I remember a time when the Raptors were winning between 25-40 games every year. Even when they were winning 48 in 2013-14. I would come to RR and read through the comments, fervently looking for DeMar DeRozan praise or slander. I didn’t have an account to comment with, so when people would go to task for him, I felt proud of that. A good DeRozan game coupled with praise from the fandom was more to me than a win. That’s what a bad team does. It forces you to pick your saviour, and defend him with vigor, because he might be the one to make you a winner.
The Kings are stuck in that mess right now. A less active fandom than the Raptors, but flooded with Marvin Bagley takes. Bogdan Bogdanovic is better than De’Aaron Fox debates. When your chosen player performs well, that’s the win. Because you don’t win, at least not very often. The Raptors on the other hand have ascended past that, and I have too as a fan. More measured, and mature. We all had our fun going to war, some of you reading were heavily involved.
Even though those times were fun, and the vindication of being right on a particular night was particularly wonderful. The Raptors are far too good for all of that. Our disagreements are about which of our incredibly good big men is better. Both of whom are incredibly efficient, and are playing really well. Some of us roll our eyes at these debates because the Raptors are so good that sometimes it doesn’t matter who’s out there, we win regardless. Sacramento is fun, and the Raptors are good.
So after that all too dramatic introduction, I’d like us to walk through the game together. Let’s get this money.
The game kicks off fast & loose, but none of that is going well for the Raptors. Three turnovers to start two games in a row, not very sharp. Fox snakes a pick n’ roll and uses a killer hesi to break down Danny Green and he explodes to the rim for a bucket. He’s a lot of fun, man. Lowry gets a time-pressed iso on Willie Cauley-Stein at the end of the shot clock and hits a moon-shot of a 3-pointer.
The Raptors are uncomfortable with the game speed right now and look to Kawhi Leonard to slow it down. The Kings are bringing help-side from the baseline and relying on their speedy young-guns to cover the floor when the pass is made. Buddy Hield and Iman Shumpert are particularly quick on the back end, and the early returns are giving the Raptors trouble. The Kings defense is holding up, but this requires a lot of effort for the whole game. I’m expecting a dip at some point.
The ball gets swung and rather than default to Leonard, Green walks into the lane and the defense finally collapses. Green sprays it to Kyle Lowry who then swings to Serge Ibaka, it’s wet from downtown. Some progress against that stout defense. Pascal Siakam springs loose in transition for a dunk, which is all the more impressive against this Kings team. His halloween outfit of Usain Bolt was certainly apropos.
Leonard, sick of all this waiting around, strong-arms into the paint for a foul call. I’d expect quite a few possessions like this tonight. The Kings offense is living off of turnovers right now, and they’ve pushed their perimeter ‘D’ farther out. No basket cuts being made by the Raptors, it seems Cauley-Stein’s presence is looming large in the paint. The way the Kings are playing right now limits Siakam a fair bit. Looking for minutes away from Leonard for him, his presence on the floor is shrinking the spacing.
Siakam gets a put-back after a missed attempt from Green, naturally he’s made himself useful. With the Raptors less focused on working Leonard early on, Siakam gets a chance to attack Nemanja Bjelica off the dribble and good lord he utilizes that patented spin move once again.
Jonas Valanciunas, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet check in. VanVleet’s presence should make the pick n’ roll possessions a bit more fruitful. A Lowry-Valanciunas pick n’ roll leads to an Anunoby triple in the corner. Great pass from Valanciunas on the short roll, spotting the man in the corner, reminiscent of Lucas Nogueira in years past. I have a problem with Valanciunas completely outside of basketball. He’s a good looking guy with a good hairline, and his hair is always atrocious.
Lowry has a ‘galaxy brain’ touch pass to Valanciunas off an offensive rebound for a bucket. The Kings defense is still stepped way out, the Raptors can’t even operate out of horns without a ton of resistance. It’s tied up at 22.
Delon Wright gets a steal before pulling off a tidy euro-step, getting clobbered in the process. If you’ve ever had to sidle past someone at a movie theatre, or climbed on a ledge in Legend of Zelda, or Uncharted, you’ve seen Wright’s euro-step.
First Quarter ends 29-26 for the Raptors. Big shout to Valanciunas and Ibaka who did major work on the glass in that quarter. Cauley-Stein is an energetic load in the post, and it’s a fair bit of work to keep him off the glass. Valanciunas is having a little trouble in the pick n’ roll, he’s often dropping too low; other than that he’s been sublime.
An extended bit of wild play ends with a Bagley triple, the Raptors sloppy play has the game tied again, at 31. Siakam spins off the shoulder of Bagley for a layup. He did something really sneaky here. Bagley set up low so Siakam couldn’t get his feet around him, so Siakam swung his elbow over Bagley’s left shoulder and ripped through. In one quick move, Siakam sent Bagley’s momentum away from the rim and his own speeding toward it. Technically, it’s an offensive foul, but when executed in that way it’s usually applauded as good post-work. I find myself marvelling at Siakam for a new reason every game. There’s always an interesting wrinkle to how he finds success.
Bagley, no doubt is having a terrible time defending Siakam. Due to the fact that Siakam has gotten a couple really smooth buckets on him. Valanciunas squares off Cauley-Stein at the rim, but a deft touch earns him a bucket. With Siakam wreaking havoc, the Kings decide to double him in the post. The Kings help from the strong-side – a huge mistake – Siakam surveys the court and finds VanVleet for a triple. I get up to grab a banana – How much does a banana cost anyway? 10 dollars? – and I fall to the floor. I realize I’ve slipped on my own drool, likely the consequence of watching Siakam for 8 minutes straight.
After the tv time-out the Raptors are up 43-38. A massive block by Ibaka leads to some side-top-side action that ends with a Leonard triple. Leonard has this weird propensity to not acknowledge the defender that guards him. Not in the “I’m looking past my defender to the help-defense” type of way. More so, a blank, unaffected stare. For example, Shumpert’s hand is inches away from Leonard’s face. Leonard takes a second, breathes, then goes up with a triple. Such a curious player.
Leonard’s unwavering playstyle is completely unto itself. He’ll stand still for 3 seconds, then make a strong move to the bucket, drawing a foul. Roll the ball to the ref gently, and then do it 85 more times if he has to. He is the terminator, and it’s no wonder that offensive genius Gregg Popovich opted to have the spurs offense become an iso-show for Leonard.
Ibaka has effectively sealed off the rim to the Kings players. A couple of Green 3-pointers blast the Raptors way ahead. The Raptors are up 60-46 and this feels like a great time to pull away. A haphazard press from Anunoby and Leonard causes a turnover in the backcourt that results in a gliding dunk for Anunoby. If you weren’t aware, fan-fiction just came to life in that sequence. The half ends after Siakam obliterates a pick n’ roll, and caused a steal. After 24 minutes the Raptors hold a lead of 13 points, 64-51.
Kings fans ring out in boos early as the whistle has been pretty tight. To be fair, it has not been favourable to the Kings at all. I’m reading it like the refs are very ready to grant Leonard trips to the line. Lowry, who’s been fairly quiet (but still, excellent) dials up a 3-pointer from a couple feet inside the logo. Lowry qualifies as one of the NBA’s best “pulse readers”. It’s like he’s reading the ebbs and flows of the game as they happen. Fox splits a pair of free throws at the line and it’s 70-59.
Siakam gets to operate as ball-handler in a pick n’ roll with Lowry. Lowry slips the pick right away, and Siakam scores a bucket. You guessed it, another spinning layup. I’m not sure if a scouting report will come out, or something to that effect. But good grief mate, he’s doing it 6-7 times a game now. Green misses a triple and Ibaka is there for the cleanup, he’s still eating glass. Ibaka and Cauley-Stein exchange a couple buckets, and Leonard takes it to the hole for an easy layup. When other players run, Leonard walks. His pacing is so funny to me.
Hield hits on a triple, and turns it into a 4-point play. A Leonard turnover gifts the Kings an oop in transition. Then Leonard splits a pick n’ roll a la Isiah Thomas, and throws down an authoritative dunk.
Green catches Hield with an incidental elbow, and is assessed with a flagrant-1. I think it’s a fair ruling, he really got him, man. Although, it reminds me of a time I was playing against David Stockton and I caught his elbow in my face. His words: “Defend with your chest, not your face. Now go put your Vince Carter jersey back in your closet like every other Raptors fan.” I was 16, and I’d never been roasted on a basketball court like that. Maybe Hield and I both need to defend better. Rather than taking elbows to the face.
Hield hits his freebies, and it’s the Kings ball down 12, 87-75. Sacramento’s aggressive scheme has forced Lowry to put on his scorers hat tonight. All night, the Kings have really stuck with the roll-man, and if the primary defender hedges at all, they always tag the dive. A tidy runner in the lane has him up to 16 points, and he hasn’t eclipsed 10 assists which is strange for him.
Anunoby is doing a great job neutralizing Bagley on the boards. Really nice to see him hold down the 4 spot like that. VanVleet and Wright orchestrate a terrific DHO in which VanVleet takes the ball and hits a three. A properly executed 2-for-1. The third quarter ends at 94-78. The Raptors have more turnovers than assists, which isn’t great. The Kings defense has been very aggressive, and it’s a great night for Leonard to be active. The offense would look much different without him as a release valve.
Bagley pours in a couple baskets, and is taking the ball up the floor occasionally. There’s significant pep in his step right now, and he’s showing off some nice polish to his game. Anunoby gets an iso opportunity and shakes loose with an in-n-out dribble, in contrast to other iso’s this one went quite well. Bagley has started wreaking havoc on the glass. He’s hyper-active and Siakam/Anunoby are a bit vexed by him. A goaltending call on Siakam brings this game within 10, 96-86.
The best play of the game. Anunoby iso’s Kosta Koufos and busts out a dynamic spin into the lane. Wright sees that Anunoby is still pretty far from the hoop, so he makes a basket cut immediately. Anunoby does his best Ben Simmons impression and drops the ball into the cutting Wright’s hands. With the defense sliding in to defend the rim-running Wright, he sprays the ball to the corner where Siakam is lurking. In all this madness, Siakam finds himself guarded by the diminutive Fox. Not one to shy away from a mismatch, Siakam gives Fox a visit to the laundromat. You got it, spin cycle.
It’s incredibly rewarding to see the Raptors young talent flourish together all at once. VanVleet and Bagley trade layups, but VanVleet’s was far less difficult a finish. A Fox-Cauley-Stein pick n’ roll leads to an and-1, this is the life-blood of their offense. Two great young pieces bouncing their talent off of each-other. Fox sheds VanVleet with a slick behind the back move, and converts on a floater. Leonard, who is now in the game, goes to the baseline for a bucket. A great play in transition leads to Cauley-Stein detonating at the rim. The lead is now under 10, 106-97.
With Valanciunas back in, Fox finds the middle ground for a jumper. After that bucket, Valanciunas gets a quick hook. That’s okay, he had another great game. He had 11 points, and 10 boards in 19 minutes, while maintaining sky-high efficiency. He had a little trouble navigating the pick n’ roll tonight, but his overall impression on this game is great.
Leonard buries a triple in Cauley-Stein’s mouth, he’s ruthless. Lowry finds Ibaka for a triple, and takes a charge the next play. I’m certain that Lowry has the most “nail in the coffin” charges taken of any NBA player ever. His propensity to close out games while getting smacked to the ground is unparalleled. Next time up the floor, Lowry cuts the Kings defense in half; pushing them out to the wings with his eyes in transition, but to their surprise, he found Siakam under the rim for a dunk.
Malachi Richardson, apparently the new “human victory cigar” checks in, and that seems like the game. The Raptors win this one 114-105. A super fun game, I love how the Kings play. Bagley is going to be real good, and Fox is a shot-maker if nothing else. Mix in some shooting and they’ll be trouble. For the Raptors, they’re 11-1 and sit atop the NBA with that record, things couldn’t be much better.
At 2500 words, this thing is kind’ve a mammoth recap. I hope everyone enjoys it.
Have a blessed day.