The Dallas Mavericks got a taste of the type of resilience that the Toronto Raptors (13-3) have made a habit of this season, but a taste was more than enough for the skilled Western power. Down by 14 points with 2:21 to go, the Raps got within three thanks to a 13-2 run, but that was as close as they would get along the way to a narrow 106-102 loss.
While they made it interesting, Toronto was never truly back in the game. The home side didn’t have possession and an opportunity to tie at any point during their fourth quarter run and a well-coached, steady-shooting Mavs squad didn’t seem all that phased by the Raptors’ run, making their free throws and showing a little creativity on an inbounds play that saw Monta Ellis get two easy points at the rim on a clever cut.
The loss, the Raps’ third of the season and first against a Western Conference opponent, may have been a costly one. They lost DeMar DeRozan to a left groin strain in the third quarter, with no word yet on the severity of the damage. In his place, Kyle Lowry took on the bulk of the scoring load, tallying 25 points but going so on an inefficient 22 shots, including 3-10 shooting from deep. Not that DeRozan (0 points, 0-8 shooting) had been lighting it up prior to getting hurt, mind you.
Meanwhile, on an off night from Dirk Nowitzki (15 points on 6-19 shooting, including 1-7 from three and a -13), Dallas got production from Ellis (30 points on 12-25 shooting) and newcomer Chandler Parsons (16 points on 6-11 shooting).
Amir outplays Dirk
Just as DeRozan admirably handled his defensive assignment on LeBron James while posting respectable offensive numbers last weekend in Cleveland, Amir Johnson stood out on Friday night for his work on Nowitzki. Johnson crowded the big German and forced him into a number of bad, off-balanced, deep shots, even registering a huge block on one of the rare occasions that Nowitzki got the ball in the paint. On the other side of the ball, Johnson managed five more points on four fewer shots (20 points on 9-15 shooting) and, yes, even making more three’s (2-2 for Amir, compared to 1-7 for Dirk). The edge at power forward helped the Raps earn a surprising dominant advantage on the boards (55-37 on rebounds, 15-6 on the offensive glass).
Two tenets that the Raps have been able to rely on throughout their hot start let them down on Friday night. The typically sure-handed club coughed up 17 turnovers, compared to just eight from Dallas. Meanwhile, their typical free throw prowess was limited to 12 makes on 16 attempts (surely DeRozan’s absence was felt here), compared to a 15-22 free throw performance by the Mavs.
The force of Chandler
While Johnson was a strong interior presence for the Raps, Tyson Chandler was better for the Mavs. He blocked four shots, altered many others and generally gave Dallas an inside force that they’ve been lacking since, well, the last time Chandler was suiting up for Big D. On top of his defensive contributions, he also added 11 points on 5-7 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds for a complete performance.
Nice to see Jalen Rose honoured in his return to Toronto as part of the 20th anniversary festivities, if only because it’s good to see the franchise extending beyond the usual suspects (not that Alvin Williams and Morris Peterson weren’t popular Raptors, but it seems that they are sometimes the only alumni that the club has) and because the ESPN/Grantland analyst was able to lend his voice to the many offering kudos to the current club and its fan base. Still, did Rose, he of 177 games with the club and no meaningful moments, really merit the standing ovation he received in the first quarter of Friday’s game?
There may not be a more complete NBA team than the Mavericks, who boast scoring (Ellis, Nowitzki), defence, a premier deep threat (Parsons), an interior presence (Chandler), depth (Al-Farooq Aminu, Brandan Wright, JJ Barea, Jameer Nelson), stellar coaching (Rick Carlisle) and plenty of veteran savvy.
After playing eight of their past nine in the cozy confines of the ACC, the Raps hit the road for a short West Coast swing. They kick things off with a visit to Staples Center on Sunday against the hapless L.A. Lakers (9:30pm, SN).
Prediction: Raps 112, Lakers 104 (record this season: 12-3)