Forget the shoddy refereeing (OK, don’t forget it, but put it aside for a moment), you know what really would have helped the Raptors on Wednesday night? Showing up for the first 60% of the game in Sacramento.
It’s an all-too familiar refrain, one covered in this space many times already this season. The team just comes out flat pretty much once every week. Nobody can explain why. They seem to love falling far behind and fighting back, but that takes a ton of energy to do and usually doesn’t work. It’s a bad recipe.
The main culprit in the bad start was a lack of effort and determination. Sacramento’s player got where they wanted to on the floor – usually inside (Nine of Sacramento’s first 20 points came on second-chance opportunities and the team scored 46 points in the paint). DeMarcus Cousins is a force, he could have been an all-star if the West wasn’t so ridiculous up front, but it wasn’t all Cousins. Where was the resistance? Jonas Valanciunas picked up two quick fouls and was completely overmatched. His teammates weren’t much better.
The lack of fight on second-efforts was a game-long trend. Even the crucial end of game sequence that saw the Kings all but close it out (though things could have been different had Kyle Lowry’s shot been called correctly), Ben McLemore came up with two loose balls, leading to a basket when Toronto should have had a chance the other way. The Raptors played far better from mid-way through the third to the end, but that McLemore play was a microcosm of what was going on earlier.
- Only six of Sacramento’s shot attempts in the first quarter were outside of the paint. Meanwhile, Toronto fell in love with three-point and mid-range attempts as the Kings dared them to take jumpers. Only when Toronto attacked the rim – led by DeMar DeRozan and the Kings inexplicably opted to take mid-range jumpers in the fourth – did the game get close.
- After showing encouraging signs of life in recent games, Amir Johnson disappeared again. He was completely invisible, and since Dwane Casey loves what his bench is providing, it’s unlikely he shakes things up by inserting Patrick Patterson. However, another does of Tyler Hansbrough as a starter seems to be in order. You know he’ll give you serious effort from the jump of every contest, so starting Hansbrough, even if Amir plays more minutes overall, could be a solution to this early-game issue that is plaguing the Raptors.
- As for the call, it was brutal. The referees know the tendencies of NBA players, particularly the star players and they all know Lowry kicks out his leg a bit as part of his shooting motion. Calling him for an offensive foul on that play was just ridiculous. They have that information and even if somehow they missed the memo (they didn’t) that’s clearly either a no-call, or a defensive foul. Calling it an offensive foul completely defies logic. The Raptors still would have been in tough to win the game and would have needed another miracle play or two, but the referees robbed them of at least having a chance to close it out.
- Lowry back on Nov. 9th, when an offensive foul was called on him for the second game in a row: “When I go left and shoot, I kick out my legs, that’s what I do,” Lowry said, shaking his head.
- The referees set the tone by calling everything. Part of it was Toronto playing lazy and letting Sacramento run wild, if officials see a team not playing hard, they’ll be on the lookout for more fouls, knowing more fouls happen when a team isn’t engaged. But … was there a connection in some small way between the Raptors letting the Kings go to work and the foul calls? ie. were the players worried anything they did would get called for a foul, so they weren’t getting as close as they normally would to the Sacramento players? The Raptors shot 24 free throws, the Kings shot 51.
- Another thought, brought up by Casey: Were the Raptors to cordial with their pals in purple? “I just thought our whole disposition was off,” Casey said.
“We’re out there hugging and giving out fives and all that,” Casey said. “Well, this is a business. I didn’t think our disposition at the beginning of the game was in fighting mode or hungry mode.”
- Though Cousins demolished the Raptors, credit Valanciunas for at least turning in another double-double effort, with three blocks.
- While we’re at it, credit Steve Novak for staying ready and coming in and providing a huge boost.