The Toronto Raptors swept their notoriously difficult four-game West Coast road trip and kept their perfect record with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup intact with a 114-105 win over the Sacramento Kings.
Leonard managed a double-double in his return to action, while Kyle Lowry continued his All-NBA calibre start to the season as the Raptors improved their record to an impressive 11-1.
Here are some takeaways from the Raptors’ latest win.
Another Lowry gem
Like the rest of his team, Lowry has had better nights this season. But Wednesday night was still a killer performance from the Raptors’ early-season MVP.
Although he failed to extend his double-digit assist streak to 10 games, registering a measly eight assists on Wednesday, he continues to put his teammates in excellent positions to score. It’s no wonder the Raptors’ big man trio of Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Pascal Siakam are feasting on opponents early this season, given their point guard is looking to make plays like this:
Lowry struggled with his three-point shot on Wednesday, going just 2-8 from beyond the arc. But his two makes were certainly loud, and well-timed. This season he’s been taking — and making — a ton of three-pointers from well past the three-point line. Wednesday was no exception and he hit another three from Steph Curry range, this one in response to a Buddy Hield three-pointer that capped a mini-Kings run.
It’s one thing to stop a team’s momentum with an emphatic three-pointer, but to do it on a shot from several feet behind the line must be completely deflating for defenders.
Whether it was a big shot to silence the crowd, a clutch defensive stop — he took a charge late in the fourth that effectively sealed the win for Toronto — or key rebounds and passes, Lowry managed to leave a sizeable imprint on the game once again.
Timing is everything
Despite a decent — not great — outing on Wednesday, the Raptors are obviously playing at a high level and, rightfully, with a ton of confidence. It’s helped the team remain unnerved as opponents turn up the volume, and that’s led to some timely plays and baskets.
On Wednesday the Kings made several small runs that were quashed by a timely shot or two, and whenever the score seemed like it was getting close the Raptors would soar out to a double-digit lead before you had time to blink.
After taking a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter, a De’Aaron Fox floater with five minutes or so left in the game cut the Raptors’ lead to 106-99. Time to panic? Not quite. On the next possession, Leonard got a mismatch on the perimeter and drilled a three-pointer. The next time up the floor Ibaka nailed a three of his own, followed by a charge taken by Lowry on the defensive end. Just like that it was 112-101, and the game was effectively over.
Sacramento was impressive in defeat and did well to manage to only lose by single digits.
The Kings have been one of the biggest surprises in the west and it’s easy to see why.
The franchise has infamously drafted as poorly as any in the last decade but struck gold with 2017 fifth-overall pick Fox, who scored 20 points against the Raptors and looks like he’ll be a mainstay in the Kings’ backcourt for years. Willie Cauley-Stein, the sixth pick in 2015, is proving to be a late-bloomer and continued his strong season with 24 points, while Buddy Hield, acquired from New Orleans in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, scored 24 of his own and is in the middle of a massive breakout campaign.
Throw in this year’s second-overall pick, Marvin Bagley, plus a capable bench, and the Kings are finally playing like a team worth monitoring in the west.
Sacramento had plenty of opportunities to lay down but hung in the game. They remained aggressive on both ends of the floor and that intensity will keep them competitive against most teams in the league.
But not the Raptors.
• It took a little while for Leonard to get in a rhythm after missing his last two games, and he came out of the gate slow. His shot wasn’t falling early — just 2-6 in the first half — but he scored 12 points on 7-7 from the free throw line, and grabbed six boards before halftime. Leonard came up big during stretches in the second half and finished the game with a team-high 25 points while showing that his sore foot is feeling just fine now:
• The Raptors crushed Sacramento on the glass, out-rebounding the Kings 53-31 and holding them to just six offensive boards the entire game. Ibaka (14 rebounds), Leonard (11), and Valanciunas (10) all managed double-doubles against the Kings’ frontcourt.
• Despite it being, on paper, one of the team’s greatest strengths, if there’s a worrying trend early this season for Toronto it’s been their three-point shooting. The Raptors shot just 30 per cent from deep on Wednesday, and rank 20th in the NBA at 34.7 per cent on the season.
• Another trend worth monitoring has been the Raptors’ lackluster performance closing out games. They were outscored 27-20 in the fourth quarter Wednesday and have often been topped in the final frame. It’s hard to put a ton of value into the sample size, given most games haven’t been close down the stretch, but you know Nick Nurse would like to see his team finish games as strong as they’ve begun them.
• Siakam entered the game averaging over 15 points and nine rebounds in his last five games, and put in another strong outing on Wednesday with 21 points on 8-11 from the floor as he took advantage of the Kings’ slower frontcourt. Then again, literally every frontcourt in the NBA is the “slower frontcourt” when matched up with Siakam.
• As well as the Raptors have played, and as much as the signs of them being a legitimate contender seem obvious, the team is still far away from reaching its potential. We keep seeing glimpses of what the Raptors’ ceiling might be, and this moment featuring Leonard and OG Anunoby defending the open court is definitely one of them: