A Friday night matchup between two teams in full swing? Two elite all-rounders, triple threats already getting MVP buzz?
A chance for Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors to test themselves against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to see Toronto’s top-flight, high-pressure defense, which has posted a staggering 41 turnovers and an even more impressive 84 fastbreak points in their past two games?
Things don’t get much better in early November. Unfortunately, the Mavericks were the better team as they withstood a furious comeback in the fourth quarter from a 15-point deficit to start the quarter with a 111-110 win – the end result was somewhat flattering for Toronto, which was on the line threatened, but only gained it to possession after a last-second three-pointer from OG Anunoby.
The Raptors played their third straight game without Fred VanVleet due to back strains and lost to Pascal Siakam late in the third quarter to a scary-looking groin injury. Toronto is now 5-4 on the season while Dallas improved to 5-3.
The Raptors allowed Dallas to shoot 50.6 percent from the ground while converting only 44.3 percent of their own shots. Toronto had an 18-6 advantage in offensive rebounds while each team was 21-to-25 from the line and had 19 turnovers. Dallas was 12 of 34 from deep while Toronto was 11 of 34.
What to do with Doncic?
The Raptors had to do something. The 23-year-old came on with an absurd streak of 36.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 9.0 assists. It seems inconceivable that he could keep up this pace, but if he achieves his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 36.1 he would surpass Nikola Jokic’s record of 32.85 from last season when he won his second MVP award in episode won.
Toronto opted to double-cover him at every opportunity. Whoever the main defender was — Scottie Barnes got the contract early, Precious Achiuwa and OG Anunoby also all took turns as the Raptors tried to keep the size of the 6-foot-9-point guard for the Mavericks — stuck with Doncic , even after he tried to get her into pick-and-roll. Easier said than done.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Doncic was handicapped by Barnes and challenged Maxi Kleber – who was marked by Chris Boucher – to put up a screen. Barnes and Boucher dutifully doubled down only to watch as Doncic spin-dribbled between them and blasted a cross-court pass to a wide-open Tim Hardaway Jr. in the corner for a three.
On the next possession, Doncic pretended not to use the screen, came back the other way to use it and started rolling downhill with his right hand. The Raptors didn’t double, and Doncic just advanced to the layup. What if he didn’t? Doncic lived at the free throw line.
Towards the end of the third quarter he was isolated against Achiuwa – such a good defender in situations like this in the league. Doncic performed about six different dribbling moves to get Achiuwa to bite, but he didn’t want to.
Finally, as the shot clock ticked down, Doncic just went to his one-legged fadeaway and let it fly about 20 feet in the air. It only touched mesh on the way through the rim. Perfect defense and it didn’t matter. Robust cover. Doncic finished with 35 points, eight rebounds and six assists while shooting 10 of 15 from the floor.
Siakam will be right there
It’s hard to express how high the goal the Raptors star set himself when he said he wanted to be a “top five” player in the NBA by the start of training camp. With Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, there are at least four past MVP winners in their prime who are poised to win another one.
Then there’s Doncic, who has played first-team in the All-NBA for three straight years, and let’s not forget Jayson Tatum and Joel Embiid. The list goes on. But Siakam makes himself heard.
Against the Mavericks, he picked up 17 points in the first half — one better than Doncic — picking up points on a night when the Raptors otherwise struggled on offense. His defense was spot on too. He was on course for another big night – he had 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists before he got injured, so he was well on his way to another triple-double and more than held his own against Doncic. The only hope now is that his injury is just a gimmick and not something more serious and he doesn’t miss too much time, if that. The problem is the Raptors have a clash against Chicago, the start of five games in seven days, so we’ll see.
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Porter Jr. shows what he has to offer
Otto Porter Jr. showed some of the cleverness he’s known for early in the second quarter when he noticed late in the shot clock that the Mavericks’ Spencer Dinwiddie bounced the ball in no-man’s-land against Dalano Banton. Porter moved toward the ball, faked a double but stayed in the fast lane and when Dinwiddie tried to pass it back to Porter’s man, the newest Raptor got his fists on it to distract him, resulting in a shotgun violation. Clock led by Dallas.
He later had a steal that led to a fast break and a triple when Raptors head coach Nick Nurse played him with a mostly starting group without Gary Trent Jr. so Toronto could shoot on the floor while Trent Jr. rested . So there are signs of what Porter Jr. can offer when he gets into game form. He was also on the ground when the Raptors made a run early in the fourth quarter, and his second three cut the Mavericks’ lead to eight when Doncic sat. But once again, the top Raptors bench player, Chris Boucher, delivered generous doses of enhanced skill and patience to go along with his trademark energy as he scored 17 points, tacked nine rebounds and posted a team-best +20 in his 29 minutes.
OG keeps stealing
Not all of the Raptors came to play the Mavericks, but Anunoby played his third straight standout game, highlighted by another display of his incredible defense. As we mentioned, steals alone are evidence of good defense, but at a certain point they become evidence of a player who is fixated on the task and has the combination of speed and size to easily erase possession .
Anunoby is that guy at the moment. It was his third straight game with five or more steals and the seventh time in nine games that he recorded multiple steals. But Anunoby’s offense – lackluster in the first four games when he shot just 38.5 percent from the ground – joined his defense. He scored a season-high 27 points for Toronto against Dallas on 11-of-21 shooting. He now averages 18.6 points per game and shoots 38 percent from deep. It was a shame his attempt to tuck the ball away from Doncic in the last minute put the Mavericks star on the line for two free throws that iced the game.
Hope Barnes is okay
The Raptors star sprained his right ankle late in the offseason and twisted it again in the first half of Toronto’s first game against Miami last week.
He missed just one start and certainly seemed fine after that: In four games prior to last night since returning to the lineup, Barnes averaged 16.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists at 53.3 percent Shooting, including 48 percent shooting from three to more than five attempts per game.
But Barnes twisted his right ankle again in the first quarter last night and while he stayed in the game he appeared to pinch his ankle again trying to save a loose ball before half-time. He appeared to be on course for his weakest outing of the season…. But then he scored 11 points in the final 13 minutes of the game and finished with his first career triple-double as he added 11 rebounds and 10 assists, though his five turnovers and 4-of-12 shots were uncharacteristic.
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