Morning Coffee – Thu, Jan 26

Raps start killer road swing with a hella defensive effort | Precious is the engine that powers tings | O.G. wants out? :(

Raptors can look to Kings as proof that fit is as important as talent – The Athletic

There are two things for the Raptors, amid their second annus horribilis in three years — although this one is not yet doomed if the Raptors can repeat their performance Wednesday two dozen more times — to take from that. One, they should already know: Things can change quickly in a year, and no moment lasts forever. Secondly, sensibly reorganizing their roster can make a huge difference.

Sure, the Kings probably should have insisted on more draft equity than a second-round last trade deadline when they essentially swapped Haliburton and Buddy Hield for Sabonis. Now, however, Sabonis’ partnership with point guard De’Aaron Fox is the guiding force behind everything the Kings do, from the drafting of Murray to the trade for Kevin Huerter.

“Where does it start? It starts with a great pick-and-roll, a point guard (Fox) who’s hard to keep up with and keep out of the paint, a guy (Sabonis) who rolls and a guy who can post, a big who can pass and shoot,” Nick Nurse said before the game. “And then you throw a whole bunch of shooters and athleticism and all those kinds of things around that, and all of a sudden you’re looking at a whole bunch of guys that are able to score the basketball.”

The transferable point is obvious. The Raptors have three all-purpose forwards, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and O.G. Anunoby, who are all fairly deliberate with the ball. That would be OK if they were all knockdown shooters and producing great defensive results. They’re not, with Wednesday as a notable exception.

They don’t want to repeat the Kings’ mistake of giving up more than they should have, or at least not nailing the value end of things, to properly align the roster. It’s hard to not look at Fox’s career year and not draw a straight line to Sabonis’ presence. As the Raptors approach the trade deadline, there is an option that falls between buying and selling — reorienting.

Offensively, the three forwards are not going to get the best out of each other. Siakam and Barnes are more similar to one another than either is to Anunoby, but Anunoby, because of his salary, is probably the easiest of the three to trade. If there is any way they could turn Anunoby into a floor-spacing, rim-protecting centre — Myles Turner is the most obvious candidate, but there are others — while getting some real draft equity at the same time, that would be great. There are enough games like Wednesday’s, and enough interest in the Raptors’ core players, that the whole thing is pretty obviously not worth throwing overboard.

It doesn’t have to happen at the deadline. The Raptors could wait until the offseason when more teams will be seeking change. As we saw last year, there is a version of the Raptors with all three forwards that can thrive. After a season and a half of watching them play together, it’s fair to be skeptical about the three allowing each other to ever become the best versions of themselves. There’s no reason the Raptors should be having a version of the same conversation 14 months from now.

Raptors flip the script on upstart Kings, open tough trip with convincing win – Sportsnet

The Raptors played their most inspired defence of the season, arguably, from the moment the ball went up. They held the high-octane Kings to 23 first-quarter points and led 58-50 after the first half. Defensively they were connected: slowing the ball on the break, crowding it in the lane, making sure that De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis – the keys to the Kings attack – saw multiple bodies at every turn and the passing lanes were a thicket of arms and hands. The Kings turned it over eight times in the first half.

The Raptors looked organized and committed, elements that have been missing as they have – outside of forcing opponents’ turnovers – been one of the poorest defending clubs in the league.

Call it a crisis of confidence or a lack of belief, the Raptors have been missing something.

Does that matter, defensively?

“I think it does from the standpoint of being connected,” said Nurse. “Guys understand they’re supposed to go out and pressure the ball, and if they do get beat, they have confidence that somebody’s gonna be there to fix the mistake, catch breakdowns and keep playing through the entire possession.”

There was more of it in the third, as Toronto held the Kings to 17 points in the period on just 8-of-20 shooting and forced six more Kings turnovers. The Raptors put together a 14-4 run in the middle of the period to put Toronto up by 20. Every point was either scored or set up by Siakam, with a pair of Fred VanVleet steals as sparks.

And for all the Kings’ success this season, their defence – ranked 22nd heading into Wednesday’s game – is still a work in progress.

The Raptors found seams in it with one of their most unselfish displays of passing all season with 29 assists, their 10th best total of the year.

“They just kicked our ass,” said Kings head coach Mike Brown.

Can one win turn around a season? Regardless, can the Raptors recapture the energy and momentum organizationally they seemed to be able to summon at will over the past decade?

From the Raptors’ point of view, the Kings quick turnaround should be an inspiration.

Trading away Haliburton (and Buddy Hield) was a bold move and had to hurt, but in Sabonis they got a big man who can pass and score — and they freed up a log jam between Fox and Haliburton and point guard.

In the off-season, they identified a need – more shooting – and were aggressive in the pursuit: trading a lottery-protected 2024 first-round pick to Atlanta for Kevin Huerter (shooting 41.2 per from deep and scoring a career-high 15.5 points a game) and signing Malik Monk in free agency for two years and $19 million, solidifying their bench unit.

Who knows what the Raptors are going to do at the trade deadline, but the Kings offer at least some proof that making a trade from your core and even trading a future draft pick doesn’t mean the world ends. Maybe the way the Raptors played on Wednesday is evidence this group isn’t as far away as they’ve seemed for long stretches this year.

Unwatchable: Kings blown out by Raptors as NBC Sports California broadcast issues continue – The Sacramento Bee

“The good teams will act like they’re coming to defend Dray and then they’re spraying out to the 3-point shooters, so Domas just has to understand, he may just have to finish plays, but off of two feet or come to a jump stop and pivot, hit the open man a little sooner than what he’s doing. But in terms of if the cut’s bothering him or if the thumb is bothering him, I don’t know.”
The Kings shot 47.9% from the field and made 13 of 32 (.406) from 3-point range, but they committed 19 turnovers. The Raptors outscored the Kings 58-42 on points in the paint and 18-2 on second-chance points.

Sacramento’s bench struggled with Trey Lyles, Malik Monk, Davion Mitchell, Chimezie Metu and Richaun Holmes combining for 23 points on 7-of-23 shooting. Achiuwa and Chris Boucher combined for 35 points on 16-of-23 shooting off the bench for Toronto.

Monk said the Kings have the physicality to match teams like the Raptors – even if they didn’t have it in this game.

“We definitely have it,” Monk said. “We’ve just got to come out of the gate and hit first. We’ve got to stop getting hit in the mouth first. I think we do that a little too much and we need to go out and hit first.”

The Raptors led 24-23 at the end of the first quarter. They went up by as many as nine before carrying a 58-50 lead into the halftime break.

Fans watching at home missed the first quarter and most of the second quarter as NBC Sports California worked to resolve broadcast issues. Fans also missed the first quarter of Monday’s 133-100 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, when the Kings made 12 3-pointers to tie the NBA record for 3-point goals in a quarter.

he Raptors led the Kings by as many as 20 in the third quarter. The Kings cut the deficit to 12 on a couple occasions in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t get any closer.

The Kings had won seven of eight to move eight games over. 500. They’ve given themselves a two-game lead over the New Orleans Pelicans for the No. 3 seed in the West.
Monk said the Kings have to move on after a poor performance against the Raptors.

“We got 82 games,” he said. “We got a lot of basketball to play. Can’t let that one game affect what’s going on next, so we’ll dwell on this tonight, forget about it tomorrow.”

Raptors revive defensive mindset winning against Sacramento Kings – Raptors HQ

Good news for fans tonight was that O.G. Anunoby was healthy enough to play after an ankle injury scare over the weekend. Fred VanVleet, who has been struggling with back soreness, also was able to start.

Obviously joined by a sharp shooting Gary Trent Jr, and Scottie Barnes — whose January has been the best month for him so far this season. Of course, hopes were high that the Raptors All-Star hopeful Pascal Siakam would lead the team to victory, and that he did.

They faced a Sacramento Kings team that is THIRD in the Western Conference. Yeah, you read that right. They’ve been tearing up this season (#LightTheBeam) but that didn’t stop the Raptors for giving them a run for their money.

The key to beating the team with the third highest field goal percentage in the NBA? Defence. Touchy subject these days for a team that used to be feared for their suffocating defensive schemes.

Yet, the Raptors started off hot with great defence, which helped them contain the Kings’ sharp shooting from the jump. Gary Trent Jr scored the first five for the Raptors, and it rolled on from there!

For the first time in a while, The Raptors really seemed cohesive, and that payed off. They played their best first half in a looooong time, holding the Sacramento Kings to 50 points and being ahead by eight with 58.

The third quarter was more of that good good basketball. The Raptors defence seemed completely locked in, there was a ton of movement, and it paid off. It seemed like the team we thought we were getting finally arrived, at a very inconvenient time (see: trade deadline).

The Raptors went on a 22-6 run late in the third — TWENTY-TWO to SIX. Absolutely denying one of the best offensive teams currently in the NBA. They got to sit Pascal for a stretch heading into the fourth, which is a rare occasion for the Raptors leading scorer.

One of the main keys to this game was suffocating Sabonis. They made nothing easy for him and it worked. Mix in the fact that shots were going in for Toronto tonight, and it just seemed like they executed the game plan to perfection. Nick Nurse is sure to be happy with that performance.

The Raptors end up starting their West Coast Road trip with a win, causing Sacramento to score their lowest score of the season. They win 113-95.

Raptors overpower Kings in western road trip opener | The Star

They forced 18 Sacramento turnovers (a career-high nine from Domantas Sabonis alone), had five players make multiple three-pointers and were never really threatened after taking control of the game in the third quarter.

Pascal Siakam had 26 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Raptors. Six players scored in double figures, and Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher combined for 35 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

“I thought Chris gave us a big offensive boost in the first,” VanVleet said. “Precious (was) just all over the floor, making plays defensively, out in transition and running. Those guys were really forceful and played with a lot of energy tonight, and we needed it. Give them credit.”

The Kings entered the game leading the NBA in scoring and were among the top 10 in three-point field goals taken, made and attempted.

“(Their) pace is incredible, volume of three-point shooting is good and half-court pace very good, really flying and cutting and moving, great rhythm,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game. “Going to have to really be great in transition. Going to have to try to get ’em out of rhythm a little bit.”

They did that, and more.

The third quarter might have been the team’s most impressive 12-minute stretch of defence all season: a swarming, aggressive, teamwide effort that forced the Kings into 8-for-20 shooting that also included six Kings turnovers.

O.G. Anunoby harassed Sabonis into a wretched quarter that included five turnovers, VanVleet kept point guard De’Aaron Fox in front of him, defenders got out to challenge shooters. It was the defence the Raptors’ brass had envisioned from the start of the year.

“We just didn’t make any (mistakes), didn’t give up anything in transition. We did all the defensive schemes with great intensity, and just had incredibly active hands,” Nurse said of the third quarter. “We were just really making passes difficult, catches difficult, turning them over. And even the times we didn’t, we’d knock it around a couple of times. Just incredible effort by our guys, and execution.”

Raptors Show Defensive Prowess in Victory Over Kings – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors News, Analysis and More

Against the Sacramento Kings, the Raptors finally got back to their defense-first identity, shutting down the league’s most lethal offense and clinching a 113-95 victory Wednesday night.

For the decision-makers in the organization, Wednesday must have been infuriating. Where has this been all season? Toronto looked connected on defense, whizzing around, and making the kind of plays that had been so lacking all year.

Scottie Barnes pickpocketed Harrison Barnes to kick things off in the second half, sending Pascal Siakam soaring for a transition bucket at the other end. It sparked a 20-4 run for the Raptors as the defense repeatedly generated great offensive looks for Toronto. Siakam scored 14 of his team-high 26 points in the third.

Unlike so many other stars this season, Domantas Sabonis struggled with Toronto’s hyper-aggressive defense, turning the ball over a career-high nine times Wednesday night. Fred VanVleet twice stripped him in the paint, using his pesky hands to jar the ball loose before a Siakam step-back jumper put the Raptors up 20 midway through the third quarter.

Precious Achiuwa slammed the door on the Kings in the fourth with seven straight to open the final frame before, part of a 17-point night from the third-year forward. VanVleet stripped De’Aaron Fox late in the fourth before Siakam clinched things with a layup and the Kings subbed out their starters with two minutes to go in regulation.

It was the defense that kept the Raptors around in the first quarter when Toronto’s offense went nearly four minutes without a bucket. Barnes eventually snapped the skid, nailing an off-balanced floater on the drive. Fred VanVleet followed it up with a pair of tough jumpers, keeping Toronto within striking distance early.

Like Sunday against the Knicks, it was the Raptors’ second unit bought the starters eight crucial minutes in the second quarter. Chris Boucher opened the night with a key rotation, sliding into the paint for a big-time block of Chimezie Metu. He followed it up with a pair of three-pointers to open the second before Barnes found him in the paint with a no-look left-handed feed out of a pick-and-roll as he finished the quarter with 14 of his 16 points.

Raptors find missing defensive swagger in win over Sacramento | Toronto Sun

They swarmed Kings big man Domantas Sabonis, forcing the ball out of his hands as much as possible and then busting out to shooters to hopefully contain the Kings deadly three-point game when Sabonis gave up the ball.

It was a hard night’s work and the Raptors weren’t always successful, but they were on enough occasions to get a win against a Kings team that has become a very tough out.

By half time the Raptors had built an eight-point lead. Midway through the third, the lead was up to 20.

All of it came from the defence. Whether it was O.G. Anunoby making everything — and we mean everthing — hard for Sabonis, or Pascal Siakam providing that last line of defence at the rim so even when Sabonis did shake loose of Anunoby there was Siakam, denyng him at the rim.

But a defensive effort isn’t complete against a team as dynamic as the Kings are offensively without running those three-point shooters off the line and that was Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. doing just that.

Perhaps the high point of the evening came in that third quarter when the Raptors held Sacramento to Just 17 points. That wasn’t just the high point of the night but may have been the best defensive quarter of the season taking into account the opponent.

Nick Nurse only went eight deep in his rotation, but with the production he was getting from Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher, he didn’t have to search any further.

Between them Achiuwa and Boucher combined for 31 points which was more than the combined total of the five reserves who saw the court for the Kings.

It was Boucher early on with 14 points in the first half and Achiuwa late as he stepped in to fill the void when O.G. Anunoby was poked in the eye and had to head back to the locker room for some treatment.

Anunoby was back on the bench for the the final few minutes, but Achiuwa was rolling so well at that point that Nurse stayed with him.

Siakam finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists to once again lead his team.

VanVleet was right there with him with 17 points, five assists and four boards.

But the story of this game was the defence and on that front every Raptor who touched the floor gave Nick Nurse and his staff exactly what they needed.

It was the perfect start to the longest road trip of the season as the Raptors will play six more before they return to Toronto.

Precious Achiuwa’s energy rubs off on Raptors teammates | The Star

You can break down the numbers six ways to Sunday and fold, spindle and manipulate the statistics to say what you want them to say, but the feel of what Achiuwa brings is legit and undeniable.

“I think he’s played tough, he’s got up and down the floor, he’s been active, he’s been strong,” coach Nick Nurse was saying before the Raptors flew out for their longest road trip of the season, starting here Wednesday night.

“You know those things are very complementary traits that we needed and I think they’re rubbing off a little bit … I don’t know for sure, but it seems like our offensive rebounding has taken a big boost. And again, I think it’s something that he’s been a part of. But I think he’s bringing guys with him (to the glass); just the energy of bringing guys with him.”

Make no mistake, whatever vice-chair Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster do between now and the Feb. 9 trade deadline — and everything remains in play right now — Achiuwa is someone they see as integral to future plans.

His youth and ability make him an intriguing player, his contract — still on a rookie deal — makes him more than affordable and as a future anchor of the frontcourt, he seems to be settled.

He doesn’t really have a position in the traditional sense of the word. He’s a frontcourt player who can cover guards and that’s prototypical for the way the game’s going.

Achiuwa has acted as the Raptors’ sixth starter most of this season, a backup who moves into the starting five when one of Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes or Pascal Siakam has to miss a game.

With any of four of them (Barnes excluded) moving on at either next month’s trade deadline or in the summer, there’s every expectation that Achiuwa will become a full-time starter. Or it may be that Achiuwa’s skills are best suited for a bench role.

“He’s normally preferred to come off the bench. I’d say he just likes to do that better,” Nurse said. “So we’ve kind of done that. We’ll see.”

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