Gritty: The Mavericks showed why they’re one of the best home teams in the league, but the Raptors did just enough to secure the win. Toronto held the lead early, but they relinquished the lead with a dreadful 4-of-19 shooting performance in the third quarter, and needed to execute down the stretch to get the result.
Simple: The Raptors finally found an effective way to use Kawhi Leonard in crunch time. Leonard posted up at the top of the key with the other four players spacing the floor, and he worked Wes Matthews in isolation on two key possessions in the final minute. This play works because it takes away the ability for the defense to intercept and deny Leonard from getting to his spot off the dribble.
Finally: Tonight also marked the first occasion in which Leonard freed himself using the ball screen from Kyle Lowry that has failed them repeatedly in previous games. Leonard was able to turn the corner and draw help on his drive, and he alertly found Danny Green who dribbled past the closeout and sunk a soft teardrop over the absent defense of DeAndre Jordan.
Steadily: The Raptors have found a way to create for Lowry. The play involves having Lowry circle left to right from the baseline up to the top of the floor while coming around two screens from Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam. Lowry is especially comfortable moving to his left, and he drilled five triples on the night largely off the same action.
Solved: Defenses are increasingly prepared for Pascal Siakam, and it’s starting to slow him down. Teams are putting a smaller wing on Siakam, denying him from going right, and getting under him when he rises for the shot. Siakam’s shooting efficiency has dropped as a result.
The Raptors, for instance, had two practices last week – in Toronto on Monday and Dallas on Saturday – which is a relatively heavy workload in this day and age.
“We practised yesterday and we had a walkthrough tonight before the game on the floor, so it’s not like we’re just getting here 10 minutes before the game and throwing it up,” coach Nick Nurse said last week, before the Raptors hosted the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night. “But it is limited. It is cut down a lot, and it is a little harder, I think, to put things in, advance things along, change things, make tweaks to your offence.
“It’s a little harder, yeah.”
The Raptors played their 52nd game of the regular season on Sunday night in Dallas, more than any other team in the Eastern Conference and tied with Phoenix for most in the NBA.
The three-day break before they face Milwaukee in a key conference game Thursday at Scotiabank Arena represents their longest idle stretch of the season, which gives the team a chance to take Monday off and still have two days of practice before the Bucks game.
In this day and age of teams being extra cautious and aware of the wear and tear of a season, having rest days and then practice days back-to-back is a luxury. The NBA has gone to great lengths to cut down on back-to-back games — as well as sets of three games in four nights or four in five — but still, finding practice time is difficult.
“I would say it’s new territory for a lot of people,” Nurse said. “It’s modern basketball, a little bit, the state of where we are.”
Wright time: Delon Wright did not get off the bench in Friday’s loss to Houston, a decision coach Nick Nurse said was made with matchups in mind. He did get a chance to play Sunday night — helped by the fact that Norm Powell got three fouls in about six first-half minutes — and made the most of it. Wright had nine points, a steal and a blocked shot in an eight-minute stretch of the second quarter.
No more Nowitzki: The Raptors were most likely facing Mavericks icon Dirk Nowitzki for the final time. The 40-year-old 13-time all-star and 2006-07 MVP is widely expected to retire after his 20th season with the Mavs. Nowitzki finished with seven points in 10 minutes, hitting two three-pointers in the first half.
Up next: A few days to reflect on the trip and what’s to come before Toronto hosts the Milwaukee Bucks in a key Eastern Conference showdown, Thursday at 8 p.m. The Raptors trail the Bucks in the season series, 2-1.
When the Raptors pulled to 101-99, Doncic answered with a long 3 to reach 30 points for the sixth time this season. Doncic got his 10th assist to complete the triple-double by feeding DeAndre Jordan for an alley-oop dunk with 3:29 left in the fourth.
“We couldn’t get him out of rhythm because he was low and strong and crossing over,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “Then, with a burst he was into the paint. And when we did get enough help there, he’d hang in the air until the last second and throw that incredible two-handed pass out to the right corner. He’s something else.”
Leonard liked the way the offence flowed.
“We have to play like that every game,” Leonard said.
“When we stay patient that doesn’t mean slow down the ball. It’s just really taking the right shots, looking at the right passes. Just getting everybody involved and you’re time will come.”
Six Raptors scored in double figures.
“Yeah, we came out of the game like we learned our lesson from the last game’s (terrible) start,” Nurse said.
“But then we had a third quarter where we looked a little bit like we did the other night at the start. But again, it’s lessons to learn. From my standpoint, I’ve just got to do a little bit better job of play-calling to start the second half to make sure we’re getting some movement and aggressive. We got a little jump-shot happy … in the first half, but it doesn’t mean you come out and get jump shot happy (to start the third),” he said.
Doncic gave the Mavericks a chance with some wonderful play, including a miraculous three inside of the final minute.
“He’s kind of a seasoned vet as a rookie right now,” veteran Raptors guard Danny Green said in praise of Doncic.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was optimistic that there would be some follow through, in large part because the ‘lack of urgency’ cry was bubbling up from below as Toronto was facing the prospect of dropping three straight for the third time this season.
“We had a good film sessions and a good practice [Saturday]” he said before the game, “…But I think the point most clear yesterday was that they were taking it upon themselves that they had to play better.”
What do you know?
For a change it was the Raptor who jumped out to a double-figure lead and seemed to be determined to force the tempo. It helped that they picked up where they left off in Friday’s furious ill-fated comeback against the Houston Rockets, where they made four threes in the final 1:21 of the game. Fred VanVleet’s three at the 11:12 mark of the second quarter was Toronto’s eighth make on 12 attempts, putting them at 12-for-16 in a span of 14:09 of NBA play.
Ah, but could it last? The final score — 123-120 — would suggest it did, but it wasn’t a completely smooth ride. After being on fire to start Toronto went frigid for most of the rest of the game — the third quarter an Ice Age — before taking command down the stretch in the fourth.
Nurse threw a zone defence at the Mavericks and the Raptors looked as well-oiled in the guts of a tight game as they have all season. They won the game with an 18-6 run beginning midway through the final period to the final 30 seconds of the game to snap their losing streak at two. Most impressive, all five starters pitched in, the ball moved, and when Kawhi Leonard muscled home a pair of drives — one for a bucket, one for a foul — that locked it down late, they looked organic rather than an offence of last resort, which has been the case at times.
“I thought we were poised,” said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who had eight of his 19 points in the final frame and knocked down five threes in the game to along with nine assists. “We had to scrap a little bit more, we had to fight to get that win but once we got the lead back we maintained and kept our composure and just built on each possession.”
The game was won behind the arc
It’s pretty much how NBA games are decided these days, but there was a big disparity from three tonight and it was just enough to push Toronto over the top. The Raptors started off hot connecting on 7-of-11 from deep int he first quarter but cooled off as the game went on and even endured a 1-of-7 third quarter. On the night the Raptors poured in 17-of-34 from three, good for 50 percent. That’s a significant increase from the 35 percent mark Toronto owns for the season. The Raptors benefitted from the Mavericks inability to find shooters in transition as well as Dallas failing to corral defensive rebounds. Threes after an offensive rebound are back breakers, and Toronto was able to capitalize a few different times.
The Mavericks on the other hand struggled considerably from three, shooting 31 percent on 11-of-36 from behind the arc. Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and Dennis Smith Jr. combined for 4-of-18 which really hurt the Mavericks while Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Danny Green combined for 10-of-21.
To make their struggles worse, Nurse inexplicably decided to put Greg Monroe in the game, where he immediately lost Dwight Powell in the pick and roll and gave up an alley-oop dunk. Frustrating when Raptors Twitter can see it coming time and time again, but it keeps happening. Dallas ended up outscoring Toronto 30-15 and held a 88-85 lead after three.
The fourth turned out to be Luka Doncic versus the Raptors. There were only four Dallas baskets that Doncic wasn’t directly involved in, and the Raptors went on a 6-2 run and took the lead when Doncic was on the bench. The turning point in the quarter was when they switched to a 3-2 zone halfway through, where they played with more intensity, and as Kawhi said postgame, communicated much better, coming up with huge stops and allowing them to take the lead and never look back.
The Raptors, as talented a team as they are, still need to find a way to put together 48 minutes of consistent top level basketball, a level we all know that they’re capable of. It might just be a mental thing where they get too complacent at times, or it might be the fact that the full roster hasn’t been healthy enough to get true chemistry, but they still need to find a way. This game turned out to be much harder than it needed to be, mostly because of their dreadful performance coming out of halftime.
The way things unfolded, Sunday night was shaping up to be the most memorable performance of Luka Doncic’s young career.
The more he scored, tossed alley-oops to teammates and increased the buzz around the American Airlines Center, the rookie guard was on the verge of leading the Mavericks to a win against one of the league’s best teams.
Toronto had other plans. The Raptors rode a late-game surge to a 123-120 victory over the Mavericks to snap Dallas’ modest two-game winning streak.
But once again, the 19-year-old made being a rookie look a little too easy. Doncic had to settle for 12 rebounds, 10 assists and a season-high 35 points — his second triple-double of his NBA career.
Even in a loss, he showed why there’s so much optimism around his role in the team’s future.
“He played well,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said in perhaps the understatement of the year.
The saying goes “a win is a win,” and this Raptors team found a way to earn a very crucial win despite a big setback.
Toronto overcame a very subpar third-quarter performance to rally in the fourth and earn a win in a very tough environment. The Raptors handed the Mavericks their seventh loss at American Airlines Center this season as they boast an elite home record of 18-7 (.720).
After being outscored 30-15 and shooting just 4-for-19 from the field in the third, things looked very bleak for Toronto as it entered the fourth quarter trailing by three points. Things looked even worse when the Mavericks opened the final frame with four unanswered points to build a seven-point lead, but the Raptors quickly responded. Two 3-pointers cut the deficit to one point as it would be a battle down the stretch.
Roberts’ love of basketball carried into and throughout high school, where he continued working and perfecting his craft. His hard work paid off when he was recruited to play in Philadelphia at Rise Academy, where Kyle Kuzma, starting power forward for the L.A. Lakers, was his teammate. Roberts’ basketball story took him back home to Canada, to UTM. He didn’t think he’d stay long, looking to transfer out to join a Division 1 school. Now in his fifth year, completing a major in Psychology and a double minor in both Computer Science and Sociology, Roberts says UTM’s become a second home.
This year Roberts’ drive took him to try going professional, to try-out for the Raptor 905, the G-League affiliate of the NBA Toronto Raptors, which developed current and rising NBA players like starting forward Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, Fred Vanfleet, Norman Powell and Delon Wright. Roberts got deep into the tryout process, nearly receiving a training camp invite. Despite having his road to the professionals cut short, he’s hungrier and more focused than ever. “I knew I could have what it took to be a Div. 1 player. I knew I had the skill for it. But I also knew I wasn’t where I needed to be physically, in order to make that transition. In terms of playing university ball, for UTM, I just love basketball, and I want to play at the highest level,” he says.