The Toronto Raptors played solid defense for close to 48 minutes, moved the ball well, consistently attacked the rim and didn’t fold when they got a lead. How nice was it to see all of that? The result was an easy 116-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Toronto’s third in a row.
We shouldn’t get too high up on this one — the Mavericks were on a back-to-back and missing a few key contributors due to injury/COVID protocols. But a win is a win, and we’re seeing more and more positive results from game-to-game that might mean the Raptors are figuring things out.
1. Halftime Wakeup Call
On the their first five possessions, four times a Raptor found himself with only Willie Cauley-Stein between him and the hoop. OG Anunoby and Kyle Lowry recognized Cauley-Stein wasn’t a strong defender and promptly beat him off the dribble to the rim. But Pascal Siakam fired up two 18-foot fadeaway off his back foot.
It’s just two shots, but they really seemed emblematic of Pascal’s lack of aggression and confidence scoring the basketball. He finished the first half 1-for-9 with one rebound and two assists.
Thankfully, he snapped out of it halftime, shooting 6-for-10 (including 5-for-7 in the paint) and scoring 16 points in the second half.
That half was the best he’s looked “at home” this season. Hopefully it’s not an anomaly.
2. Boucher Fly-Bys
I am so torn on Chris Boucher’s penchant for leaping out at three-point shooters. On the one hand, when he blocks one (and he blocked two last night), it’s awesome — it typically creates chaos as the ball hangs in the air and both teams scramble to recover it, and often leads to a transition opportunity for the Raptors.
On the other hand, when the shooter fakes and Boucher goes sailing by… the opponent is at least getting an open look from three, or a five-on-four advantage. And Boucher’s momentum is so strong it usually takes him a couple seconds to get back into the play.
I guess as with most things, you gotta take the good with the bad!
Boucher, by the way, is averaging 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks over his past six games, on 66/54/82 shooting splits. He’s up to third in the league in blocks per game. At some point he’s either going to come back down to earth, or this will become normal and we’ll stop being amazed. But for now, it’s just plain awesome.
3. The Ninth Man
With Boucher, Norman Powell and Stanley Johnson, Nick Nurse appears to have his top eight players solidified. But the ninth man continues to be trial-and-error. Three games ago it was Yuta Watanabe, who was pretty good. Two games ago it was Malachi Flynn, who made some rookie mistakes but was fine. Last night it was Terence Davis, who scored six points and then stunk it up for 10 more minutes.
Davis was consistently lost on defense, airballed a layup at one point, and picked up five quick fouls.
I haven’t written about Davis much because I’m not sure I can do it objectively; I don’t think he should be on the team. But I don’t think it’s subjective to say he stunk last night. If Nick Nurse is still figuring out the ninth man role, I should think he’s seen enough from Davis.
But perhaps more importantly, he should give someone else a try, like Paul Watson or DeAndre’ Bembry. Or Matt Thomas!
I know we don’t see what these guys do in practice. Maybe Davis kills it in practice, and has earned the PT; maybe the other guys are stinking it up in practice. But I would really like to see what they can do on the court.
4. Steal City
The Raptors turned up the defensive intensity last night, and it was a throwback to last season, and it was pretty great to see. Again, caveat that the Mavs were tired and shorthanded, but the Raptors threw the book at Luka Doncic, harassing him into a rather passive 4-for-11 shooting night (though he still had seven boards and nine assists).
The third quarter in particular was a highlight, as the Raptors tallied three of their nine steals in the quarter; Fred VanVleet had two of them, one where he just swiped Doncic’s dribble away, the second on a classic Freddy dig down where he stole it away from a spinning Kristaps Porzingis.
One night isn’t going to fix everything, but it was a great reminder that this team can still play defense like they did last year.
5. Tell ‘Em, Stanley
Stanley Johnson and OG Anunoby shared most of the duties on Doncic, and both were rock-solid, getting in his grill and frustrating him. At one point, Nick Nurse rolled out the box-and-one on Doncic, with Johnson as the one — and that’s something I never thought I’d type when Johnson was riding the bench last year.
Doncic eventually took his frustration out by throwing an elbow at Johnson, which somehow went uncalled by the officials. Fred VanVleet picked up a technical when he voiced his opinion on it, but even more entertaining was Stanley’s response:
MAKE 'EM PAY, @iAmSJ pic.twitter.com/iKUA6XEu9x— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 19, 2021
This is four straight games now that Johnson has hit a three, and he’s shooting 44% on 1.5 attempts per game.
The Raptors now get set to face the Miami Heat and their typically-impressive zone defense, which completely stymied the Raptors last year. We’ll see if the offensive improvements from last night carry over!