It looks like, at long last, the injuries and fatigue of a long road trip have caught up with the Toronto Raptors.
A generally listless affair last night saw them play one good quarter, which wasn’t enough against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks hardly played inspired ball, but played just well enough — and had the benefit of a rather friendly whistle — to take the day.
A Tale of Three (Bad) Quarters
Last night’s first quarter was messy for the Raptors; their offense had no flow, the ball wasn’t moving, players were hardly moving, and their shots were generally flat. They shot 6-20 and had only two points in the paint.
The second quarter was a different story — the Raptors were getting out on the break, moving the ball and scoring efficiently. They had nine fast break points, 14 points in the paint and shot 61%.
But that one spurt was all they had. The entire second half played out more like that first quarter: only five fast break points and 37% shooting.
It’s tough to win a game against any NBA team when you only play one good quarter.
The Raptors Really Missed Serge Ibaka Last Night
As Matt and Jack noted on the broadcast, the Mavericks have been one of the the best offensive rebounding teams in the league this season — but the Raptors apparently didn’t get the scouting report, as they gave up seven offensive boards and 13 second chance points in the first half alone. The defense remained generally stout, but it’s asking a lot to play good defense for multiple possessions in a row without a break.
And when the shots aren’t dropping on the other end, giving up offensive rebounds is just salt in the wound.
The truth is, Marc Gasol just had a hard time matching up with Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber, and Chris Boucher didn’t have a great game either. The mobility, rim protection and rebounding that Serge Ibaka provides would have been a big boon in this one... alas.
OK Matt Thomas!
Matt Thomas hive assemble! The Iceman was 4-for-4 in the second quarter, and two of those shots were off the bounce, too! And his presence out there forced the Mavericks to adjust their entire defense, stretching it out well past the three-point line to keep him in check. (And it worked, as he missed his only attempt in the second half.)
Still, I like having a guy on the team that the opponent has to instantly respect from distance. Even if Thomas only plays a few minutes a game, if he’s enough of a threat out there to change the defensive gameplan, I expect Nick Nurse can find a way to take advantage of it.
Was That a Good Norm Game or No?
Norman Powell shot 6-for-8 from downtown last night, and led the Raptors with 26 points. He had six rebounds too, and he and Pascal Siakam were the only starters with a positive plus/minus.
And yet... I feel like it was an entirely forgettable 26 from Norm. I didn’t get the sense that he had a positive impact on the game. Perhaps because it was clear the Mavericks had their defensive efforts set on stopping Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, and were probably only too happy to allow Powell to go off.
Given how much I like Powell and how badly I want to see him succeed, you’d think I’d be ecstatic to see him score that well in a game. But it left me with a weird vibe.
Road Trip Blues?
Even with the two days off since the Portland game, this was very much a “I just want to go home” game from the Raptors. They were gassed. VanVleet, Siakam and Marc Gasol in particular looked like they were completely out of steam.
But overall, I think the team has to be happy with the 3-2 result, considering the injuries. And getting good looks at Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (a defensive bulldog again last night), Chris Boucher, Terence Davis and Matt Thomas was a huge hidden benefit to those injuries. The Raptors should be able to count on Hollis-Jefferson as their eighth man and have confidence that Boucher, Thomas and Davis are good enough to fill out the rotation.
That said, there have to be some concerns about the impact of the minutes Siakam and VanVleet are playing. Going home isn’t a cure-all; the Raptors play again Monday. The effect of the extensive minutes and travel — and let’s not forget these guys went to and from Japan just over a month ago — don’t just disappear when the Raptors return home.
The Charlotte Hornets are coming off two big wins, and Monday’s game has “trap game” written all over it. Are the Raptors headed to their first two-game losing streak of the season?