Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 144-123 win over the Sacramento Kings.
One — Joy: Maybe it’s just temporary respite from the losing, but this was the first jolt of joy in an otherwise miserable start to the year. The Raptors not only showed fight in roaring back following a dismal start, but they also dominated the opponent and played with a pace and swagger that had been missing to date. Toronto poured on the points for all four quarters, showing no let-up even when it went to the second unit, and it all culminated in a glorious blowout win. To get this result even in the absence of Kyle Lowry, who sat out for personal reasons, makes it all the more satisfying.
Two — WTF: The Raptors were headed for a new low after allowing the Kings to shoot 18-of-22 for 46 points in the first quarter. Sacramento’s guards got into the paint at will and its rookies were preening up and down the court. Much of it was self-inflicted, as the Raptors made basic defensive errors like allowing De’Aaron Fox to drive straight down the rim, or playing Marvin Bagley to get to his favoured left hand, or just flat-out blowing assignments in transition. It was never going to last for all four quarters, but it was also up to the Raptors to collectively take responsibility and to start playing with purpose. There have been far too many moments this season where the Raptors have slumped their heads after giving up a run, losing trust in the offense and in one another, but they stuck it out and battled back as a group.
Three — Leader: Fred VanVleet was the first one to start the comeback, and then he put the Raptors ahead for good. VanVleet was all the Raptors had to start the game, as he got to the rim, hit pull-up threes, while setting up his teammates, which allowed the Raptors to keep their heads above water. Once his teammates matched his intensity, VanVleet took his game to another level. He scored 16 points in the third quarter, draining jumpers from 30 feet out and twirling contested layups in against defenders that were a foot taller. He also found his teammates for cutting layups and was flawless defensively. VanVleet finished the game with 34 points in 33 minutes, and could have easily hit 40 if the game weren’t already over by the time he returned for the fourth quarter.
Four — Patience: Pascal Siakam set the structure for the Raptors’ offense, just as he did against the Suns to start the road trip. Siakam gave the Raptors a consistent threat to score in the paint, and he got to the basket at will in single coverage. When the Kings sent help, Siakam was both precise and patient in how he read his defense. Siakam recorded a career-high 11 assists, and came on rebound short of his first triple double. The up-tempo nature of this game suited him, especially with how lax the Kings were defensively, but there is also also a noticeable uptick in confidence for Siakam who has played at an All-Star level over the last three games. The two major takeaways are that he’s getting to the basket much more than he is relying on his jumper, and that he is impacting the game with his speed and quickness.
Five — Promising: This was the first breakout moment for rookie Malachi Flynn. He was scoreless coming into this game, and the absence of Lowry meant Flynn was actually being counted upon as a key reserve. Flynn snapped the drought early on with a floater in the lane for his first career basket, and made another driving jumper shortly thereafter. That set up his emphatic stretch in the fourth quarter to blow the game wide open, where Flynn hit a deep three, set up another triple, collected the rebound, slashed inside for a layup, got a stop, before finishing with another catch-and-shoot three which stretched the lead to 21. There are still some nerves to be shaken out, especially with Flynn losing his dribble at times which goes against his cool demeanour, but he finished with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes and this will absolutely give him boost of confidence.
Six — Active: The whole game flipped once Chris Boucher subbed in midway through the first quarter. The Raptors were still bleeding points at that time, and Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton put Boucher on a highlight with a smooth crossover leading to a stepback three, but the Raptors also caught fire themselves. Boucher’s ability to finish around the basket gave the Raptors another option in the offense, and it brought balance to their attack. Boucher kept it simple, waiting patiently for Siakam or VanVleet to beat their defenders, before making his move decisively. He would either cut to the basket and get the dump-off pass, or he would pop out to the perimeter for the three. The quicker the pace got, the easier it was for Boucher to shine, as his speed and athleticism is built to go up and down the floor.
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Seven — Switch: Nurse benched Aron Baynes for Alex Len but it hardly made a difference. Len looked like a minivan in an F1 race, and he was quickly sent to the bench after just five minutes. The remaining 43 minutes at center were either given to Boucher, who logged 29 minutes, or the Raptors would just go without a big on the floor and make it work with three wings in the frontcourt. Not only did it allow the Raptors to get out in transition and match the Kings’ tempo, but it also gave the Raptors more of an ability to play their brand of defense, which is characterized by swarming the ball and darting around on the perimeter to chase shooters off the line. None of that is really possible with Len or Baynes, and Nurse should consider using smallball to his advantage rather than just as a last resort. There will be bad matchups and some lapses in the paint, but that was happening with his traditional centers, anyway.
Eight — Revived: Norman Powell continues to thrive with the starters. Powell got the start with Lowry out, and submitted his best game of the season with a hyper-efficient outing of 22 points on just eight shot attempts. Powell’s role becomes much more simple with the starters, as he no longer needs to create for himself. Instead, he can just focus on finishing his chances, whether it’s on catch-and-shoot threes, slashing to the basket, or leaking out in transition. Nurse says he will consider starting Powell, even though it would create an imbalance in the starting five, simply because Powell is just so productive with the first unit.
Nine — Reserve: Terence Davis got extended run with Powell in the starting five and replicated the same formula with the second unit. Davis is unpredictable and makes inexplicable decisions, but he is also a capable scorer who can finish efficiently so long as other are creating for him. Matt Thomas seemed to have the edge above Davis to start the year, but Davis is slowly winning the job back. It’s a bit redundant if Powell and Davis are both coming off the bench, but the good news is that the Raptors have options for instant offense off the bench.
Ten — Appreciated: There’s something to be said for playing hard, and Yuta Watanabe exhausts himself in every shift. Watanabe can only be described as chaotic, defending and rebounding as if every possession were Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and he takes very little for himself on the other end. Watanabe’s rebounding is particularly valuable for this team, as they have struggled thus far on the glass, and Nurse mentioned him as an option as the backup power forward. So long as Watanabe maintains this level of activity, he will have a role in the rotation.
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