10 things: Raptors running out of steam as minutes pile up

Matt Devlin and Amy Audibert break down how the Dallas Mavericks were able to shut down Fred VanVleet and the rest of the Toronto Raptors.

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 102-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.

1. The Raptors were gassed for the entire second half: Everything in this game has to be assessed in that context because this was a substandard effort on both offence and defence. Coach Nick Nurse continues to maintain a seven-man rotation for the fourth consecutive game, and the effects are showing. The Raptors are making sloppy mistakes and lack the lift in their legs to hit jumpers, which is ultimately compromising their gutsy effort overall. Yes, the team is playing better basketball on the whole as compared to earlier in the season, but it's an unsustainable formula for the regular season and it's already catching up to the players after just a week at this pace. It's not as if Dallas played a perfect game by any means -- the Raptors just didn't have enough in the tank. Down two with two chances at the basket, the Raptors insisted on launching contested threes instead of playing for two because the main guys could not stand the thought of extending the game into overtime.

2. Luka Doncic picked the Raptors apart: This shouldn't be a surprise given that Doncic is a generational talent who has a long track record of success against Toronto even dating back to when he dropped 35 as a rookie against Kawhi Leonard on the eventual champions. The Raptors initially had Scottie Barnes on Doncic, but he was in foul trouble very quickly, which led to Precious Achiuwa getting a turn. But the Mavericks star just methodically beat every single defender that he faced. Doncic kept getting downhill, either off a high screen or by forcing the switches he wanted, which was mostly against the shorter Fred VanVleet or against Toronto's rookies, and it always ended in floaters or foul shots. The Raptors finally switched up in the fourth quarter, reverting to a blitz defence where they forced Doncic into giving it up, but their tired legs could not scramble fast enough to cover for the pass, nor collect the rebound at key times. Doncic finished with 41 points.

3. Barnes made a huge mistake at the end: Doncic sought Barnes out with the Mavericks clinging to a one-point lead in the final minute. After stringing Barnes along for most of the shot clock, he sold the drive which put the Raptors rookie on his heels, before stepping back for his signature shot. Barnes was beat anyway, but he flat-out refused to contest and gave up on the play, just like he did in the first half where he waved off Doncic on a similar move. Doncic made the shot this time, and Nurse was irate as he furiously called a timeout. Nurse was more political when answering after the game, only going as far as to say that the team didn't cover the three as well as it could have, but this is not a first for Barnes. There are small idiosyncrasies that he has, whether it's the insistence on the no-look passes, the move where he slows down on a fast break to bait the defender as he looks back, or the refusal to contest, and Nurse needs to reiterate that the main focus always needs to be winning over making highlights.

4. VanVleet couldn't buy a bucket: Strangely enough, this was the most space he has seen in several games as the Mavericks opted for a traditional drop-back coverage with their centres, and VanVleet was covered by a fellow point guard as opposed to the lengthy wing defenders he saw in recent weeks, all of which left the point guard with plenty of room to shoot. But it just looked as if the exhaustion was catching up to him as VanVleet was short on most of his jumpers in a game where he finished 4-for-20 from the field, including only 3-for-15 from deep. Sure, he made one late in the game to give the team life, but this is a concerning trend. If VanVleet can't maintain his endurance because Nurse has extended him beyond 40 minutes for the fifth straight game, then it's clearly a red flag that he needs to be better managed. Missing Gary Trent Jr. has already been bad enough, but if VanVleet were to miss any time at all the Raptors would instantly slide under .500 and out of the playoff picture.

5. This was a strangely sloppy game for Pascal Siakam: He recorded just three assists against five turnovers after a 10-0 performance against Miami, which speaks to both the differences in the defensive approach but also to Siakam's focus. Miami sent an extra body at Siakam most of the game, whereas Dallas was much more content to play him one-on-one with six-foot-10 forward Maxi Kleiber on the perimeter with Kristaps Porzingis ready with the help at the basket, and it seemed to almost throw Siakam off to some degree. He was driving with the pass in mind, almost anticipating the second man, only to throw it right to the Mavericks. Siakam looked steady only when he was in the two-man game with VanVleet, who was setting him up to roll to the basket.

6. Siakam's teammates can help him by doing a better job of spacing out: Siakam can often be seen waving to his teammates, instructing their moves to set up the play, and yet they still make mistakes. The most frequent offender is Achiuwa, who has an uncanny knack for bringing his defender over to the same side of the floor as Siakam, thus making it an even harder move to score. This is something that should be fixed in practice, and quite frankly, it's not all that complicated. If Siakam is trying to set up his move on the left side of the floor, the cutter should be on the opposite side of the paint, waiting either along the baseline, or potentially flashing up to the middle of the paint to catch it for a short floater. It's already hard enough to score on drives since teams can load up on the paint because Achiuwa and Boucher aren't three-point shooters.

7. This was a better performance from OG Anunoby despite a quiet night from three: Anunoby was 1-for-5 from deep which is not enough to unlock the defence, but what was encouraging was how efficient and productive he was on drives. In earlier games against Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Miami, Anunoby showed a habit of getting stuck on his moves to the basket and then not being able to make a play, whereas Wednesday he was much more decisive in attacking the closeout and getting all the way to the basket. By doing so, Anunoby got himself a handful of easy looks, and was also able to effectively find the dump-off pass to the Raptors' centres when he saw a second defender rotate over. Mix in his usual share of threes with the way he drove it, and that's how Anunoby becomes an effective third option.

8. Justin Champagnie's energy remains consistent but he was too overeager: Nurse entrusted Champagnie as his seventh man, instructing him to pressure Doncic as much as possible at the start of the fourth to tire out the All-NBA guard, but Champagnie got himself baited to the point where Nurse had to give him the quick hook. Champagnie picked up two fouls 90 feet away from his own basket trying to swipe at Doncic as he brought the ball up, and also fouled him trying to contain the drive, which put Dallas in the bonus for the last nine minutes of the fourth. Being energetic is one thing, but you have to be smarter than that.

9. Nurse pushed back when asked about his truncated rotation: He pointed to the team playing better basketball of late, going toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the league, which is certainly true. By cutting out the unproductive players in his rotation, and relying exclusively on his core players, the Raptors have been able to defend at a higher level and create mismatches with their size. But the cost to this strategy is that his main players are tired, and they're not able to function at their best. Nurse's argument would be that if Trent Jr. and Khem Birch were available, he would go to a nine-man rotation and nobody would complain, except it's unrealistic to expect everyone to be healthy all at once. At some point, Nurse will have to bite the bullet and go back to some of his depth pieces.

10. The solution rests with the front office, not Nurse: The stated motive coming into this season was that it was to be a development year to assess what the team had. As it turns out, the team's core pieces are quite good and can compete with most teams when healthy, but the bench has been the worst in the league and several players have stalled. Nurse doesn't trust Yuta Watanabe, Svi Mykhailiuk, Dalano Banton or Malachi Flynn, who are all healthy right now but do not see the floor. David Johnson is strictly a G-League player, as is Isaac Bonga, and Goran Dragic continues to hold out in Miami. It's up to the front office to pick a lane and to either add to the team -- preferably a shooter off the bench -- or to override Nurse's call and force him to expand the rotation. The status quo is not sustainable.

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