Although this Raptors season has been characterized by team play, tonight’s game was defined by three individual performances. For three and a half quarters, the starting guards, Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell carried an offense that looked out of sync, bailing out the Raptors with stellar shotmaking. In crunch time, however, Pascal Siakam shook off a rough start to the game to close out the Kings with a dominant stretch to end the game, scoring 11 points in the final three minutes, leading to a 118-113 Raptors’ win.
It was exactly what the Raptors wanted to see out of each player. Lowry, ever the steady hand and keenly aware of what his team needs, picked up his own scoring when his team was struggling. Powell continued doing what has led to his hot streak — lightning quick drives, hitting open threes, and getting out in transition. Siakam, still coming into his own as a number one option, took over a game late and found ways to score when the defense locked in on him.
Prior to the game, the Raptors received some good news both internally and externally. Marc Gasol, who re-aggravated a hamstring injury against the Atlanta Hawks in late January, was finally cleared to play in tonight’s game. Although the Raptors still await the return of Fred VanVleet, Gasol’s return to the lineup is a welcome sight for Toronto. Additionally, the Boston Celtics, Toronto’s competition for the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference, dropped a close one to the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this evening.
To fully capitalize on the Celtics loss in the standings, however, the Raptors would have to handle a hot Sacramento Kings team on the road. In their push for the playoffs in the Western Conference, Sacramento has won 7 of their last 9.
The Raptors built an early first quarter lead by getting out and running, amassing 11 points in transition in the frame. Highlight reel dunks by Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam punctuated a high-flying start for the team.
As the quarter rolled on, however, the offense went cold, scoring only 2 points in the final 4 minutes of the first. This allowed the Kings to close a gap that was as large as 12, and head in to the second tied at 22.
The offense continued to sputter going into the second quarter. The bench lineup looked disjointed without a steady point guard. This is Lowry’s typical spot, but the absence of VanVleet altered the substitution patterns, forcing the bench lineup to fend for itself. Evidently, in this game at least, they were incapable of doing so. The Kings bench outscored the Raptors reserves 30-3 in the first half. Gasol, who looked sluggish in his return tonight, featured prominently in those bench struggles, finishing 1-of-5 from the floor with just 3 points. The Spaniard will clearly need some time to get his legs back under him.
These bench struggles persisted for the entirety of the game. By the time it had ended, every single bench player had a negative plus/minus, while every starter finished with a positive, double digit rating.
It was not until the starters returned that the Raptors began to heat back up. Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell really began their offensive outburst in this stretch, combining for 20 points in the quarter, both hitting 3 three-pointers. The offensive contributions by the starting guards were enough to finish the half with a one point lead.
Every time the Raptors looked primed to go on a run that would allow them to pull away from an inferior Kings team, the offense would go cold, and Sacramento would claw back. This was true once again in the third, as another double digit lead for Toronto was whittled down to 4 at the end of the quarter.
Just as they did in the second quarter, Lowry and Powell took over offensively in the fourth. After a made free throw by Matt Thomas, Kyle Lowry scored the Raptors next 10 points. Lowry was dominant throughout this one, finishing with an efficient 30 points to go along with 8 assists.
Powell, who would finished with 31 points and 5 assists himself, followed that up with the next 8 for the Raptors. As a result of the resiliency of the Kings, however, and the inability to get offense from the frontcourt, this one remained tied with four minutes remaining.
Although Pascal Siakam had struggled for the entire game, part of being a star player is shaking off those struggles and performing when the game is on the line. He scored 11 of his 23 points in the final three minutes, starting with a contested three to beat the shot clock. He went 4 of 4 from the line in this time, and had two clutch driving layups, one of which gave the Raptors the lead with 27 seconds remaining.
☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️ pic.twitter.com/1mpjSuBcaP— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 9, 2020
Some late free throws by OG Anunoby and Norman Powell punctuated this one, as the Raptors have now won three in a row. They play Utah tomorrow to complete the Western Conference road trip before a lengthy break. Following the Utah game, the Raptors do not see action until Saturday.