The Toronto Raptors have won three straight games, but the “not-the-same-old” Sacramento Kings didn’t make that third win easy. The Kings took every punch the Raptors threw and kept coming back, throwing some impressive counter-punches of their own.
But in the end Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam threw the Raptors on their back and drove the team to victory.
Nick Nurse has said that he wants to get his team, and in particular Pascal Siakam, more clutch reps. There’ve been plenty of opportunities lately, and Pascal has delivered.
To start the fourth quarter last night, though, it was Toronto’s other All-Star who carried the load. After a bench-heavy unit blew Toronto’s 10-point lead (just as they did in the first half) Lowry went on a 10-2 run to turn a three-point deficit back into a five-point lead. He assisted on the Raptors’ next two buckets, then drained a huge triple after the Kings fought back to take a 1-point lead.
Then it was Siakam time. It started with a ridiculous three-pointer after a broken play, a stepback with two defenders on him and the shot clock down:
☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️☔️ pic.twitter.com/1mpjSuBcaP— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 9, 2020
Then Siakam went inside, scoring on a beautiful drive with a soft kiss of the glass, driving and getting two at the line, then a wicked lefty layup.
Earlier in the night I was disappointed in Siakam’s lack of effort in getting to the rim, but he more than made up for it down the stretch. All told Siakam and Lowry combined to score 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the frame.
Don’t Forget Norm
Lowry and Siakam might get all the shine and the highlights from the fourth, but we can’t forget our guy Norman Powell. He was 3-for-3 for 10 points in the quarter as well.
I know I’ve written a lot about Powell this season but he just continues to impress. Last night, the way he mixed his game up was awesome. He’s shooting the lights out from downtown lately, but he’s learned to really take his threes within the flow of the offense, and work towards the hoop when the opportunities arise.
He had three straight drives in the first quarter last night, the first two drawing fouls. Then he scored on a sick transition dunk:
That opened up his game and he started stroking it from downtown, where he finished 6-for-12 on the night. He led all scorers with 31.
Remember the guy who would force shots and drive in a straight line into three bodies, over and over again? I don’t miss that guy at all, I’ll tell you that much.
How Do You Score on This?
There’ve been plenty of examples of the Raptors’ defensive prowess all season long, but I wanted to highlight this busted play in the first quarter.
Siakam goes too far under on a screen, and has to over-recover, which opens up a gives and go opportunity for Harry Giles III and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Both OG Anunoby and Norman Powell slide in to help, cutting off Bogdanovic, so he kicks it to Anunoby’s man, Harrison Barnes. But Siakam has now recovered enough to check Barnes, and Anunoby is quick enough to get back and cut off baseline. So Barnes kicks it back to Bogdanovic, who’s relocated to the three-point line... but Siakam is quick enough to get back and contest, and the shot goes long.
Siakam essentially made three mistakes on this play: Went under the screen, went for the pump fake, and then sat out in no man’s land too long. But he still made two fantastic recoveries that forced Sacramento into a tough shot.
Gonna Need More from the Rooks
Terence Davis and Matt Thomas are not doing themselves, or Raptors Twitter, any favours.
Once again both undrafted rookies were sub-par last night, and although Patrick McCaw was equally subpar (or far worse, if we’re being honest), Nick Nurse isn’t going to replace McCaw’s minutes with Davis or Thomas if those two don’t show up.
At this point I’m resigned to the McCaw minutes, and their sheer nightmare fuel (McCaw was a -22 at one point last night, in a game in which the Raptors twice led by double digits; he finished -17). But I really, really wish Nick Nurse wouldn’t compound McCaw’s weaknesses by playing him with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Their games simply aren’t compatible at this point; neither can create for themselves or others on offense or hit open shots; on defense, McCaw is weak at the point of attack, and Hollis-Jefferson is not a rim protector and he can’t cover for McCaw’s mistakes. It’s basically three-on-five at both ends with those two out there.
I know Nick wants his team to get used to playing in adverse situations but this is a bit much.
Oh, Hello, Old Demons
Give up critical offensive rebounds? Poorly timed fouls? Inability to inbound the basketball late?
If you were playing “how will the Raptors lose in crushing fashion” bingo, you were one “failed to execute play and get off a shot” stamp away from winning! Thankfully, Luke Walton declined to insert Buddy Hield, only his best three-point shooter, into the lineup for his team’s final shot, and the Kings settled for a terrible look from Nemanja Bjelica.
I’m reminded yet again of how different this Raptors team is. In years past those mistakes would have sunk them; players would hang their heads and flub the next play and the Raptors would lose. This team? They make mistakes, sure, but they rarely ever compound those mistakes — they typically recover the make the right play the next opportunity.
It’s very refreshing, I must say, and something I am enjoying getting used to.
It’s a quick turnaround and a potential schedule loss in Utah tonight. If anyone can defy the odds and win in this situation, it’s the defending champions, but unless they get a little bit more from their bench, it could be a long night in Utah.