Mid-way through the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s game at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Toronto Raptors (7-4) appeared to be following a script that has grown increasingly familiar this season: uneven play through three quarters results in a close game, only for the Raps to pull away in the final 12 minutes. Sure enough, a three-point lead after three grew to a 10-point advantage in the fourth, but that’s where the script veered off. The Kings closed on a 16-2 run and scored the game’s final 11 points, a crumble that cost the visitors en route to a 107-101 loss.
The late game power outage, a stretch that saw the Raps miss their last seven shots and fail to score over the game’s final 2:50, spoiled what had been a solid offensive performance, particularly from three-point range. Prior to falling apart late, Toronto had made 15 of 27 three-pointers (55.6%) and shot 47.5% (38-80) from the field before seeing those averages fall as the Kings took over. Sacramento, for their part, scored 107 points on just 76 shots thanks to 51.3% (39-76) shooting and a 19-24 performance from the free-throw line.
Doing the damage for Sacramento was Raptor killer DeMarcus Cousins, who posted 36 points on 12-22 shooting while pulling down 10 rebounds. Over nine career games against the Raps, Cousins has averaged 23.2 points, more than against any other opponent, and 10.8 rebounds per game. DeMar DeRozan led the way for Toronto with 24 points, but shot just 9-22 in doing so and missed three key shots as part of the late swoon.
Some wondered how Cory Joseph would fare in what was expected to be a larger role in Toronto after being a small cog in the San Antonio Spurs machine for four seasons. The answer, so far, is just fine. With seven more minutes of floor time per contest, Joseph has upped his numbers without sacrificing efficiency or effectiveness on the defensive end. The career high in points per game (9.5) isn’t surprising, but shooting at a career-best 57.7% clip is. On Sunday, Joseph scored 17 points on 8-10 shooting while constantly hounding Kings guard Marco Belinelli on and off the ball.
The dynamic duos
In a game dictated by two respective ball-dominating pairings, it was the Kings’ tandem of Cousins and Rudy Gay who won out convincingly. Although DeRozan and Kyle Lowry lit up the stat sheet with 46 points to go along with 12 assists and nine steals, they needed 41 shots to do so. On the home side of the floor, Cousins and Gay scored 63 points, nearly 60% of their club’s offensive output, on 57.9% (22-38) shooting. They also went 15-19 from the free throw line, compared to just 6-8 for the Raptors pair, all of which came from DeRozan.
Casey mishandles JV
If DeRozan or Lowry missed seven of their first nine shots, do you think they’d be sitting on the bench watching a tight game unfold in crunch time? I find that highly doubtful, which is why it seems perplexing that Jonas Valanciunas still hasn’t fully earned the trust of Dwane Casey. After shooting 2-9 from the floor, Valanciunas was sent to the bench and only wound up with 20 minutes of court time, as Casey leaned on Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo is a skilled defender and rebounder, but serves as a distinct offensive liability, one whom Sacramento gained a defensive edge by playing off of in the fourth. Valanciunas has established himself as the club’s best big man and one of their five best guys. Frankly, he deserves better than this.
The Raptors probably won’t miss Sleep Train Arena, which will close at season’s end. The franchise finishes with a 3-16 all-time record at the venue, one which they hope to put behind them when the Kings move into the Golden 1 Center next year.
When you have an elite superstar like Cousins in the NBA, you are never all that far off from contention. It’s important to keep that in mind amidst a bevy of controversy and turmoil that has besieged the Kings. Public displeasure and front office incompetence has turned the franchise into a laughingstock so far this year. But with Cousins, Gay, Ben McLemore, Willie Cauley-Stein and Rajon Rondo forming a decent foundation, there is room for growth if owner Vivek Ranadive and top executive Vlade Divac can put the dysfunction behind them.
Our first look in on the new D-League affiliate offers an update that might serve as a common, continuing trend this season of encouraging signs amidst losing efforts. Not much is expected of the 905 in the standings, but Raps fans are surely more concerned with the performances of Bruno Caboclo and other young prospects who may one day work their way up to the big club. Bruno, specifically, shone in a pair of season-opening losses to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants over the weekend. Caboclo posted 18 points and 13 rebounds in an 83-80 loss that ended on a heartbreaking buzzer beater on Saturday night, and then erupted for 25 points on 10-18 shooting in a 112-92 loss on Sunday. Their next game is Thursday’s home opener against the Maine Red Claws.
The Raps will be the next team up to try and stop Steph Curry and the 11-0 defending champion Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night (10:30pm, TSN) for the start of a tough back-to-back set that sees them visit Utah on Wednesday.
Prediction: Warriors 119, Raps 105 (record this season: 4-6)