Who else is sleepy and bleary-eyed after four West coast games in six nights?
[raises hand slowly] [yawns]
The Raptors Seemed Unprepared for Sacramento’s... Defense?
The Kings came in to the game with the league’s 20th ranked defense (by defensive rating); the Raptors, on the other hand, had the second-ranked offense.
But you’d think those roles were reversed if you watched the first eight minutes.
The Kings were hyper-aggressive on D, doubling Kawhi Leonard every time he touched the ball and putting on full-court pressure after makes. And the Raptors looked initially unprepared for it, with three turnovers in the first three minutes and a generally lethargic offense that mostly just settled for 3-pointers early, and spotted the Kings an early 22-14 lead.
The way to beat such aggressive D and traps is to get the ball moving quickly. The Raptors, of course, figured it out after a couple minutes, and held a 29-26 lead at the end of the quarter.
The Pascal Siakam Love-in Continues
I’ve spent a lot of time taking about Pascal Siakam’s offense lately, but he’s been almost as impressive on defense. One play early stood out to me last night; with the clock winding down at the end of the first quarter, Siakam found himself matched up with Frank Mason after a switch.
Mason looked like he wanted to take Siakam off the dribble... and Siakam wasn’t having it. Look where Mason starts, and look where he ends up:
Siakam may not yet have the strength to match up with a LeBron James, but he sure has the footspeed and quickness to match up with smaller guards on the perimeter.
(Also: Pascal Siakam is still really really good on offense. 21 points on 11 shots!)
Breakaway Speed, AKA Why Raptors Twitter is the Best
With three minutes to go in the first half, the Raptors had built up an 11-point lead when De’Aaron Fox hit a triple to bring the Kings back within eight. Danny Green proceeded to hit back-to-back threes, and OG Anunoby threw down a dunk (and the Raptors forced two Kings midrange jumpshots and got a steal) and the lead was suddenly 16.
That prompted a wonderful response from Raptors Twitter:
pull-away speed— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 8, 2018
I think it's called a "strong pull out game"— kelsea (@kelsea_lately) November 8, 2018
Raptors Twitter, as always, is the best Twitter.
Freddy and Delon, Paired Up Like Wine and Cheese
Having Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright back playing together, and looking healthy, makes me so damn happy. These guys just complement each other perfectly: Delon the gliding, hitchy eurostepping scorer, Fred the hard-hat wearing but smooth shooter; Wright the long-armed, quick-handed ballhawk, VanVleet the gritty get-in-your-face-even-though-you’re-six-inches-taller scrapper.
The pair executed a near-perfect 2-for-1 at the end of the third quarter; Wright received an inbounds pass, raced up the court, got two steps inside the three-point line and dumped it off to VanVleet coming off a Jonas Valanciunas screen; VanVleet was money from downtown with 30 seconds left.
Then after forcing a deep 3-pointer from Bogdan Bogdanovic, VanVleet took the ball downcourt, hit Wright at the top of the key, where Wright the cut into the lane and fired it right back to VanVleet for a corner three... that VanVleet had to rush a little and came up short.
That close two a six-point swing. Still, it was great to see these guys finding each other like that in tight clock situations.
Is This Kings Team Legit? Maybe!
The Kings are now 6-5, having lost two straight, so maybe they’re coming back down to earth a little bit. But the building blocks they’ve assembled might actually be a decent foundation!
De’Aaron Fox is impressive. He’s big – bigger than I realized, both in terms of height and strength, but he’s got quickness to go with it. He had nine points in the first quarter, and he scored at the rim, from the midrange and from downtown. He finished with 20 on 15 shots, including 2-of-4 from downtown, which isn’t bad for a second-year guy playing against Kyle Lowry and Danny Green.
Marvin Bagley showed some impressive finishing ability at the rim, and some solid defense; Willie Cauley-Stein did a great job slithering in to open spots to receive dump off passes and get easy buckets.
Buddy Hield can shoot, but someone’s got to wean him off the midrange – nine of his 22 shots were non-paint twos, although he hit five of them.
Defensively, I’m not sure their hyper-aggressive style will hold up over a full season, and certainly better teams will be able to pick it apart over the course of any individual game. Offensively, they run, man – on everything. They reminded me of the 7 seconds or less Suns in their desire to push the ball up court. Again, we’ll have to see if they can maintain it, but together this approach allows them to go on quick runs and it might be enough to help them beat up on the league’s bottom feeders.
One glaring deficiency though: Haircuts. This team really needs a new barber, man.
Thankfully, the Raptors are back on the East coast for the next few weeks, and have only three games left in the Pacific time zone (and they’ll be done by mid-December), so the late-nights are almost over! Still, who really minds staying up late for games that are this fun to watch?