It’s been more than two years since the Toronto Raptors last won 11 games in a row, and facing a Dallas Mavericks team that’s 24 games under .500 it probably seemed like it was a given. But Dallas wasn’t ready to roll over, at least not until the Tank Gods intervened and decided to help out the Mavs’ lottery odds and let the Raptors pull away in OT.
OG Back, Kyle Out
OG Anunoby was available on Thursday night, but Dwane Casey decided to give him one more day of rest; he returned to start last night, while Kyle Lowry got the night off to rest.
I suspect we’ll see a few more rest games over the next few weeks, as the Raptors continue to hold a lead in the race for the #1 seed. I’d expect DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas to get some time, especially on back-to-backs (the Raptors have three B2Bs left). And Norman Powell, already banged up, will likely be given lots of time to heal.
Who could have imagined we’d be cruising and giving players rest days at the end of the year? This team, man.
As for OG, he was fine in his 20 minutes. As usual his box score doesn’t look like much, but he looked well rested, had energy and spring in his jumps. He had a couple bad turnovers that we can chalk up to rust. Delon Wright started, and although he didn’t shoot the ball well, he notched 6 assists; his start may have affected the bench unit overall, as the group didn’t have a great game, but, I’ll take it to help ensure Lowry is rested for the playoffs.
You Tuned in for the J.J. And Yogi show, right?
J.J. Barea was the difference-maker in the Mavericks’ win over Toronto in December, and he looked to play the part again last night, scoring 18 (on 8-of-12 shooting) with 6 assists. He was helped off the bench by teammate Yogi Ferrell, who added 12. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that the Dallas bench would be the difference-maker instead of Toronto’s!
Ferrell started the show as soon as the pair subbed in by banking in a long 2, and Barea hit a runner on the next play, and the deja vu started to creep in. Barea sparked a Mavs run in the middle of the second that put them in front for most of the next 2.5 quarters, draining two threes and assisting on a Doug McDermott triple as well.
Maybe Barea was getting irritated at Fred VanVleet getting all his undrafted, scrappy, undersized, underestimated guard pub?
In any event, the Raptors caught a break when Rick Carlisle subbed Barea out with six minutes to go, and didn’t break him back in in crunch time or OT; the Raptors outscored Dallas 31-18 after he went to the bench.
The Raptors Are Testing My Patience Just a Bit
That’s three games in a row now Toronto has found itself trailing for most of the game, forcing themselves to play back in it late. In the previous two, they did it early in the fourth and the final minutes were low-pressure.
Last night they almost waited too long to flip the switch; Dallas kept that lead between 4 and 10 until about 3 minutes to go. I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan silently (or not-so silently) screaming in frustration as Nerlens Noel bottled up DeRozan and native son Dwight Powell hit big shots in the fourth.
Even after the Raptors fought back to tie, they couldn’t make it easy as they (once again!) had difficulty inbounding the ball; C.J. Miles threw a bad pass that was picked off and nearly cost them a chance to win, but Dallas couldn’t capitalize.
I will give the Raptors one positive here: they grabbed a number of key offensive boards that helped them stay close while the Mavericks were shooting lights-out. Wright had a nice tap off a DeRozan miss that went to JV for a layup; Valanciunas scooped up a Wright miss a play later for another short bucket.
The most important offensive boards, of course, came late: the Raptors had four in the OT period, the biggest of all when Valanciunas grabbed his own rebound off a missed free throw with 10 seconds left. He hit the next two to put it out of reach (and added two more for good measure a few seconds later. How about your starting centre shooting 5-of-6 free throws in the final seconds of a game?).
The 20-9 advantage on second-chance points was definitely a difference maker.
Let’s talk about the End of Quarter Possessions
Been a few weeks since I complained about the Raptors end-of-quarter offense! But once again I saw something I didn’t like, and once again it involved screens.
But it’s not the end-of-regulation finish—that one, that resulted in a missed Serge Ibaka runner, wasn’t terrible.
It’s the end of the first half that bugged me. With 14 seconds left in the half, DeRozan dribbled out the clock at the circle. Valanciunas came up to screen Yogi Ferrell.
This is the first of two actions to free DeRozan, and I hated how sloppy it was. First, the screen is too high; Ferrell can go under all day, because DeRozan is not a threat to shoot from two feet inside half court. (No one is, except Stephen Curry and maybe Damian Lillard.) Second, and just as importantly, Jonas, for all his improved shooting and handling, isn’t a threat from there either—it’s out of his shooting range and too far for him to catch the ball on the roll. So the threat of a switch is negated.
Third, the angle of the screen is off. DeRozan should be at a right angle to the screener’s shoulder, but he comes at it almost in a straight line. Ferrell doesn’t really even half to fight under; he just has to step back. And DeRozan doesn’t start moving until Farrell is already reestablishing himself under the screen.
So the screen accomplished nothing.
Now, the part of this play that I do like, is that Valanciunas came back and set another screen on Ferrell as DeRozan dribbled toward the hoop at the right elbow extended. It’s a nice wrinkle, but again is sloppy. Valanciunas could very easily have been called for a moving screen there—seriously, he’s moving the whole time and pushing Ferrell off (if Jakob Poeltl’s in there, that’s a foul for sure).
And again, DeRozan doesn’t use the screen properly. He’s got space for about a second—plenty of time for him—but instead waits for Valanciunas to clear out, Ferrell to reestablish himself, and then takes the long two with Ferrell on his back.
So all of that action and DeRozan gets a shot he could’ve gotten without a single other player moving. And yes, it’s a shot he hits all the time—that’s not the point, the point is that if you’re gonna make JV do all that work, you should be able to get something better!
I know, small complaints when your team’s won 11 in a row. But it’s also not the time to develop bad habits. Come on, Raptors, use those screens!
(For the record—check the way DeRozan uses Poeltl’s screen at the end of the third quarter. Much better! He still ended with a long, contested two—but at least he got the switch!)
So What, you Want Two Statues Now, Fred?
After Tuesday’s game I joked that the Raptors were scouting locations for a Fred VanVleet statue after he completely turned the game against New Jersey around. He only added to his legend last night, hitting a huge three in OT that gave the Raptors a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Perhaps the most impressive thing? He had already missed two, badly, in the OT period, including immediately preceding his make. But nothing fazes Steady Freddy; he was in his stance ready to shoot, and DeMar DeRozan found him, and VanVleet cooly knocked it down.
He finished with 14, 8 and 4 in 31 minutes.
Fred’s gonna have a moment in the postseason, and I can’t wait for it.
Winning 12 in row—a franchise record—won’t be easy. Oklahoma City comes to town Sunday for another early start!