The Toronto Raptors managed to salvage their road trip last night, ending a two-game skid by beating the Dallas Mavericks late. It wasn’t pretty, or easy; a 12-point halftime lead was erased in one of the worst quarters of basketball you’ll ever see, as the Mavericks outscored the Raptors 30-15 in the third.
But even with some questionable officiating, Luka Doncic scoring 35 points on 24 shots and notching a triple-double with 12 rebound and 10 assists, the Raptors calmly took care of business over the final eight minutes and put the Mavs away by shooting 13-of-20 in the final quarter. The thoughts:
The Three-Ball was the Difference
Heading in to this season, I was really excited about two things: The Raptors’ potentially stifling perimeter D, with Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard joining the lengthy Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to lock down the types of players who had routinely killed the Raps over the years; and the three-point shooting, which I expected to be near the top of the league, with excellent shooters Leonard and Green joining Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles and Anunoby, and a hopefully developing Delon Wright and Siakam.
The first has been so-so, but the latter? It just has not materialized, except in spurts, like last night, when the team shot 17-of-34 from downtown.
As exciting as it was to see, I have all but given up hope of the Raptors turning a corner and becoming the three-point shooting team I envisioned. Heck, last night alone, I worried that they’d fallen too in love with the shot, and would rely on it too much down the stretch, to their own folly. (They did not, thankfully; after a Lowry triple tied it at 1:06 with six minutes to go, the Raptors only shot two more threes the rest of the way, both misses, from Leonard.)
The Mavericks only hit 11 threes (they average 12 makes a game), meaning those six extra points went a long way in securing the win. Which, again, is great to see, but I’ve lost faith and I don’t count on it starting a trend. And perhaps more disconcertingly, playing against a strong interior presence (DeAndre Jordan), the Raps once again couldn’t get anything going in the paint (just 17-for-33).
Getting Jonas Valanciunas back can help with the latter, but I’d really love for the Raptors to restore my faith in their outside shooting.
Kyle and Kawhi, Please Give us More Quarters Like the Fourth
As we all know, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have both missed time this year, and rarely at the same time, meaning they’ve only played 27 of the team’s 52 games together. And here’s a sobering stat that preceded last nights’ game:
Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry scored 20+ points in the same game 3 times in October.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 27, 2019
They haven't recorded 20+ points in the same game since.
They didn’t quite make it last night (Leonard had 33, Lowry had 19) but both played excellent ball games overall, especially in the fourth, where they combined to shoot 5-for-10 with five boards and five assists between them, and no turnovers.
I have to admit I’ve been wondering if Lowry is on the descent, career-wise. He started out of the gate so strong this season, but has been generally sub-par since (despite a great game here and there). He’s been hurt, but that’s kind of par for the course for players his age.
Which leads me to wonder: Can Lowry adjust his play as he gets older to take advantage of his basketball mind, and to put less wear and tear on his body? I think about how Chris Paul has adjusted his game over the last five years, the way he paces himself, and I wonder if Lowry can do the same.
If Lowry is not, or can no longer be, the player who throws his body into bigger guys, who takes charges, who goes all out every possession any more, can he find a way to be effective? He has the tools, but does he have the mindset? I hope so, and I hope he discovers it soon.
So Let’s Talk About the Officials
Is that the worst lead-in to a thought you can imagine? Who wants to talk about officials?! And I’m not here to talk about bias or “the Raps didn’t get this call” or whatever; in the end, the fouls and free throws were pretty even.
But the game was officiated differently in the second half — in the third quarter particularly — than it was in the first half. The first two quarters were fun, fast-paced, high-scoring; it felt like a modern NBA game. The third quarter took us straight back to 1994. The officials ruined any sort of momentum or pace the game had by blowing the whistle over and over. When there are so many whistles, it affects a team’s ability to run their offense and set their defense. And when the calls are inconsistent, it affects their ability to play defense, period, because you don’t know what’s a foul from one play to the next.
And yes, it gets in their heads mentally — the frustration affects players on the floor and the decisions they make. We’d all like to think it doesn’t, but think about how frustrating it is to watch; imagine how hard it must be to live with it.
For last night, it means I pretty much throw the whole third out the window. Yes, the Raptors played like trash, but how much of it it to be blamed on everything above? They won each of the other three quarters by six points. And lost that one by 15.
You may ask, well, why didn’t it affect the Mavs, and I don’t have an answer. They were on home court? That must help. I’m mostly just rambling here, but I don’t think consistency from the officials on what is a foul from one half to the next is too much to ask for.
Sshhhh.... That’s Two Healthy Games in a Row
Is it possible the Raptors have turned the corner, health-wise? That’s two straight games with everyone healthy, minus Jonas Valanciunas, who from all accounts is well on his way to coming back.
On Saturday afternoon, when it was announced that Danny Green was questionable with a sore hand, I was ready to go all “The Raptors will never be healthy, this sucks” in this space; and hey, that might still happen. I’m sure Lowry’s not 100 per cent, and I don’t think Fred VanVleet is either, although Green looked fine at least.
With only two games in the next eight days, there’s plenty of time to rest up, and the All-Star break comes up fast after that.
So — fingers crossed that this is the end of the injury issues, and we’ll see a predominately healthy roster from here on out.
Of course, this means another challenge for Nick Nurse...
The DNP-CDs, They Are A’Coming
On Friday night, it was Delon Wright with the healthy scratch; last night, it was C.J. Miles, and nearly Greg Monroe (and it will definitely be Greg Monroe when JV is back). If the Raptors are rolling out 12 healthy bodies, someone is gonna have to sit.
Miles and Wright (and eventually Monroe) seem like the obvious candidates, but it comes at a tough time because both had been playing decent basketball lately (and Wright was solid last night, especially in the first half, where he had nine points on four shots). Since Nurse is a guy who likes to switch his lineups up often, it probably means it’s going to be different guys on different nights; it might be Norman Powell (though he’s earned all of his minutes this year), it might be OG Anunoby (Anunoby has had a rough sophomore season, but his size is hard to replace). And we all know that that’s hard on professional athletes, who like routine and rhythm, who like to know their roles.
Mostly it’s a good problem to have, and besides, the Raptors need to be focused on developing the chemistry between their top seven or eight guys heading in to the postseason.
Is the schedule finally turning? The upcoming opponents are tough (Milwaukee, the Clippers, Philadelphia) but the games are much more spread out. The Raptors will actually get to practice! (I hope.) The Bucks might finally catch up the Raptors in the “games played” column! (It seems like the Raptors have played four more games than Milwaukee since the first week of the season.) And, yes, hopefully, rest and chemistry will follow.