Sometimes to get a win in the NBA you have to be good. Other times, it pays to be lucky. Some nights, it’s a bit of both. And then there are nights like Tuesday, where the Raptors were neither good, nor all that lucky, yet still managed to come away with a victory. The Raptors (James Johnson aside) declined to play any defence for 75% of the night and had a rare off-night from Lou Williams, but still hung on, to run their record to an impressive 14-4. Why? This might seem like a huge generalization, but it came down to Kyle Lowry suiting up and DeMarcus Cousins not doing so.
- Sure, the Kings posted gaudy numbers without Cousins, one of the league’s five most dominant players (37 trips to the free throw line, 109 points, 52% shooting) but with Cousins in, the teams would not have been even on the boards, it would have been a big edge for the Kings and likely, a 10-point win for the home side).
- But Cousins was a surprising scratch, meaning Lowry was the best player on the floor and he showed it, lifting the Raptors on his back when necessary at both ends of the floor. Lowry started off on fire (nine points and five assists as the Raptors got off to a great start – 13 points, eight assists and just one turnover at the half), then finished with a bang, scoring 10 points in the fourth without a turnover. After hitting a tough layup, he then took a big charge on Rudy Gay, two pivotal plays in the end.
- Liked the way Lowry again took advantage of a smaller guard, this time going at tiny Darren Collison early in the post. Lowry can score against most point guards down there and it continues to be a good look for an offence that is searching for ways to replace DeMar DeRozan’s scoring.
- Hard to like the lack of defence from the Raptors. The Kings have some players who are good at attacking off the dribble, but at times it was ridiculous. They were blowing by Raptors defenders and the help defenders were barely even in the right area code. The Kings shot 77% from the field in the second quarter. It’s difficult to win games when you allow opponents to score at that level. The Kings were at 58% through three quarters and only a far better defensive final quarter from the league’s best fourth quarter team saved this one.- You could argue I’m being too negative, but this was an uninspiring performance from a team that is trying to prove that it is one of the NBA’s better teams and certainly a top three group in the East. The Raptors looked lazy and uninspired for much of the evening, Lowry, James and Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross aside.
- Speaking of Ross -the third-year swingman gave the Raptors a huge boost, scoring 15 points in the first quarter and 20 in all. It was the first time in his career he managed 20 points in consecutive games. Ross had hit 46.7% of his three-point attempts over his previous three games and with a 4-of-8 performance Tuesday, is up to 43.8% for the season, including 46.4% over his past five games.
- Jonas Valanciunas over his previous five games heading into this one: 12.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game on 61.5% shooting from the field, 83.3% from the line. He had 15 points and eight rebounds, shooting 50% from the field (on only six attempts) and 9-for-10 from the line. The Raptors need to get him more than 11 attempts a night while DeRozan is out. He only had two attempts in the opening quarter (both resulting in trips to the free throw line) and as good as the start was, it should be a point of emphasis to get the big man involved in opening quarters. Over his career, he has tended to perform better in games where he was featured early.
- Sacramento’s bench delivered 58 points, Toronto’s, just 35. Much of that was due to an off-night from Williams but I’m very much in favour of returning Greivis Vasquez to the bench and starting James Johnson, who had 19 points and seven rebounds in a revenge game against a franchise he clearly doesn’t have fond feelings for. Vasquez and Williams have been a good pair and the offence would be strong if he went back to the reserves. However, perhaps Dwane Casey is worried that defensively, the second group could become something of a disaster if Johnson is taken out of the mix. The flip side is the starters would get far sounder defensively with Johnson replacing Vasquez and Ross moving to shooting guard. Theoretically, more touches for Valanciunas would cancel out losing the offence Vasquez provides. Amir Johnson has also shown increased range (6-for-13 from three on the season, though five of the makes have come at home) if part of the fear from Casey and his staff is Ross would be the only three-point threat for Lowry to kick to. However, the Raptors do just fine offensively with DeRozan starting and he is not a three-point threat at all, so adding Johnson would not be that foreign of a concept.
- Ben McLemore looks like a different player this season and far closer to what many expected after watching him at Kansas. He had a terrible rookie season, but looks far more confident and is now effective. McLemore threw down a monster dunk on Amir Johnson in the second quarter. To the credit of the Raptors, they came right back, with James Johnson throwing down a big dunk of his own and the next time McLemore tried to catch Amir, he was rejected at the rim.