The first half was painful to watch at times, the price to be paid for being a defence-first squad, it seems, but another professional, workmanlike outing from the Raptors was enough to get by the mercurial Kings on Friday.
With Toronto shooting the lights out and Sacramento having an awful time from behind the three-point line and at the free throw line, the outcome was rarely in doubt.
Terrence Ross looked to be back to 100% after getting a long rest to recover from his ankle injury. He wasn’t rusty at all, burying shot after shot from outside early.
Smart coaching by Dwane Casey and the staff in putting Amir Johnson on DeMarcus Cousins early. While Amir can’t match Cousins’ bulk, his speed and quick hands frustrated Cousins. Meanwhile, the move allowed Jonas Valanciunas to focus on his offensive game instead of spending all of his energy trying to slow down Cousins. It worked out, with Valanciunas looking quite comfortable early. He scored in a variety of ways down low, showing good footwork and a soft touch. Whatever confidence issues were weighing the sophomore down a couple of weeks ago appear to have vanished. He’s relaxed, assertive and back to the fun-loving, big kid off of the court. Simply put, Valanciunas is enjoying himself again after a bit of a lull.
There’s a new addition on the inside of Valanciunas’ locker room stall. It’s a piece of paper that basically instructs him to keep things simple, set legal screens, rebound the ball, give a solid effort every night. Sounds straight forward, but he’s clearly paying attention.
Speaking of lulls, Johnson has a spring in his step again and his play has really improved after his own poor stretch.
The Rudy Gay angle is old by now, but he said a few interesting things about his former teammates.
On DeMar DeRozan getting an all-star nod: “I might have been the first person that called him to be honest with you. He’s worked hard. I’ve seen it personally. For once, the good guys win. That’s how I see it,” Gay said.
On Kyle Lowry blocking out all of the trade rumours this season and turning in the best stretch of his career: “Kyle’s a pro, man. It’s not the first time he’s had it happen. It probably won’t be the last. Throughout all of that he’s played well, he’s led this team.”
On trying to grow a beard like Reggie Evans or Quincy Acy: “I’ve tried. This is probably a month’s worth right now,” he said, pointing to a bit of stubble.
Casey isn’t big on pre-game mingling. He didn’t like his team going out for dinner with Gay, Acy and Aaron Gray in Sacramento last month and felt that carried over to that game, when Toronto started slowly. Save the hugs and kisses for the off-season, Casey had said. The pre-tip catchup time was indeed toned down. In the bowels of the ACC afterward, Gay spent time with DeRozan, his family and others and other friends did the same. It was one big reunion. And that’s fine with the Raptors, since it came after the game.
Patrick Patterson described how the friends mentality needs to change before games: “We have to treat it as if they’re the enemy. We have to treat them like they’re the villain and we’re the superhero, pretty much. We can’t be friendly with them. As soon as the game starts, you have to put your hardhat on,” Patterson said.
A few stats:
This was Toronto’s 35th game with 20 or more assists since the trade in 42 games. It happened just three times in 18 games pre-trade.
Gay did not shoot 50% from the field, but has done it 23 times in 38 games for the Kings after doing it just once as a Raptor this season.
Toronto is 13-4 at home in 2014.