The Toronto Raptors took on their old friend Vince Carter and the Sacramento Kings on Sunday afternoon, coming away with a 108-93 victory. I have a few thoughts!
These two teams looked very different last week
The Raptors and Kings played just one week ago, in Sacramento. In that game, the Kings started Zach Randolph, Skal Labissiere, De’Aaron Fox, Garret Temple and Bogdan Bogdanovich; they were missing George Hill and Willie Cauley-Stein. Today, they were missing Randolph and Fox, and started Temple along with Hill, Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos and Vince Carter.
The Raptors, meanwhile, also had a different starter; CJ Miles replaced Serge Ibaka in the starting lineup today, as Serge rested his sore knee. The Raps also have Delon Wright back, who missed last week’s game.
Phew! Funny thing is, the result was almost exactly the same: A 15-point Raptors win.
I liked seeing CJ Miles in the starting lineup
We of Raptors internet fandom have been longing for more CJ Miles-Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan time. In theory, having such a deadly volume shooter should open up the floor more for Kyle and DeMar to operate, and their ability to get into the paint should open up more shots for CJ. Jonas Valanciunas should have more room to operate as well. Right off the bat it looked like a good idea, as CJ hit the Raptors first shot (a three) and missed on another shortly thereafter. (OG Anunoby did drain an open three in between, and JV missed an open one too).
CJ just didn’t have the range tonight though. He went 2-7 from downtown for the game, and in the closing minutes, it was back to the JV-Anunoby-Kyle-DeMar+Fred VanVleet closing group.
The Toronto Raptors defense took an extended nap in the first half
These Sunday afternoon games often start out slowly, as teams aren’t used to the early starts (and, let’s be honest, are often out having a good time on Saturday nights). Today that wasn’t the case on the offensive end, but it sure was on defense! The Kings hit 11 of their first 14 shots and scored 63 in the half (on 62% shooting overall) to take a 2-point lead into halftime. (This is a team that’s dead last in scoring, BTW, at only 96.1 points per game.) The Raps were just fine on offence themselves, naturally, scoring 61 on 50% shooting, but it was a pretty sad looking effort on D for two quarters.
Things got back to normal in the second half
It was “breathe a sigh of relief” time when the Raptors came out energized in the third. Who knows what coach Casey said to them in the locker room, but, it worked, as they ratcheted up the intensity on the defensive end, and—although they only scored 22 themselves—held the Kings to 14 in the quarter.
The five-man bench unit came on to start the fourth and they grew the lead right off the bat, going on an 8-2 and flying around on defense. It’s easy to overlook what Delon Wright’s absence meant to the team—they played fine without him, obviously, only losing once—but he’s such a difference-maker on D. With his length, he’s able to disrupt all kinds of things—deflect passes, make post feeds difficult, force the offence to start further out—and slow down the other team. He had 3 steals on the night (in only 13 minutes!), and he was the only Raptor who seemed capable of slowing Bogdanovich down. Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl also altered several Kings shots at the rim.
Even grumpy ol’ man Doug Smith is a fan!
These kids are delightful to watch. Even when they mess up they’re fun.
Raptors up a dozen, 6:03 left
— Doug Smith: Raptors (@SmithRaps) December 17, 2017
Finally, the starters came back in and put the game away. Valanciunas in particular was great in the fourth—heck, he was great all night, his third solid game in a row. But he was everywhere in the fourth, drawing fouls, hitting the offensive glass, scrambling for loose balls. He only shot 3-10 on the night, but he went 7-8 from the line, had 8(!) offensive rebounds (and 16 total) and three blocks.
Let’s hear it for Vince Carter
I was totally fine with the boos all those years (it’s nice to have a villain), but I am glad that the fanbase has let those wounds heal and Vince Carter is now welcomed back with cheers. After he hit the Kings’ first bucket, I had a slight fear of Old Man Vince transforming into 2005 Vince and burning the Raptors one final time. Much fun as that would have been, I’m glad it didn’t happen. I definitely credit Dave Joeger for taking Vince out of the game with 12 seconds left so he could get an ovation from the crowd. (But shame on George Hill and Garett Temple for chucking up the Kings’ final four shots and robbing Vince of the opportunity for one last ACC bucket.)
In the end it was a lovely ovation, well-deserved. And I managed to snag a couple of great moments before and after the game.
(Sad fact: When Vince, who is five months older than me, retires, whenever that may be, I will officially be older than any player in the NBA.)
Well let’s see. We’re officially one-third of the way through the season. The Toronto Raptors have won 9 of their last 10 games, have won 9 straight at home and are 11-1 at home. They’re 20-8 overall—that’s a 58-win pace.
I’d say this team is doing just fine.
Let’s see if they can keep the momentum going on Wednesday in Charlotte, a place they’ve traditionally had difficulties…!