Five thoughts on Game 24: Raptors 102, Kings 87

A few thoughts from the Toronto Raptors 102-87 victory over the Sacramento Kings, the Raptors’ sixth win in a row:

The Raptors started off strong, but inexplicably took their foot off the pedal

It was a 17-2 Raptors lead with 8 minutes left in the first quarter; it ended with the Raptors up 22-17. The Kings took the lead four minutes into the second quarter. Although the outcome never really seemed in doubt, it is frustrating how rarely the Raptors put the clamps down on bad teams. They managed to do it in Atlanta, but here, after the strong start the Raptors started settling for long shots, making lazy passes, and letting the Kings do whatever they want. Buddy Hield went 6-8 in the first half, including 2-2 from deep, as he led the Kings bench in their comeback. Overall the Kings bench outscored their starters 28-17 in the half; perhaps they were a little perturbed by all this talk of the Raps bench being best in the league.

The improvement in DeMar DeRozan’s passing has been great to see

DeRozan posted a season-high 9 assists, and he’s now averaging an even 7 per game over the six-game winning streak. And it’s not just on one or two pet plays or drive-and-kicks, either. He’s finding Jonas Valanciunas in the pick-n-roll. He’s swinging the ball back after dribble hand-offs. He’s looking for cutters when he’s in the post. And he’s keeping his head up on fast break opportunities. It’s wonderful to see.

All of that said, there was one play in the first quarter that is the exact type of play that makes the stat-heads pull their hair out when talking about DeRozan. Kyle Lowry had the ball, pump faked, got the defence moving, and drove the lane, which pulled the defense in. He kicked it out to DeMar at the top of key, who was wide open for three-point attempt. But it’s DeMar. So he didn’t take the open three, he drove straight ahead… right into the defence that was already parked in the lane. He ended up doing a spin move, followed by a fadeaway, which Buddy Hield got a piece of. DeMar passed up a simple, open shot worth three points for a much more difficult shot, worth only three points.

I mean, I love DeMar, and I can live with the three not being a big part of his game… but when a look like that presents itself, you gotta take it.

Boy, CJ Miles is struggling

He missed his first five shots of the game, after going 0-4 on Friday night. He finally hit a three-pointer in the second, after the Kings had taken the lead, so it was nice he made one when they needed it. But he forced a couple, and he’s clearly searching for something. He had a couple of sweet drives in the fourth, and I love it when slumping shooters mix it up like that. Hopefully it goes towards busting him out of it,  because the Raps need his shooting; even with OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka and Lowry shooting well from deep lately, CJ’s shot volume, range and quick release creates a ton of space on the floor for everyone else.

Speaking of struggling, Pascal Siakam went 1-7, including 0-2 from deep; he’s now 2 for his last 27 three point attempts and 20% on the year. I know the three is not his shot, but I sure hope he’s working on it. It would be a welcome addition to an otherwise well-rounded game.

The Raptors bigs had another solid game

In the first half JV had few good looks around the bucket thanks to some Kyle and DeMar passes, and he drained a three; he was 3-3 with 5 boards in 14 minutes, and finished with 9 and 8 and a +17. On one great third quarter sequence, he bodied up Zach Randolph, tipped an offensive rebound to himself, caught it and kicked it to Lowry (who rimmed out a wide-open triple). Meanwhile, Serge continued his hot shooting, going 4-7 from deep and scoring 20 points, and adding a couple great defensive plays at the rim including breaking up a De’Aaron Fox dunk attempt to open the third quarter. And I really liked the way both of them ran the floor tonight as well.

As for the big man off the bench, Poeltl had a great transition dunk off a tough Lowry pass, another great spin move off a Lowry offensive rebound and pass, and oh yeah, his first three-pointer!

This game featured one of the worst replay situations I’ve ever seen

DeMar and Bogdan Bogdanovich got tangled up on a jump ball in the third quarter. Bogdan didn’t like it, DeMar shoved him, stern looks were exchanged. The refs called for time to look at the replay, see who was at fault and assess appropriate fouls. First of all, why the need to go to replay? This happened on a jump ball, everyone is looking at the same thing! How did they miss it? Second of all, the replay review feed wasn’t working, so the refs couldn’t see the replay. Instead of cueing up an iPad or looking at the jumbotron, everybody just stood around waiting. Like, they’re literally showing it in the arena. They’re showing it on TV. But they can’t show it on the screen. SO WE WAIT. Finally they give up… and call nothing. Are you kidding? Have the officials gotten that reliant on replay that they can’t make a call without it? That was embarrassing. All that time wasted for nothing.

And for the record, DeMar should have been assessed a tech for the shove.

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It’s s 2-0 start on the four-game trip, which is excellent; the next test is tonight, on a back-to-back against the Clippers. LA is struggling; can the road-weary Raps take advantage?

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