With an early 7:00 home start, and both teams missing key players, you could be forgiven if you missed last night’s Raptors-Kings tilt. It was hardly the pinnacle of basketball excellence! But, the Raptors got a win they needed, with solid performances from up and down the roster (well, with the exception of Greg Monroe); they now head out on the road for three straight, the start of a six-game stretch that is the toughest remaining part of their 2019 schedule: at Indiana, at Houston, at Dallas, home for the Bucks, home for the Clippers, at Philadelphia.
Kyle Lowry, All-Star, Always
Last night Kyle Lowry showed why guys like Zach Lowe have Lowry on their All-Star teams. His scoring and shooting may be off, but he makes this team go. He’s the most important player on the Raptors during the regular season; Kawhi Leonard might be the MVP candidate, and this team without Leonard would be toast in the postseason, but I truly believe that this team with Lowry but without Leonard would have a much, much better winning record than the same team with Leonard but without Lowry. He’s much more valuable to the team in terms of racking up regular season wins.
My favourite play from last night occurred about halfway through the first quarter. Lowry set a rolling Serge Ibaka up with a perfect bounce pass out of a pick-and-roll, but Serge somehow blew the dunk. Lowry chased the ball and literally punched the rebound out of the air, straight to Fred VanVleet.
VanVleet missed the ensuing three but that kind of hustle play is what makes Lowry the most important player.
(His 19 points, nine assists and 4-of-9 shooting from downtown didn’t hurt either.)
VanVleet and Ibaka Haven’t Found their PnR Rhythm Yet
A common complaint about the backup point guards this year is that they’re not using their big men (whether it be Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas or even Greg Monroe) effectively in the pick-and-roll. Now, Kyle Lowry has turned into the master of PnR passing, so he’s going to make everyone look bad, but there was one play about 5 minutes into the third last night that illustrated this.
Ibaka set a screen for Fred VanVleet on the left wing, and VanVleet took the ball — and two defenders — with him into the middle. Ibaka rolled two steps and was wide open for a bounce pass at the elbow, but VanVleet either didn’t see him or chose not to drop the dime.
Instead, VanVleet kept the dribble, went right into the paint with it, and ran into a third defender. Buddy Hield stripped it, took it the other way, executed a quick give-and-go with Bogdan Bogdanovic and drained a three.
Fred’s got to be able to make that pass.
Pascal Siakam was Everywhere in the Third
Spicy P was a difference maker in last night’s third quarter, especially in the closing minutes. The Kings had been hanging around, but with one particular sequence, Siakam shut the the door on ‘em.
It stared, unfortunately, with Pascal missing a three-pointer. (Side note — he was 1-for-4 last night from downtown, with his first-quarter make snapping a seven-game, 0-for-12 streak.) But he hustled back, hauled in a Justin Jackson missed runner, and took off back the other way. Naturally, even though there were eight players in front of him, he beat everyone to the rim, laid it in, and drew a foul on Marvin Bagley III.
The and-1 free throw capped a 10-0 Raptors run that broke a 73-73 tie, and the closest the Kings would get the rest of the was seven points; Pascal finished with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Kosta Koufos is still in the NBA?
I remember I drafted Koufos on my fantasy team like nine years ago and thought it was a brilliant move. I honestly had forgotten he was on this roster!
He definitely had a night to forget, though. First, he found himself mismatched against Delon Wright in the corner, and Wright unleashed a nasty setback three-pointer in the centre’s grill that hit nothing but net. Our man Sean Woodley said it best:
Delon just Hardened Koufos and it was dope as shit— Sean Woodley (@WoodleySean) January 23, 2019
Meanwhile, after Greg Monroe proved, ahem, ineffective in his first half minutes, we got some early Chris Boucher rotation minutes. And he made an impact right away, corralling a missed Wright three pointer over Koufos, then casually dribbling right around Koufos for a lay-in.
Then, Lowry found a curling C.J. Miles, who took the ball hard to the paint and floated up a soft runner over Koufos’ outstretched arm.
All of the above happened in about 60 seconds of game time.
Let’s hope poor Kosta isn’t on anyone’s fantasy team this year.
Kawhi Konspiracy Korner
You knew this was inevitable. I couldn’t rant and rave (as much as I ever do) about Kawhi Leonard missing the last game and then not jump back on the corner (ahem, Korner) after he missed a practice, missed another game and the team has already announced he’s missing the next one too.
So that’s four straight games missed and a full week off. That’s not normal! I’m calling it right here: Kawhi has demanded a trade and isn’t playing again until it happens.
Come on, he’s just not playing all of a sudden? And what the heck was that missed practice? He had a doctor’s appointment? I like the team trying to pretend like this is just a normal thing, like you or me taking an afternoon off work to go to the doctor. This is not a normal thing for NBA players, who can literally see their doctors any time they want! It’s not like Kawhi called up his doctor’s office and they said we’re booked all week, this is the only timeslot available. He’s Kawhi freakin’ Leonard! Clearly this was a (poorly) made-up excuse by the team to cover his absence.
He’s played his last game in a Raptors jersey. You heard it here first.
Phew, got all the way through five thoughts but didn’t find room to talk about Jack Armstrong going off on Boston sports fans!? That’s a huge oversight on my part. To sum up, his 40 second rant included the phrases “so obnoxious,” “you’ve had it pretty good,” and “I’m sick of ‘em.”
Jack speaks for us all.
[Belichick voice] On to Indiana.