Before the Toronto Raptors dropped a disappointing 105-96 (it really wasn’t that close) decision to Sacramento Kings on Friday night, Dwane Casey said the Kings were the kind of team that scared him.
He mentioned Sacramento’s ability to play one-on-one basketball, break you down and be unpredictable. Really, he could have mentioned that they have a talented young big man named DeMarcus Cousins and stopped the conversations there.
After dropping a line of 31 points, 20 rebounds, four assists and two steals (on 11-for-18 field goals and 9-for-12 free throws), Cousins was the answer for the Kings. He was also the big man that the Raptors didn’t have any kind of answer for.
While the Raptors were in the game early, they surrendered an 8-0 lead to the Kings to close the first half trailing by one.
And then the third quarter happened.
To say that the Raptors came out flat to start the third – “flat as a pancake,” coach Dwane Casey would say after the game — is an understatement. Getting outscored 28-10, the Raptors shot a horrific 14.3 per cent in the quarter, hitting just three of their 21 field goal attempts. In comparison, the Kings connected on nearly 53 per cent of their attempts and blew the game open heading into the fourth up 19.
The fourth quarter felt like more of a formality than anything. Sure, the Raptors trimmed a 22-point deficit to 14 a handful of times, but they never truly threatened Sacramento’s hold on the game.
While people might choose to talk about Toronto’s effort or accuse them of looking ahead to Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City and getting comfortable with their recent stretch of victories, the reason why the Raptors lost this game is because they didn’t have anyone who could stop Cousins from putting up the line that he did. How much of a handful is Cousins while trying to defend him? Ask Amir Johnson, who fouled out in 10 minutes of action.
Sometimes basketball is simple: star players win ball games. While much can be said about Cousins and issues he has had both on and off court, there isn’t anything that can be disputed about his talent and potential. Still so very young — just 22 years old — Cousins is gifted with the kind of phenomenal talent that will give result in teams working to help him succeed because anyone who has seen him play understands that his success also means an increased chance of success for whichever team he’s playing for.
The Raptors simply didn’t have anyone on their roster who could stop Cousins. With Johnson — arguably the Raptors’ most valuable player this season, at least on the defensive end of the floor — fouling out in 10 minutes, things became increasingly difficult for Toronto on both ends of the floor. Aaron Gray didn’t foul out, but picked up three fouls in seven minutes. Ed Davis put in a strong effort early by grabbing 10 rebounds in the first quarter, but cannot be expected to play 41 minutes against a team like Sacramento.
2) Third quarter collapse
Things quickly fell apart for the Raptors in the second half. Toronto went from trailing by one to trailing by 11 in three minutes. Things didn’t get any better from there. Add in the 8-0 run by the Kings to close the half and the Raptors gave up 20 straight points spanning the end of the second quarter and start of the third.
3) DeMar DeRozan’s free throws
Despite the outcome, there were a couple of positives in this game. DeRozan struggled from the floor, but who didn’t? The team as a whole shot just 38 per cent for the game with DeRozan making three of his 11 attempts. The positive, though, is that he got to the free throw line 10 times against the Kings, making eight of his attempts. While he wasn’t able to buy a call to start the season, his aggressive drives to the hoop are starting to pay off.
4) Landry Fields continuing to round into form
The other positive from this one was the play of Fields. After a disappointing start, then ulnar nerve transposition surgery, Fields is looking more like the player the Raptors hoped he would be when they signed him during the off-season. In 21 minutes off the bench, Fields had six points on 3-for-5 shooting, but also grabbed five rebounds and added two assists. More importantly, the buckets he made were the same type of shots he missed terribly prior to the surgery.
5) Amir Johnson’s impact
It’s no secret that Amir Johnson has been an integral part of the Raptors’ success in each of the games they have won. His impact was especially noticeable against the Kings, because it wasn’t there. Limited to less than 10 minutes (9:26 minutes to be exact), trying to guard Cousins, his absence was felt by everyone on the floor in a Raptors uniform. Without their most adept defender, the team’s defence struggled. Without their hustle guy, the energy faded. This team is often a different team when Johnson is on the floor. Against the Kings this was painfully obvious.
- Cousins being humble after the game: “They have some good bigs on their team and I have a lot of respect for them, but I just had a good game.”
- DeRozan’s thoughts on what went wrong for the Raptors: “A loss always makes you understand what you need to work on. Tonight just wasn’t our night on both ends. We weren’t making shots, we weren’t getting stops and we were not getting rebounds. We have to look at our mistakes tomorrow and work on them.”
- The 31 points were a season-high for Cousins. During his last trip to Toronto a season ago, he recorded a 20-point, 19-rebound game against the Raptors. After the game he was asked if he liked coming to Toronto to play at the ACC. With a smile, he said he liked Toronto, but that he didn’t like coming through the airport. Through his last five games he is averaging 19.4 points and 14 rebounds.