In the return of the prodigal shooter, the Toronto Raptors pulled off a convincing win against the Sacramento Kings, 99-87. As has been the case for the majority of Raptors games post-trade, a team effort grounded in solid defense and selfless ball movement was more than enough to get them the W. This now ties the Raptors season win total for last year (34). With 22 games left to spare, all hail Masai Ujiri.
The narrative of the Toronto Raptor's season, prior to trading Rudy Gay, was a frustrating one. Though we were shown glimpses of a promising and young core of players that could hang with the best of them on defense, on the other side of the ball Toronto struggled to find any offensive efficiency. There's no question among followers of the club, that the Raptors struggles could be largely attributed to the fascination that Rudy had with long, contested jumpers. This resentment was made evident by the fans present at the ACC on Friday night. Boos rang out during his pregame introduction and could be heard every time Gay had the ball in his hands.
An observation became apparent early in the first half; without DeMarcus Cousins, the Sacramento Kings don't have the firepower to compete with the Raptors. Cousins picked up 3 fouls in the first half, barely avoided a technical foul, and was limited to only 8 and a half minutes of first half play. With Cousins on the bench, Sacramento struggled to find any rhythm on offense. The only thing that seemed to be "working" for them was getting to the free throw line. Unfortunately for the Kings only managed to make 11 of their 21 shots at the charity stripe. In particular, Reggie Evans made free throw shooting look downright painful. Evans converted on only 1 of his 8 attempts. Yikes.
This game was a perfect representation of how the Raptors have benefited from the trade that took place on December 9th, 2013.
First, consider the expanded opportunity that was opened up for Terrence Ross in the starting lineup. In this game, Ross scored all of his 18 points by way of knocking down 6/8 three point attempts. Stretch the floor much? Equally important, however, was his focus and effort in defending Gay who, although may not have been the case in Toronto, has been very reliable lately for the Kings. And as Dwane Casey has repeated over and over again when speaking of Ross' potential, when he locks down on defense, the Toronto skyline is the limit. Rudy was held to 15 points on 35.7% shooting... the nostalgia of his Raptors career is bittersweet to say the least.
Another Raptors sophomore, Jonas Valanciunas, made his presence felt over the course of tonight's game. The numbers won't jump off the score sheet at first glance, but to JV's credit, his 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting serve as a reminder of his offensive potential when he's playing with confidence. Regardless of the 17 point lead to start the fourth quarter, coach Casey rewarded his young big man with playing time in the final frame and this resulted in some well-deserved touches in the post.
What really stood out about this game was the balanced production. No Raptor broke the 20-point threshold, but five scored in double figures and as a team they held the Kings to 87 points on 41.7% shooting. This game shouldn't be reason for too much added optimism for the long term outlook of the team (it is the Kings we're talking about), but I think as Raptors fans we can all rejoice in a subtle, understated fist pump.