In her first blog post for Raptors.com, Holly Mackenzie lauded the Toronto Raptors' (34-26) "15 Deep" mantra. Sure enough, that approach was on clear display on Friday night, as the Raps took down the Sacramento Kings and Rudy Gay, who basically enabled the "15 Deep" movement by, well, being shipped out.
On the night of Gay's return to Toronto, the home team showed exactly what its become in his absence. Where he would have previously managed something like 20 points on 25 inefficient shots, the balanced Raptors had six players attempt between eight and 13 shots and score between 12 and 18 points. To be fair, Gay's 13 shots hardly represented the ball hog that booing Toronto fans seemed to remember, but there weren't many who came away from Friday's win pining for the Rudy Gay era.
The 99-87 win, which helped the club match their win total from last season, obviously wasn't as simple as the home side no longer having Gay on their roster. The team's collective, all-hands-on-deck defensive effort held the Kings to just 87 points on 41.7% (30-72) shooting, including 26.3% (5-19) three-point shooting and 59.5% (22-37) efficiency from the free throw line (okay, so the Raps didn't have much to do with Sacramento's free throw woes). While the Raptor offence wasn't always clicking (46.6% shooting), it did produce 10-21 shooting (47.6%) from three-point range and provided the necessary, game-securing charge as part of a 24-10 run late in the third quarter.
Big Man Efficiency
Once again, DeMarcus Cousins (24 points on 8-12 shooting, including 8-10 free throws) gave the Raps fits all game, bullying his way inside and essentially willing himself to the free throw line. However, Toronto was able to counteract much of his production with the efficiency of their own front line. Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson combined for 38 points on 17-21 shooting (the rest of the club needed 52 shots in order to make the same amount of field goals). Even Chuck Hayes, who didn't get into the fun offensively, made his mark by providing some stellar 'D' on his former teammate, holding Cousins to no points, two misses and two turnovers during the second half of the third quarter as the team made their run.
Part of the "12 Deep" identity seems to be a club willing to step outside of their perceived roles to do whatever is necessary in order to win. Taking their cue from stat filler and floor leader Kyle Lowry, many Raptors ended Friday's effort with contributions in a number of statistical categories. Lowry and DeRozan counterbalanced a pair of off shooting nights (6-24 combined) by making plays (13 assists), getting on the boards (nine assists, including six for Lowry) and getting to the line (14-18). Meanwhile, Johnson, Valanciunas, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough all had four rebounds or more and Greivis Vasquez and Hayes each had two steals.
Great to see a mostly full house at the ACC on Friday, an increasingly regular sight within the team's three-month surge (the club now sits 12th in home attendance league-wide, compared to 26th on the road). But, come on guys. Gay got booed any time he touched the ball... for what, exactly? He never asked out and was simply fulfilling his role on the team when he was chucking up a bunch of bad shots during his Toronto tenure. We're in a better place without him, he's playing better without us - let's just move on happily, okay? And the pizza thing... did anyone seriously expect Terrence Ross, who could be seen chuckling as he dribbled out the clock to boos, to show up the Kings and his former teammate by jacking up a needless shot in order to get the fans a free slice of pizza? It's always a fun cherry on top to hit 100 points and win, but it shouldn't detract from a nice win.
For as much as Gay was hearing it from the ACC faithful, the biggest fan response of the night came as Cousins unleashed a vicious dunk... immediately after being whistled for an offensive foul. He sure knows how to get fans against him, huh?
My take on the 20th anniversary branding: I'm not so sure about the logo, which may have 'taken its inspiration' from elsewhere, but I fully embrace the decision to return to the original purple dinos jersey for some games next season (even if it is more for camp value than to celebrate the club's less-than-stellar legacy).
Thanks to some salary increases, way too many un-expiring deals and the beginning of Cousins' big four-year contract extension, Sacramento actually has MORE money on the books for next season than this one. It will be interesting to see what Pete D'Allesandro, in his first full off-season as Kings' GM, can do to create some roster flexibility. Are any of Jason Thompson/Carl Landry/Travis Outlaw movable? That would certainly be a starting point, as the ineffective trio are still owed a bewildering $42 million beyond this season.
Toronto will aim to get to nine games above .500 for the first time since the division-winning 2006-07 season when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night (7:00pm, SN1).
Prediction: Raps 96, Timberwolves 91 (36-14 this season)