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If I had given Friday night's game more thought following Wednesday's rout of Portland, I probably would have seen their tilt with the Sacramento Kings as a prime candidate for a letdown game on the part of the Raptors (12-21). They were playing a club that, even without Tyreke Evans, likes to get into the open floor and boasts Toronto killer DeMarcus Cousins (more on him later). On top of that, the home side had won eight of nine and were probably looking a bit too far ahead to Sunday's OKC visit.
But I was probably still a little too drunk with optimism on Wednesday to see what was to come, as the Kings capitalized on a lethargic mid-game stretch to make what at one point was a 20-0 run en route to a 105-96 win that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
Many of the woes of the season's first 23 games reared their ugly head, as Toronto was sloppy (15 turnovers), shot poorly (38%, including 3-21 in the third quarter) and were manhandled in the paint (PIP: 52-32). In the end, Raptor fans are probably the only fan base in the NBA now saying to themselves "I'm glad we don't have to play the Kings again this year".
Getting to the Line
Part of the 38% shooting stat is an unfair misnomer, as the team actually spent most of the game looking to penetrate and get inside, where they were sent to the line (free throw attempts don't factor into field goal percentage). Kyle Lowry (10-12 from the charity stripe) and DeMar DeRozan (8-10) were the foremost aggressors. All told, they took 37 free throw attempts on the night, which would have been more of a factor had they not missed 12 of them (67.6%).
Quincy Acy got an earlier-than-usual look on Friday, entering the game in the second quarter after Amir Johnson ran into foul trouble, and made the most of his 11:35 on court in what was probably the most productive effort of his eight games as a pro. Acy actually out-Chuck Hayes'ed Chuck Hayes at one point, gaining two offensive rebounds at the expense of the energetic veteran. All told, the rookie out of Baylor picked up five rebounds, four of which came on the offensive glass, and finished with a +9.
Momentum Slips Away
To explain away Friday's loss, it would be easy to point to a third quarter in which the Raptors managed a meager 10 points on three made field goals while allowing the Kings to score 28 and go on a game-clinching run. However, the seeds for that abysmal third quarter were planted at the end of the first half. With two minutes to go, two DeRozan free throws gave the Raps a 53-46 lead, one point off their largest advantage of the game, and positioned them to head into the break with a considerable edge. Then, the wheels came off and Sacramento went on an out-of-nowhere 8-0 run (Toronto wouldn't score again until the 6:58 mark of the third quarter). Even though they had just a one-point lead going into the second half, the momentum was theirs.
No Answer for Cousins
This is probably a personnel issue more than an effort issue, as neither Johnson nor Ed Davis boasts the physical presence to match up with Cousins (31 points, 20 boards in his monster outing), while Aaron Gray can't be seen as much more than six more fouls to give. Johnson looked the most overmatched on Friday, fouling out in less than 10 minutes of floor time. Davis, meanwhile, stood out offensively (11 points, 13 boards, including five offensive), but still registered a -21 on account of his inability to contain Cousins. For his part, Gray picked up three fouls and three turnovers in seven minutes.
Given the inconsistent nature of a rookie's development while learning the ropes in the NBA, its no surprise that Terrence Ross failed to provide a positive follow-up to his career night on Wednesday. But contibutions from Ross beyond his three points on 1-7 shooting (1-6 from three) would have gone a long way towards evening things up on Friday.
- Happy 50th birthday to Jack Armstrong, who can get a little caricature-ish at times but still provides terrific analysis and legitimizes Raptor broadcasts when he's in the booth.
The Thunder's annual visit to Toronto on Sunday (1:00pm, TSN) may signal the continuation of what has quietly been an excellent home attendance string at the ACC, but will also likely mean that the Raps may have to wait until next week to start up a new win streak.
Prediction: Thunder 101, Raptors 89 (21-7 this season)