Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks come to town Friday evening to face off against a white-hot Raptors team hunting for a record-setting sixth straight victory to open the season. The current record for best start to the season (5-0) came in 2015-16, which unsurprisingly ended with the team’s most successful playoff run — a six-game Eastern Conference Finals series against the Cavaliers. This team though... This team is something special.
In fact, it’s so special that Raptors fans are left stuttering in delight on game night. Most lifetime fans watching have no idea how to react anymore — we simply have never experienced the type of intensity with which this team plays each and every night.
Gone is the fourth quarter panic, when the Raptors would hold a lead only to squander it to a more disciplined team. Gone are the days when fans would watch the opposing team’s star player perform feats of strength, belittling our Raptors as we watched in awe.
Yeah, those days are long f———ing gone. These days, fans are treated to a team that dominates the fourth quarter — the Raptors are leading the league in clutch plus/minus as of October 25th, notching a +11 in seven clutch minutes (when the score is within five points with less than five minutes remaining). In those minutes — across three games — the Raps are scoring points, playing defense, and most importantly: winning games.
Dallas comes in at 2-2, perhaps exceeding early season expectations surrounding their new duo Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. DSJ spent his rookie season dominating the ball, posting a usage rate of nearly 29 percent, with inefficient numbers. That number has dropped nearly three full percentage points with Doncic sharing the ball, though both are still hovering around 25 percent usage rate on the season. Expect to see a ton of them all night.
Here are the details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30 pm EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas
Dallas — Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith, DeAndre Jordan
Toronto — Delon Wright (thigh, questionable), Fred VanVleet (toe, probable)
Dallas — Harrison Barnes (hamstring, out), Devin Harris (hamstring, out), Dirk Nowitzki (ankle, out)
That Low-Post Offense, Though
Not only has Toronto’s defense been exactly what we thought it could be (and will get even better), the offense has evolved in a way we never imagined or expected. Serge Ibaka has been lights out in the post (that baby hook has been unstoppable), and his position-mate Jonas Valanciunas has been even more effective on a per minute basis.
Ibaka, for the season, is shooting 83 percent on shots within 3-feet of the basket — and nearly a third of his shots taken are from the restricted area! That’s ten percentage points higher than his mark last season (.724) at double the rate. He’s not the only one dominating the post on offense — Valanciunas has been just as impressive (averaging 11.8 points in 18.6 minutes) in an even smaller minute share, shooting 60.5 percent from the field on the year.
That Low-Post Defense, Though
These two haven’t just helped anchor the offense. The two centres — mostly Ibaka’s newfound energy — have helped smother teams in the post defensively. The numbers you see here, for context, are absolutely dominant. They’re beyond dominant — they’re elite. The Raptors have five players allowing under 48 percent shooting within five feet of the basket. The rest of the NBA, other than the five Raptors, has seven such players. That’s absolutely absurd.
Coincidentally, the Raptors trail only the Mavericks in points allowed in the paint per game — Toronto gives up just 38.8 per game, Dallas sits at 37.5 per game. In Dallas’ case, that may have more to do with their inept perimeter defense than anything else, although we can’t discount DeAndre Jordan’s presence.
This post dominance has afforded the Raptors the eighth-best defense on the season, and again — it can only get better as these guys tune into each other.
An Exciting Game
Listen Raptors’ fans: We’ve got an incredible, fun, exciting team, but there are other things happening in the NBA, whether we want to care or not. One of those things is an exciting young duo in Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. They haven’t been very good, but they have helped the Mavericks to an early .500 record. Doncic is regarded as the best European prospect to ever enter the NBA — and he shares a team with Dirk friggin’ Nowitzki.
Meanwhile Dennis Smith Jr. is possibly the third-coming of Steve Francis (after Damian Lillard) as a small, but extremely athletic point guard who isn’t afraid to run and gun. The Mavericks are just outside the top ten in pace on the season, and Toronto and Dallas are ninth and tenth, respectively, in fast break points per game.
So whatever you do tonight, enjoy the game! After all, it could be your last chance to watch Doncic have a bad NBA game ever again. Go Raptors!