“DeMar has the ability to be aggressive even when Andrea is on the floor,’’ Raptors head coach Jay Triano would begin post-game as his team tipped off a three-game homestand with a much-needed win.
“I think they can learn to play off each other as well.”
Perhaps they can, but one will have to become more of a presence in the post because an inside game is one of many areas that has to be addressed.
Against smaller defenders, DeRozan’s athleticism allows him to operate in the paint.
The same applies to Bargnani, who can play on the block when he’s sufficiently motivated and not prone to being intimidated by bigger centres.
Against the Kings, the Bargnani-DeRozan tandem attempted 39 attempts from the field, but they made only eight trips to the charity stripe.
Bargnani doesn’t exactly look to create for others when the ball is in his hands and DeRozan, while expanding his game, doesn’t have the necessary handles at this stage in his evolution to be a consistent creator.
The warts notwithstanding, both have shown flashes and perhaps for the first time this season enough evidence was presented to suggest Bargnani and DeRozan can both be effective.
“They’re our two best offensive options,’’ Triano added. “They both found different ways to score.”
DeRozan is at his best when he’s attacking defenders and putting pressure on defences by putting the ball on the floor.
Next to Leandro Barbosa, DeRozan is the Raptors’ best finisher in transition.
Now, it’s not a huge feat to beat a Sacramento team that has the league’s second-worst record at 8-26 and was missing its best player in Tyreke Evans, who sat out with a sprained ankle.
That’s why there was a feeling of relief, more than euphoria, when the Raptors won.
“Offence was good, we didn’t play good defence the whole game long,” said Bargnani. “We got better the last five minutes and that’s what got us the win.
“Like the coach always says, we’re not going to have a problem scoring the ball, our biggest issue right now is the defence. We have to get better. We cannot afford to play four quarters like this, especially at home in front of our crowds. We have to keep working on that.”
The Raptors had, for them, as healthy a lineup as they’ve had in weeks. Jerryd Bayless came back after missing two games with a sore ankle to play 15 minutes backing up Calderon, who got through another 33 minutes on a sore foot that had him limping after the game. And Leandro Barbosa, who made two huge three-pointers as part of an 11-point fourth quarter, looks recovered from a variety of ills.
And that’s why Triano was more than happy to see DeRozan remain as aggressive as he was when the injuries were mounting.
“With more guys out and when Jose’s out and when Andrea was out for a bit, he had to step up a little bit and I think it’s helped his overall game,” said the coach. “He’s starting to really come into his own as an offensive player.”
Toronto practically couldn’t miss in the first quarter, sinking 10 straight from the floor before forward Linas Kleiza ended the streak (the last time an NBA team started a game with 10 straight field goals was Houston in a game against Toronto last March). It helped that defence was non-existent for either team, which meant the Kings, who shot 65 per cent from the field, kept the score within three.
After the Kings stumbled (star rookie centre DeMarcus Cousins had three personal fouls and just four points in the first half), Toronto forged a seven-point lead going into the second half. But the Raptors wavered in the third, allowing the Kings to tie the game. It wasn’t until Bargnani sank a key three-pointer with about a minute remaining, putting the Raptors ahead by four, that Toronto clinched the game.
“Even with some of the guys that are injured, when they’re back, we still expect DeMar to be one of our top two options offensively,” Triano said. “But with more guys out, when Jose [Calderon] is out and when Andrea was out for a little bit, he’s had to step up a little bit. I think it’s helped his overall game. He’s starting to really come into his own as an offensive player.”
“We’re very limited,” DeRozan deflected, remarkably while being very honest, “and we need everything from the people that we’ve got.”
That might have been the best thing to come out of the game, at least for Raptors fans. This was the case of a bad team beating a worse team playing without its best player. And it was often ugly.
The Kings shot 44% from the field, but that belied the Raptors’ defensive effort. It was, simply, bad. Sacramento feasted inside, with Cousins, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry — the latter two are thoroughly average, while the former is talented but young — combining for 59 points.
Sacramento hung around all afternoon, and neither DeRozan nor Bargnani was particularly happy about the win.
“We cannot afford to play four quarters like this, especially in front of our home crowd,” Bargnani said. “I don’t know, maybe [it was because it was an] early game, [we were] tired, whatever. We’ve got to get better.”
The biggest breakdown occurred late in Sunday’s game with Toronto ahead 110-109. Beno Udrih slipped after a screen by Amir Johnson, leaving the Kings scrambling.
Andrea Bargnani, a good three-point shooter, was left open, and he made a three-pointer for a 113-109 lead with 1:01 to play.
In the timeout before the play, the Kings were reminded to stay with Bargnani. But when Udrih fell, it forced Carl Landry to worry about two players.
"It was a one-point game, and we did (leave Bargnani open), and he made it," Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "It’s him being an excellent shooter, and he’s still got to make the shot, but it’s our breakdown to leave him open on that play. Those kinds of things, they only have to happen four or five times a game, and they can get you beat."
Bargnani finished with 30 points, and he wasn’t the only Raptor to have a big game. Leandro Barbosa came off the bench to score 18 points. DeMar DeRozan had 28 points, doing a lot of damage driving to the basket.
"He’s pretty good," Kings swingman Francisco García said of DeRozan. "He knows how to pick and choose his spots. He’s not a great outside shooting guard yet, so he just picks and chooses when to get to the hole and got hot."
DeRozan isn’t the first guard to drive seemingly at will against the Kings. Westphal said the Kings are supposed to rotate from the weak side to cut off penetration, but DeRozan was too quick for whoever the Kings put on him.
Westphal said DeRozan deserved credit for his success on drives but said the Kings have to make it tougher on guards trying to get to the rim.
"If you get a straight-line drive to the basket, it’s hard to expect your defense to rotate over there," Westphal said. "You need to at least make him take at least one or two dribbles, change directions sometimes."
Toronto Raptors rookie center Solomon Alabi had his best game as a BayHawk with a career-high 20 points and 11 rebounds.
"They were telling me to go hard, so that gave me confidence," said Alabi, who had 10 first-quarter points. "They believe in me so I’ve got to go out there and play. That’s why I started that way."
After watching today’s game, it seems fitting when you consider that there is no ‘d’ to be found in ‘Toronto Raptors” or “Sacramento Kings” … In returning to the line-up, Jerryd Bayless changed the entire outlook of the Raptors’ backcourt. Bayless had 10 points on 4-7 shooting while spelling Calderon at the point, allowing Leandro Barbosa to roam free off the ball and evade his defender in finding several open looks … Gotta hand it to Kings coach Paul Westphal for his handling of the offence with Tyreke Evans out. Through Udrih, Sacramento displayed some offensive creativity with a series of back door cuts and an eagerness to push the ball … Speaking of the Kings, Carl Landry deserves better than an eight-win club. Landry had 22 points and, although the box score just says four rebounds (three on the offensive glass, mind you), his active play in the paint helped his teammates secure several more boards … Amir Johnson looked comfortable back in his off-the-bench role, scoring eight points on an efficient 3-3 shooting and adding nine rebounds …
The Raptors can’t say this in many games, but it appears they got through Sunday’s win without any new injuries and possibly without aggravating any existing one’s.
Jerryd Bayless, who based on a conversation with reporters on Saturday at practice looked like a very good bet to miss another game, wound up playing just under 15 minutes.
While he still felt discomfort from the sprained left ankle, he got through the game without re-spraining or going over on it, which is an improvement over the past few times when he has gone right over on the same ankle trying to play through the pain.
After the game, Bayless said he thought he had turned a corner of sorts Sunday and doesn’t expect to miss any more time with the ankle — as long as he doesn’t re-sprain it again, of course.
Reggie Evans is now five weeks into what was expected to be an eight-week absence and, according to the man himself, is progressing nicely. “No more walking boot, no more crutches, I’m doing a lot of walking drills and the X-rays I took were good this week. Each week has been progress,” Evans said.
He has next month circled as a likely return date.
Every game the Raptor mascot finds ways, using his bag of tricks, to get the audience into a frenzy. T-shirts, contests, shakin’ it behind a security guard, and other various ways of revving the crowd up. I don’t know what it is this season, I’ve been to quite a few games, but the atmosphere isn’t as lively as it used to be.
True, Chris Bosh left in the offseason and he was not replaced by a marquee name player. There were no major free agent pickups like Jermaine O’neal or Hedo Turkoglu to get the city talking Raptors.
But, despite the obvious reasons, the crowd just didn’t seem that into it today. They got to witness a close, playoff like atmosphere (even if the competitors won’t reach the playoffs this year) where the home team captured victory on late plays. And still the excitement seemed somewhat muted. The biggest cheer, save for perhaps the big Bargnani three ball in the fourth quarter, was for four visiting Blue Jay players that handed out signed Raptor balls.