The Toronto Raptors played about as complete a game as they’ve played all season tonight, with solid play on both ends of the floor and contributions from up and down the roster.
Of course, their opponent was the lowly Sacramento Kings, so it’s a little hard to take too much away from Toronto’s 124-101 blowout win. But a W is a W, and it was a much-needed one that gave the Raptors a winning record on their seven game homestead, and brings them one step closer to a .500 record overall.
While no one Raptor stood out from a scoring perspective, Scottie Barnes put his stamp all over this one, with 16 points, four boards, two assists and five blocks. He’s responded extremely well to Nick Nurse’s challenge that he start games better; he was 4-for-5 with nine points by the time the second-quarter clock hit 10 minutes. After the game, Nurse himself said that Scottie’s D is hugely advantageous, and that it should be even more impressive when the team is healthy.
Welcome to the SB4 block party pic.twitter.com/YY0Pns7eCU— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 14, 2021
Chris Boucher ultimately led the Raptors in scoring with 17; Yuta Watanabe came off the bench and notched his first career double-double, with 12 points and 10 boards.
Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox led all scorers with 29. Former Raptor Alex Len, starting for the injured, Richaun Holmes, scored 12 and was a presence on the glass early.
Team-wise, if one thing stood out tonight for Toronto, it was the play of the team’s much-maligned second unit. Much like they did a week ago against Washington, the reserves were huge-difference maker tonight, especially in units led by Barnes with four subs.
Post-game, Nick Nurse cited the group’s pace and energy as difference makers; he said the group was cutting hard and running hard and it was “a heck of a run they put on.”
The Raptors let everyone in the building know what was in store right after the opening tip. After the teams traded empty halfcourt possessions, the Raptors started turning the Kings over every trip down the floor. Four straight takeaways and five buckets plus one foul shot later, the Raptors were up 11-0. Siakam, Barnes, Trent and Boucher all scored in the run.
The Kings hung weren’t quite ready to nap, it seemed, as they fought back to within one with a 10-0 run of their own. The made buckets significantly slowed the Raptors down, as their halfcourt offense looked stuck in mud, and their subsequent late-clock shots weren’t dropping. But five straight points from VanVleet put the Raptors up six, and that set the stage for the first big run from Toronto’s bench. Led by Dalano Banton, who racked up four points, six assists, and two rebounds in 8.5 minutes, Toronto’s reserves — Banton, Yuta, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Justin Champagnie, joined by starter Barnes — jumped all over the Kings bridging the first and second quarters, to the tune of a 20-7 run that pushed Toronto’s lead to 19.
It was Banton’s best game of the homestead: he was penetrating, dishing, and finding his way to the hoop with ease. Unfortunately, he didn’t play in the second half; Nick Nurse said he wasn’t feeling well, and wouldn’t be traveling to Brooklyn (the team confirmed it’s a non-COVID related illness.
As the starters filtered back in to close out the second, Chris Boucher found all the seams, once again excelling in role as roll man. He scored six straight points at one point to push the lead to 24. A VanVleet three soon made it 27 and the Raptors went into halftime with a 70-45 lead.
While credit goes to the defense, holding the Kings to just 45 points on 36% shooting in the half, the Kings... well, they’re the Kings. At least five of their nine turnovers were unforced, and they showed no interest in getting back in transition; the Raptors had 16 fast break points by halftime.
The starters also looked a little sluggish after halftime. After scoring just five points in the first four-and-half-minutes, it looked like the Kings might be poised to make a run. But Fred VanVleet scored five straight points to settle things, and although the raptors didn’t quite have the same energy in the third, the Kings, once again, are the Kings, and they struggled to put together any kind of a run. Barnes was the only starter to see the floor in the fourth, and came out halfway through after a Champagnie dunk pushed the lead to 29.
The real story of the fourth, though, was Malachi Flynn. In for Banton, Flynn shook off a couple of early misses to score 14 fourth-quarter points on a variety of drives, short Js and threes, and flashed some ballhandling chops that we rarely see from him as well. With Banton out tomorrow, the team will need a similar performance from Flynn if they’re to have a shot a beating the Brooklyn Nets.
Speaking of tomorrow, thanks to the solid bench play, Fred VanVleet played just 26 minutes, and Pascal Siakam 30; that’s a nice bonus on the front end of a back-to-back. Post-game, VanVleet said it’s always good to get a couple of these blowout games in in a year (although he lamented that they used to get more...).
Tip-off in Brooklyn is at 7:30 tomorrow.