Good morning! This is the first time in your life you’ve woken up and the Toronto Raptors are 6-0. Our boys held off the Dallas Mavericks 116-107 last night, setting a franchise record for wins to start a season, and everything is wonderful in Raptorland—so let’s jump right into the thoughts:
Kyle Lowry is Playing Out of His Mind
This six-game stretch of basketball from Kyle Lowry has to be among the best stretches we’ve ever seen from any Raptor, ever. He dished out eight assists in the first half last night, and they were veritable works of art.
First, it was this beautiful bounce pass on the break to a streaking (who else) Pascal Siakam.
This next one, to Jonas Valanciunas later in the quarter, literally made me exclaim “oh f--k off” out loud.
And how about this beauty to JV with 4:20 left in the first half?
Oh, and two plays before that one, after the Mavs had cut the Raptors’ once-16-point lead to five, Lowry hit a classic “all right, let’s all calm down now” three-pointer off of a nifty ATO from Nick Nurse that saw Lowry dump the ball off, loop through the lane, come of a double screen and get it back at the top:
Lowry finished with 20 points and 12 assists and is now averaging 19.8 and 10.3 with 72.7% true shooting. KLOE forever.
Could the 13th and 14th Men Please Stand Up?
As expected, with OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright all out, Lorenzo Brown and Malachi Richardson got some extended minutes last night.
I felt pretty strongly coming in to the season that these guys would get opportunities—not many, and not often, but they’d be there—and that they’d be able to contribute. Much like Norman Powell, Wright and VanVleet have done over the years: start small, show flashes, prove reliability.
The jury is still out on Richardson; he only ended up getting eight minutes and took one shot. He did have one near-awful turnover in the third, and a decent-looking attack that led to two FTs (he went 1-for-2 for his lone point).
But Brown, with the absences to Wright and VanVleet, had an extended run (15 minutes)—and didn’t look good early. Right off the bat last night I felt he just wasn’t moving the ball effectively; too much dribbling and standing around, too slow to make decisions. (About two plays after I made that note, he did make a quick move with the ball: he passed it so Serge Ibaka so quickly Serge wasn’t looking, it bounced of his chest and it went the other way.)
Brown did redeem himself in the fourth quarter, with two steals, a triple, a dunk and a nice drive. He still only notched one assist though, against one turnover.
I still think these guys have potential, but I’ll admit it’s taking them longer than I expected for them to show it.
It’s important to keep it all in perspective though...
Running Out an All-Bench Unit was Ballsy
As the clock would down in the third quarter, the Mavericks cut the Raptors lead to three, 92-89... and Nick Nurse ran out a bench unit with Brown, Richardson, Norman Powell, C.J. Miles and Ibaka. That unit has absolutely no shot creators, except maybe Richardson; Nurse quickly brought Pascal Siakam back in to help, but subbed out for Miles, probably the best all-around offensive player of that group.
And guess what happened? The Mavs cut it to one... and then missed three of four free throws, missed two chippies, goaltended a Norman Powell shot and missed a buzzer beater at the end of the quarter. The Raptors escaped with that three-point lead intact, Kawhi Leonard started the fourth, the Raptors went on a 7-0 run and never looked back.
Back that unit though. There was definitely a part of me that said, “you know, you don’t have to actually play 10 guys every night. You can shorten the rotation!” But then I remembered: It’s game six. At this point of the year, there’s more value in getting the end-of-bench guys some extended minutes, and seeing what they can do against NBA competition, rather than overextending your key guys in a non-conference game. A loss to a poor Mavericks team (also missing players) would be embarrassing, but ultimately, not all that important. So Nurse made the right call.
(You can also look at this the other way: Three of the team’s top-9 players were out, they still went 10-deep, they still scored 116 points, and they still won. That’s some serious depth.)
This Mavs Team can Score!
I was impressed by how well the Mavericks share the ball, move on offense, and score. That kind of unselfishness isn’t something you usually see on a young and rebuilding team, and it’s obviously helped them rack up lots of points and shots (113.2 ppg, 40.0 3-pointers attempted per game) thus far, if not wins (they’re now 2-3).
At first I thought, wow, is that all the Luka Doncic effect? But then I realized this team, despite the fact that it’s not a contender, actually has quite a few veterans, including DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Barea, Harrison Barnes and Wes Matthews, not to mention Dirk Nowitzki (out with injury last night). Those guys all obviously know how to play team basketball. Even Jordan, who was mostly a finisher with the Los Angeles Clippers, had a few nice dishes.
I don’t mean to sell Doncic short of course: this young man can play. Everyone’s been saying it, but it’s true: He doesn’t play like a rookie. A couple games back I commented on Danny Green’s poise and patience; Doncic isn’t quite at that level, but he’s not far off. He’s in control always, doesn’t make bad plays or take bad shots—your usual rookie staples. He finished with 22 (including 4-of-6 from downtown), five rebounds and four assists.
He’s the got the potential to be really damn good.
Siakam in the Open Floor: A Thing of Beauty
I leave you with this Pascal Siakam gem:
I could watch him do that all day.
Because of the Raptors’ depth, I actually feel like Siakam has been a bit of a forgotten man this year; I thought he’d have a bigger role. Multiple times this year I’ve yelled at various Raptors through my TV (metaphorically) (I don’t actually do that!) (What do you mean my nose is growing...?) to headman the ball to Siakam on the break. Which they sometimes do, of course (see the Lowry-to-Siakam clip above), I just feel like they could do it more!
Still: What we do get from Pascal are gems like this one, so let’s savour it!
6-0! And when we see the Raptors next, they’ll be taking on the Milwaukee Bucks, who as of this writing are 5-0 (with a game to come Saturday night). Even if the Bucks come in 5-1, it’s going to a heck of a night in Milwaukee. See you then!