Siakam is right there
It’s hard to express how lofty a goal the Raptors star set for himself when he said he wanted to be a “top-five” player in the NBA at the start of training camp. In Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant there are at least four previous MVP winners in their prime and capable of winning another.
Then there’s Doncic, who has been first-team All-NBA for three straight years, and let’s not forget Jayson Tatum and Joel Embiid. The list goes on. But Siakam is making himself heard.
Against the Mavericks he went off for 17 points in the first half – one better than Doncic — grinding out points on a night when the Raptors were otherwise struggling for offence. His defence was on-point too. He was on his way to another big night – he had 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists before he got hurt, so was well on his way to another triple-double, and more than holding his own against Doncic. The only hope now is his injury is just a tweak, rather than something more severe and he doesn’t miss too much time, if at all. The problem is the Raptors have a back-to-back against Chicago coming up, the start of five games in seven days, so we’ll see.
Porter Jr. shows what he can offer
Otto Porter Jr. showed some of the smarts he’s known for early in the second quarter when, late in the shot clock, he noticed the Mavericks’ Spencer Dinwiddie bouncing the ball in no man’s land against Dalano Banton. Porter made a move towards the ball, faking a double but staying in the passing lane and when Dinwiddie tried to pass it back to Porter’s man the newest Raptor got his mitts on it for a deflection leading to a Dallas shot-clock violation.
He later had a steal that led to a fastbreak and a triple as Raptors head coach Nick Nurse played him with a mostly starters group minus Gary Trent Jr. so Toronto could keep some shooting on the floor while Trent Jr. rested. So there are signs of what Porter Jr. will be able to offer as he rounds into playing shape. He was also on the floor as the Raptors made an early fourth-quarter run, his second three cutting the Mavericks’ lead to eight when Doncic sat. But once again the best Raptors bench player was Chris Boucher, who is delivering generous doses of enhanced skill and patience to go with his trademark energy as he put up 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds and was a team-best +20 in his 29 minutes.
O.G. keeps thieving
Not all the Raptors came to play against the Mavericks, but Anunoby played his third out-standing game in a row, highlighted by yet another demonstration of incredible defence. As we’ve pointed out before steals are alone proof of good defence, but at a certain point, they become evidence of a player who is locked in on the task and has the combination of quickness and size to simply erase possessions.
Anunoby is that guy right now. It was his third straight game with five or more steals and the seventh time in nine games he recorded multiple thefts. But Anunoby’s offence – lacklustre through the first four games when he shot just 38.5 per cent from the floor – joined his defence. He put up a season-high 27 points for Toronto against Dallas on 11-of-21 shooting. He’s now averaging 18.6 points per game and shooting 38 per cent from deep. It was a shame that his attempt to poke the ball away from Doncic in the final minute ended up putting the Mavericks star on the line for a pair of free throws that iced the game.
Double teams and junk defenses? The Raptors tried.
Testing him on defense to the point Doncic drew his second technical foul this season? The Raptors tried that, too.
But Doncic compiled perhaps his most efficient and complete performance of the season Friday in front of the sold-out American Airlines Center crowd, tallying 35 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and one block in 36 minutes
He shot 10 of 15 from the floor, 3 of 6 from three and 12 of 14 from the foul line to lead the Mavericks third consecutive win entering a weekend of rest.
Doncic’s ideal combo.
“He surprises a lot of people. I wonder if he surprises himself sometimes,” coach Jason Kidd said. “When he shot that little floater, I just kind of chuckled because only he can do that.”
Doncic laughed, too.
“Those plays are fun,” Doncic said. “Later you see on TV, everybody talks about it. [I call them] the bull— shots. When you make them, it’s so fun.”
In shape and rhythm after his Slovenian national team run through EuroBasket in September, Doncic hasn’t thought much about what, in particular, has fueled his unflappable run of dominance through the first eight games this season.
He’s unfazed by leading the NBA in scoring — 36.1 points per game entering Friday night, 2.5 more a night than two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — and ranking sixth in average assists (9.0).
Now the second player in NBA history to score at least 30 points in the first eight games of a season, joining the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors’ Wilt Chamberlain (eight times in 1959-60 and 23 times in 1962-63), Doncic didn’t have much of a reaction when he learned about his company with an all-time great.
“I always hear Wilt Chamberlain,” Doncic said of past historic stat comparisons. “He’s always there. I don’t know. It’s crazy.”
Particularly crazy, even by Doncic standards, because the Raptors feature a top lineup with all players at a 7-foot wingspan or wider and employ transition-happy, offensive-rebounding-savvy, untraditional strategies under coach Nick Nurse’s guidance.
Doncic had almost every answer.
55.8 percent: Mavericks shooting percentage on two pointers
The Raptors came into this game with the sixth-best defense in the NBA. Coach Nick Nurse is considered a defensive guru and Toronto’s roster is littered with long armed, athletic players to muck up an opposing offense. For most of this game, the Mavericks handled it.
Dallas shot 27-of-43 on two pointers, getting what they wanted in the paint. Luka Doncic on his own was 7-of-11 on two pointers, continuing his dominant scoring trend inside the three point line so far this season.
19: Mavericks turnovers
Since Doncic was drafted in 2018, part of the Mavericks key to success has been limiting turnovers and playing an efficient half court game. Dallas entered Friday’s game averaging the fourth least turnovers per game at 12.7. The Raptors managed to put a wrench in that game plan, but the crazy thing was it not mattering.
The Raptors are like the Grizzlies — they like to cause havoc on defense and get out in the open court. The Mavericks surprisingly hung tough with Toronto in transition, despite the Mavericks rarely playing in it. Kudos to the Mavericks for overcoming and adapting to the frenetic pace the Raptors play at.
20: Josh Green’s minutes played
While a lot of attention has focused on what the Mavericks are going to do with JaVale McGee and the starting lineup, another storyline was Josh Green’s impactful start to the season and whether he’d get more time. He ended up playing a season-high 20 minutes against the Raptors on Friday night.
It was a well-earned 20 minutes too, as Green continued to do the things he’s been doing well all season — hitting his open threes, playing hard defense, and finishing at the rim. Green had an electric steal and score on the fastbreak in the first half that really woke the crowd and the team up. Green hasn’t graduated to closing lineups, but let’s continue to keep patience with Green. He’s doing good things! This is progress! If Green continues to impact the game in winning ways when he steps on the court, the minutes situation will eventually take care of itself.
Luka has been otherworldly to begin the season. He is averaging a league-leading 36.0 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting from the field. Doncic has made two of every three 2-point shots he has taken this season, and that makes zero mention of his 8.8 rebounds, 8.6 assists, and 1.9 steals per game thus far.
Luka did not just make history on Friday night, but he had a blast doing it. There were plenty of highlights from the 23-year-old superstar, but even more smiles as the Mavericks earned a hard-fought win over the Raptors.
Luka Doncic is having fun and making history as the Mavericks defeat the Raptors
The play of the night happened late in the third quarter with Doncic stuck on 29 points. The Raptors were sending double teams and making everything tough on him, so he broke out the dribble moves before drilling a tough contested fadeaway to secure the history-making performance. See Luka’s two most difficult plays from Friday night and his postgame commentary on them below.
Tim MacMahon also asked Doncic what goes through his mind when he makes a play like that, and fans can read Luka’s response below.
“It’s just fun. Those plays are fun. Later, you see it on TV. Everybody talks about it, but it is just fun. Tough shots, sorry for my language, but the bulls**t shots, when you make them, it is just fun.”
Luka Doncic was certainly having fun on Friday night as he finished 35 points on ten of 15 shooting from the field. That includes him busting out his Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hook shot and hitting three 3-pointers. He also had eight rebounds, six assists, three steals, and one block against one of the toughest defenses to solve in the NBA.
Doncic has been unstoppable to begin the 2022-23 season. It is not just the eight straight 30-point efforts. He is attacking the rim and getting anywhere he wants on the floor in what is shaping up to be a special season for the Dallas Mavericks and the 23-year-old superstar. What should fans expect next? Stay tuned to find out.
Foul trouble plagued the Raptors’ bigs, as Christian Koloko and Chris Boucher picked up their third foul early on. The Mavs continued to run their offense through Christian Wood in the absence of Luka, who sat for almost two-thirds of the second quarter. Anunoby’s three-pointer pushed the Raptors within two but failed to gain more ground as they continued to brick from the perimeter. The Raptors switched to a zone defense late in the quarter, resulting in back-to-back three-pointers, giving the Mavs their biggest lead at 59-50. Nurse stormed the floor for a tech when Achiuwa’s dunk didn’t get an and-1 (it was a clear foul), but since “ball don’t lie,” Doncic missed the freebie. The Raptors did a better job hounding Doncic this quarter, but he found an open teammate each time, and only a Siakam-led 7-3 run to end the half cut the Mavs’ lead 62-57. If there was any consolation, the Mavs held Doncic to two points in the second quarter.
The Raptors opened the second half with a hard show on Doncic, who promptly fired an assist to Powell for a dunk. Koloko picked up his fourth foul in just a minute, allowing Doncic to score a layup on him easily. Anunoby picked up two quick offensive fouls, and a Dinwiddie triple gave the Mavs a 12-point lead. The bleeding continued as the Raptors committed their 5th turnover in three minutes, and Doncic’s running hook pushed the lead to 16. Trent Jr’s fastbreak layup broke the Raptors’ drought, but Doncic’s three-pointer forced Nurse to call a timeout.
The Raptors responded much better defensively after the intermission, highlighted by Anunoby’s pick-six off a Mavs inbounds play. However, the Raptors remained sloppy with the ball, as Barnes’s nonchalant pass to Siakam resulted in a Doncic steal. Siakam tried to do a chase-down block, but ended up fouling Doncic, who might have tweaked his ankle. Anunoby and Siakam kept the Raptors within striking distance, leading a 10-2 run to cut the Mavs’ lead to 82-71.
The Mavs kept their poise and prevented the Raptors from cutting the lead into single digits, despite the momentum slowly swinging toward the Raptors’ side. Siakam slipped on the court late in the third, and appeared to have injured his groin, forcing Nurse to call a timeout so that the medical staff could look at him. Doncic started to heat up again, and man, how can you defend him when he’s doing this:
The fourth quarter started with a piece of sombre news — Siakam would be out for the game with a strained right groin. Meanwhile, the Raptors continued to make a push with a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 96-87. Barnes turned up the QB’ing a notch, racking up assists on almost every single play, cutting the Mavs lead to 98-92.
Kidd sensed danger and promptly inserted Doncic back around the 8-minute mark. Achiuwa’s three-pointer cut the lead to 100-97, but the Raptors started to look gassed. The Raptors came up empty for several possessions, allowing the Mavs to push the lead back to seven. Barnes’ back-to-back buckets cut the lead to four, but Doncic hit a three-pointer on Barnes’ eye. Was this a mano-a-mano? Barnes responded with a hook shot.
Perhaps a sign of fatigue, the Raptors failed to secure critical rebounds off of Dallas’ next several misses, gifting the Mavs extra possessions in crunch time. Achiuwa foiled Doncic’s oop to Powell, but Barnes missed his layup, and Boucher’s putback was blocked. Doncic tried to hit the dagger but bricked the trifecta. Boucher’s corner three was off-target, but Achiuwa fought for the offensive rebound and drew a foul. Achiuwa made both freebies, cutting the lead to 108-105 with 35 seconds remaining.
Doncic drew a foul from Anunoby with 16 seconds left and split his freebies as the crowd chanted, “M-V-P!” Anunoby secured the rebound, and Nurse called for a timeout. Anunoby drove for a quick dunk, but the Raptors failed to foul the Mavs promptly, sending Dinwiddie to the line with three seconds remaining. Dinwiddie nailed both freebies, and Nurse called for another timeout. With a four-point Mavs lead, Anunoby’s three-pointer at the buzzer proved meaningless.
These past three games showed us a glimpse of what it’s like to have Scottie Barnes running the point and life without Fred VanVleet. But tonight’s game highlights VanVleet’s importance to the team, as the team sorely missed his leadership, playmaking and shooting. With Siakam likely out for the next few games, it’s interesting to see how the team will respond, as they are losing the engine of their offense. Up next: The Raptors host old friend DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.
For all Nurse’s renowned moving of the chess pieces, nothing much seemed to work against Doncic. The Slovenian savant needed just three quarters of work to reel off his eighth straight 30-point game to open the season, finishing the third with 31 points; only Wilt Chamberlain began an NBA campaign with a longer run of such scoring performances. And by the time it was over, Doncic had 35 points and Dallas had a 111-110 win.
The Raptors not only couldn’t stop Doncic and the Mavericks, who shot 51 field from the field. Playing their third straight game without starting point guard Fred VanVleet, the visitors simply couldn’t make enough shots, going 32 per cent from three-point range while shooting 44 per cent from the field.
It didn’t help that Toronto lost leading scorer Pascal Siakam to a strained right groin near the end of the third quarter. Siakam, who scored 18 points, lost his footing on what appeared to be a wet spot on the floor and did not return for the fourth quarter.
There were bright spots.
– O.G. Anunoby became the first Raptor to grab five steals in three straight games. He also led the team with 27 points.
– Chris Boucher was his usual energetic and productive self off the bench.
– Scottie Barnes, 21, used a late surge to become the youngest Raptor to record a triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
And Toronto pushed hard in the fourth quarter. An Anunoby dunk with 11 seconds to go cut the Dallas lead to two. But after Spencer Dinwiddie made a couple of free throws, Anunoby’s three-pointer at the buzzer that cut the margin to one was moot.
On a night when the Raptors committed a season-high 19 turnovers, the visitors weren’t quite sharp enough on either end to eke out the win.
Doncic was as advertised in a 35-point outing Friday night. The Raptors schemed up everything they could to stop the Mavericks magician, but despite relentless face-guarding, and double-teaming, there was still not much Toronto could do to stop the three-time All-NBA superstar. He nailed off-the-dribble three-pointers over Toronto’s best defender Anunoby and toyed with the defense as if moving in slow motion with the ball, sending it between his legs and behind his back before finding an open teammate.
When Toronto’s offense went silent to open the second half with nearly four scoreless minutes, Doncic couldn’t be contained. He scored or assisted on every Mavericks bucket during Dallas’ 14-2 run as the Mavericks by 17 early in the half. When the Raptors began climbing back, Doncic quelled the run, nailing a pair of turnaround jumpers to keep Toronto at bay.
Siakam did go toe to toe with Doncic in the first half, scoring 18 points before a groin injury forced him out of the game early in the third quarter. He awkwardly slipped on a wet spot and was ruled out with a right groin strain, the team said, finishing the night with seven rebounds, six assists, and two points shy of his ninth straight 20-point performance to start the season.
Those assist numbers for Siakam could have been much better had Toronto converted a handful of good looks in the first quarter. Gary Trent Jr. and Scottie Barnes missed three wide-open threes as Toronto Toronto mustered just 2-for-14 from behind the arc in the first frame.
Those shooting woes somehow changed once Siakam checked out. Barnes broke out of his passive funk in the fourth quarter, commanding Toronto’s offense with three straight assisted buckets and six straight Raptors points as Toronto clawed to within four. He scored eight of his 11 points in the final frame, grabbing 11 rebounds on the night, and recording his 10th assist on the final bucket of the game to clinch his first career triple-double.
A right groin strain was the result and worse news could not have come for the visiting Raptors.
The Raptors are already down point guard Fred VanVleet, who has missed the past three games with a sore lower back.
To add Siakam to that, if VanVleet isn’t return to return, will put real pressure on the remaining three starters in a stretch of the schedule coming up with includes more games than off days.
The Raptors seemed down and out with the deficit as high as 16 after three quarters.
But Siakam’s departure seemed to rally the Raptors, who got it down to three points with six minutes remaining, right back in the game.
Scottie Barnes, quiet until the fourth quarter, came alive in a big way and almost brought the Raptors all the way back in this one.
A three with a little more than two minutes to go rimmed out that would have made it a two-point game.
The Raptors did get it down to a one-possession game when Precious Achiuwa made both free throws with 35 seconds to go.
Doncic, though, would hit one of his two free throws, giving him 35 points on the night — the ninth consecutive game of 30 or more — to basically put the game out of reach.
The game did have some fine individual performances outside of Doncic and Barnes in that fourth quarter. In fact, the reigning rookie of the year notched his first career triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
O.G. Anunoby became just the third player in the NBA in the past 10 years to have five or more steals in three consecutive games.
Offensively, he was stellar with 27 points and a healthy seven rebounds.
The Raptors are back home Sunday when they will host Chicago.
If the early days of the Raptors season are a reliable harbinger of the months to come, Trent figures to be taken care of very generously this summer. Heading into Friday’s game against the Mavericks, he was putting up impressive numbers at the offensive end, averaging a career-high 20 points a game while shooting a capable 38 per cent from behind the three-point line. As one of Toronto’s go-to bucket-getters, he’s been supplying his advertised strength.
“My teammates empower me. The coaching staff empowers me,” Trent said. “So it’s just go out there and play my game, showcase what I work on and the work I put in.”
In some ways, of course, Trent doesn’t fit in with the thrust of Toronto’s roster-building philosophy, which has mostly involved the stockpiling of long-armed and mobile players six-foot-eight and taller with the versatility to play multiple positions. At a relatively slight six-foot-five and 209 pounds, Trent is, like point guard Fred VanVleet, a physical outlier in the rotation. Which goes to show: The combination of stellar shooting and size isn’t easy to find.
In another way, though, Trent fits with Toronto’s history of player procurement. As a second-round pick who has proven wrong plenty of doubters who didn’t see him as an NBA starter, he has the competitive chip on his shoulder that Toronto team president Masai Ujiri values more than most.
“I’ve heard my whole career coming into the NBA, ‘I won’t be able to defend on the next level. I won’t be able to survive,’ ” Trent said. “Everybody says what they gotta say. Everybody’s an analyst. Everybody swears they know what they’re talking about. So all that, as well, factors into it.”
Gary Trent Jr.’s offence has kept him in the Raptors’ starting lineup and his defence, often pointed at by critics, is “getting there,” coach Nick Nurse says.
Speaking of defending, Toronto coach Nick Nurse told the story last season about a conversation he had with Trent not long after the player arrived in the 2021 deadline trade that sent Norman Powell to Portland. If Trent, at the time, saw himself as a catch-and-shoot bucket-getting specialist, Nurse had news for him: In Toronto, he’d be expected to get buckets and play the Raptors’ brand of ball-pressuring, turnover-generating defence. Trent has upped his game on that front. Last season he ranked fifth in the league in deflections per game, a metric the Raptors consider a decent proxy for defensive engagement.
“He’s getting there,” Nurse said of Trent’s defence. “I think he took the challenge. As far as effort, for the most part. For me, that’s the thing I’m always watching with him.”
Therein lies the challenge for Trent, and every Raptor hoping to see dependable floor time. In Nurse’s universe, defensive engagement is a never-ending pursuit in which you’re only as good as your performance in the last handful of possessions. There’s no resting on yesterday’s stats.
“Not just (Trent), but any of ’em. There’s nights when sometimes that pep in their defensive step is not quite there,” Nurse said. “So that’s what we’re always watching with him, to make sure he’s playing hard and getting into the ball.”