but it was his defensive impact that really stood out. Active in helping trap high and scampering back to position and an effective deterrent as a help defender, the Raptors were a team-high plus-13 with Poeltl on the floor. He also dished a couple of nice passes, and Stackhouse made it sound as if the team could play through Poeltl in the post a little more moving forward.

The Mavericks wound up shooting 35.1 percent with 18 turnovers, buoyed on that end only by an unacceptable 17 offensive rebounds. Perhaps most encouraging about Toronto’s defensive performance was that they were sloppy offensively, coughing up 23 turnovers. Though Stackhouse counted just three transition baskets for the Mavericks (likely meaning off of misses), those turnovers produced 23 Dallas points. The Raptors struggled taking care of the ball and their own glass, and Dallas still only managed 69 points (nice).

At 3-0, the Raptors now bypass needing to play on Wednesday, securing a top-eight seed and probably one of the highest seeds for the next round. They’ll play one of the teams than ranks 9-24 on Thursday, and if they win, they’ll continue on in single-elimination format (if they lose, they’ll play a meaningless game and be done). Through three games, they’ve allowed an estimated 73.1 points per-100 possessions with a 33.5-percent opponent field-goal percentage, which is pretty ludicrous, even for Vegas.

“So far, so good. Three wins, so hopefully we can win this thing, man,” Stackhouse said. “We had a really good showing last year and the guys were a little bit disappointed. And I think some of those guys brought that back. We have a player that we feel like can carry us in Norman Powell.”

An unknown opponent beckoned. The only thing that can stop the Raptors now might be the dreaded day off in Vegas tomorrow.

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