Always been wary of Sunday games for the exact reason they’re talked about as an advantage for us. Instead of being an extra step quick, we’re usually a step slow and leave it for the second half to make up for our first half indolence. In that sense, this game wasn’t much different from the Indiana game last Sunday where the Raptors found late gears to avoid what would’ve been a rather humbling home defeat. Solid team play in key stretches, a boost off the bench from Antoine Wright, and steadfast offensive resolve from Chris Bosh were the keys to taking care of business as the Raptors continued their plunder through the soft part of the schedule.
Transition play and offensive rebounding is the only reason the Kings stayed in this game. Those are two of our weaknesses and they were went about exploiting it in a consistent manner. As well as the Raptors were playing early, everything they did on offense was negated by those two shortcomings. The good news is that both our weaknesses have more to do with effort than personnel so when we were only up 3 at the half despite shooting 60%, you knew it wasn’t going to be this way as long as we just picked it up.
Our strengths lie in the interior play of Bosh, the playmaking ability of our wings and in the sanctity of team basketball. Bosh was a beast on offense tonight (36/11/5) and operated very close to the basket for most of the night, he executed a few drop-steps for dunks and always made the drive his first priority. Bosh’s scoring is only half of his post-game, the other half is getting others open shots and our management of how to handle Sacramento double teams was impeccable. Bosh’s reads of the help was good and his passing out of it led to swing sequences and more (his 5 assists proof of that). There were many plays today where Jack, Turkoglu and Bargnani demonstrated great unselfishness which always led to a better shot. Sometimes we make extra passes out of the Bosh-double which end up being a detriment for the possession, but not tonight, Sacramento was left chasing the ball and our 28 assists reflect that.
Turkoglu was back wearing a mask, DeRozan was back after his ankle injuries and Calderon surprised everyone by returning from his ankle sprain. As expected, Jack went right at Tyreke Evans from the get-go which surprised the rookie; Jack had 9 assists on the night, most of which came off drive and kicks – the best assist for a PG. Turkoglu was aggressive on the high screen and set the tone early by driving for a couple and then knocking down two open jumpers after clever fakes. 7 points in 7 minutes is a lot of production for him and hopefully he climbs his way out of the rut he’s been in. With Bosh operating inside, Turkoglu and Jack on their games, it was going to be a question of whether the defense would get up to the level of our offense.
For most of the game it didn’t, Sacramento had a 26-6 fastbreak point edge in the first half as our already poor transition defense was made to look worse because of 9 turnovers. It’s like adding fuel to fire. There was little doubt the Kings weren’t going to come back after the Raptors went up by 13 early; they were excellent at running back our missed jumpers for points and as already mentioned, the turnovers hurt us. Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin and Donte Greene’s agenda was to challenge the Raptors in transition and since all three are excellent open-floor players, had success. This is where the Raptors looked their worst on Sunday – matched up in the open floor against athletic wings who are running at them. The offensive rebounding was a problem as we finished -9 in the department, Spencer Hawes being the main thorn in our side. Bargnani’s rebounding numbers are decent (8 rebs) but some of his play in help situations was deplorable. Triano tried to insert Johnson to match the Kings’ energy but he was overmatched against Sean May, who is looking less like a blimp these days but still pretty fat.
I had a keen eye on Calderon in the first half and was expecting him to take it a little easy and work himself back in the game. To my surprise he started hunting for his own shot which was good to see. An aggressive Jose is a good Jose and even though he was only 3-7 with 2 assists in 21 minutes, he got an excellent run in which should help him in his next game.
With Belinelli out, the job of checking Evans fell to Jack and Wright, as DeRozan/Weems were handling Kevin Martin. We held him to 3-8FG for 11 points and he was more or less a non-factor, you could also argue that the game-high 18 shots launched by Martin did well to take their best player out of the game. Wright’s defense on Evans was invaluable, especially in a couple key fourth quarter possessions when the game was rocking back and forth. DeRozan couldn’t get a handle on Martin’s trickery early, the rookie has trouble guarding SGs who use screens well and Martin’s one of them. The way he got burned on that out-of-bounds play with 5 seconds left in the first half was not good. Not good at all. DeRozan played 24 minutes, also got a good run in but didn’t play the fourth quarter as Wright’s play left Triano no choice. Later Triano spoke about the adjustment of switching Wright on Evans:
We wanted Antoine on the floor and we wanted him guarding Tyreke at the end as much as we could…We didn’t want to get too sucked into the paint trying to help on him and have him kick for threes.
The early third quarter followed a similar pattern as the first half with the Raptors giving back what they scored, Andrea Bargnani had 8 in the frame and worked well off of Chris Bosh. The constant Bosh double-teaming was providing everybody with looks and the Raptors did a solid team job of making them pay. With the Raptors up 6 with 3:39 left to play, Triano decided to give Chris Bosh a breather and inserted Amir Johnson into the game. We almost lost the game. With Bosh out, our offense hit the wall as we were forced to create from the top rather than going inside-out and our rebounding also took a hit. The Kings went on a quick-fire 11-0 run sparked by three Donte Green threes which changed the face of the game.
I want to give special attention to the drive and And1 Jarrett Jack had at the end of the third, we’ve seen him try to carry the team in times of adversity a lot this year and that play was another one of those occasions. On the ensuing possession the Kings’ Ime Udoka clearly goaltend the ball but the refs blew the call. Jack picked up the technical and seemed very upset, he actually threw the ball into the 10th row while making it look like he was attempting a 3/4 court three as time expired. The hotheadedness might’ve cost him fourth quarter playing time as Calderon was the guy Triano went with. Triano’s shown a tendency to alternate PGs per quarter so maybe Calderon would’ve played the fourth all along, especially since he didn’t play a second in the third.
The fourth didn’t start promisingly as Udrih burned Calderon twice to setup May for clean looks as Johnson was sucked into the paint. Staring a 7-point deficit and the momentum squarely on the Kings’ side, it didn’t look great. Enter Sonny Weems’ defense. Two steals, one leading to an Antoine Wright three and the other to his own dunk. All in all, an 8-0 run in 48 seconds. That’s all it took, 48 seconds to turn this game around. The defense was sparked and the confidence to run the offense was back. Later on Wright hit two more jumpers, both assisted meaning that they weren’t taken out of rhythm and didn’t come out of one-on-one play. Of his six field goals, five were assisted and his ability to spread out the floor was key in Calderon being able to operate freely in the fourth. That quarter was a shining example of the Raptors at their best: sharing the rock and patiently passing the ball till we find the late rotation to get the clean look.
A finishing touch was supplied by an Andrea Bargnani three, once again made out of excellent ball movement. The Kings had no answer, after the Raptors had tightened their defense (read: increased their effort), Sacramento couldn’t get the easy break points they lived off of in the first half and were forced to score out of the half-court. They only had 10 fastbreak points in the second half after netting 26 in the first, Wright’s defense on their main gun was very influential in taking away their half-court scoring and credit needs to be given to Bosh and Bargnani, who both improved their help defense in the second half.
Raptors win. Remember that 10-game stretch that was mentioned in the podcast a couple weeks ago, well, we’re on pace to go 9-1.