Toronto Raptors Show Fighting Spirit in Comeback 144-123 Win over Kings

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Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors overcame a 19-point deficit to defeat the Sacramento Kings 144-123 (photo by: Getty Images)

Amusement parks always have those signature rides that consumers gravitate towards to. The SheiKra at Busch Gardens, Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World, or the Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland, share a common thread. Exhilarating for some, scary for others but once the ride finishes, there are no regrets.

 

The Toronto Raptors were far removed from any of Florida’s staple theme parks but went on a roller coaster made for Disney in Sacramento on Friday night. Like the uphill climb of Behemoth, the Raptors entered Friday’s game against the Kings without starting point guard Kyle Lowry due to personal reasons. After a hard-fought game against the Phoenix Suns, the Raptors had lots to build from, despite losing. They were looking to build on those positives, looking to get back into the win column.

 

Unfortunately, the Raptors fed into bad habits early on against the Kings. From turning the ball over to giving up open looks from beyond the arc and in the paint, the Raptors gave up 43 first-quarter points, with the Kings shooting 82 percent from the field. It provided an eerie glimpse into a Lowry-less future, with attention toward the 2021 Draft Lottery accelerated. 

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In the second quarter, a switch flipped. A Raptors team, who blew several double-digit leads this season, morphed back into that pesky unit of years past. The peaks and troughs of the roller coaster began to take shape, with the Raptors and Kings racking up points at a rapid pace. 

 

While De’Aron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton offered a glimpse into a bright future for the Kings, the Raptors relied on their experience en route to a 144-123 victory. Overcoming a 19 point deficit, Fred VanVleet once again provided that steady leadership, rallying his teammates together in critical moments of the game. 

 

“We just kept fighting,” VanVleet said after the game. “That was a tough first quarter. I don’t think I’ve been a part of the first quarter like that.”

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VanVleet led the Raptors in scoring (34) as part of the team’s franchise high in points. From the second quarter onward, the Raptor guard showed no hesitation, doing one or two dribbles before shooting threes. He read screens from Chris Boucher, leading to wide-open shots. The Kings defense experienced difficulty containing VanVleet’s blowby ability in the paint, evidenced by his reverse layup underneath the rim in the third quarter. On the defensive side, VanVleet continues to improve his off-ball quickness, not giving the Kings players much space to make plays. This leads to VanVleet creating turnovers, getting the Raptors out in transition, where this offense shines. It also helps to have Norman Powell raise his play in the starting guard spot for Lowry, recording 22 points on just eight shots. 

 

 

Pascal Siakam continues his improved play with the Raptors. After a strong performance against the Suns, where he put up 32 points, Siakam provided that spark at both ends of the floor against the Kings. Compared to the bubble, where Siakam didn’t attack the rim in the post, he’s currently not afraid to outmuscle defenders inside. Every time Marvin Bagley or Harrison Barnes defended Siakam, the Raptor forward blazed through them to the basket. He backed into defenders in the paint with ease, using his quick hands and active feet to get the layup.

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On the playmaking side, Siakam had one of his better nights, recording 10 assists and nine rebounds. Above the break, Siakam fooled defenders with his passing ability, evidenced by drawing defenders to him in the fourth quarter, before kicking it to Raptors rookie Malachi Flynn for the wide-open three. Above all else, Siakam showcases energy and engagement, far removed from the Philadelphia 76ers game when he fouled out. 

 

“I think going through a rough patch, you do have to have some conversations about what energy are we generating as a coaching staff, all of the coaches, the guys on the bench,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said after the game to reporters. “Even in Phoenix, I came out of that game thinking the spirit of the team was very high. It certainly was again tonight, and when you get rolling and you come back from a big deficit, you just play well all the way through, it’s easy to have fun on the sidelines then, for sure.”

 

The center spot remains an issue for the Raptors. Alex Len got the start over Aron Baynes but didn’t last long in the game, with the Raptors defense struggling. Nurse made a savvy decision to go with a smaller lineup, utilizing Chris Boucher and Yuta Watanabe in the frontcourt. Going small got the defense stops, getting the offense out in transition, where the Raptors created offense. 

 

“I think the biggest thing is playing small, it does several things for us, but the biggest thing it does for us is it enables us to switch all the pick-and-rolls which, late in games, that’s going down pretty much at both ends, it’s pick-and-roll basketball,” Nurse said.

 

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Boucher continues to provide that hustle off the bench. He brings a ferocity to the game, with the ball finding his hands and attacking the basket with no hesitation. Boucher highlighted his length on defense, evidenced by his ability to protect the rim with 10 rebounds. He recorded three blocks, most notable of them on Bagley in the fourth quarter, providing an exclamation point in the Raptors victory. 

 

Watanabe also provided the energy off the bench, as the Raptors offense started clicking. When the team needed rim protection, Watanabe provided it with seven points. A bright spot on a Raptors bench unit that combined for 61 points and 28 rebounds. 

 

With the Raptors going small, first-round pick Flynn got his chance to contribute to the offense. Whenever he had the ball, Flynn moved with niftiness, not afraid to catch and shoot from beyond the arc. He dribbles the ball effortlessly and did a solid job defending the three whenever he was in the game. For a player who hadn’t scored in the NBA before Friday, Flynn’s 12 points showcased his potential as another solid guard coming off the bench for the Raptors.

 

In a shortened season, the Raptors needed a game where toughness, grit, and heart predicated their success. The Raptors looked like a team that was going to be run out of Sacramento after the first quarter. In typical Raptor fashion, the team found a way to turn it around through energy, playmaking, and teamwork. 

 

Roller coaster games aren’t always ideal ventures, yet a team learns how to navigate them.  Now, it’s about stringing together multiple games so the Raptors can move up the standings. 

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