For some reason, the Toronto Raptors have brought out the best in the Sacramento Kings this season. In easily their most impressive road effort of the season, the Kings started the game guns blazing to build a 20 point first quarter lead. That lead, naturally, wouldn't last, but it gave the Kings just enough cushion to hold the charging Raptors off the rest of the game.
Rajon Rondo had, in my opinion, one of his best games of the season. Besides his customary sublime playmaking with 13 assists, he also scored the ball at a terrific clip, dropping 19 points on 13 shots. But he was absolutely spectacular on defense today. Rondo talked about setting an example defensively after the Minnesota loss, and boy did he deliver. He put Kyle Lowry in basketball jail the entire night before Lowry blew his top and got himself ejected from the game. He also played great defense on DeMar DeRozan, who was red hot to start the game but only shot 4/12 in the second half. This was Rondo's best defensive performance of the season, edging out the job he did on Steph Curry earlier this season.
In fact, I would say most of the Kings team was awesome defensively tonight. The rotations were crisp and the concepts were fantastic. The Kings didn't overreact to postups, staying home for the most part and making mediocre post players make tough shots over them. The switching was on-point tonight; Rondo, Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Omri Casspi, and Rudy Gay all brought terrific defensive pressure tonight, and the switching between those players was solid. The Raptors scored only 94 points, shooting 37% from the field and 27% from three.
The Raptors stayed in the game mostly because of great shotmaking by their star guard duo. DeRozan in particular was on fire in the first half, making tough shots in the paint and unguardable midrange fadeaways on his way to 28 points. In the second half. it was James Johnson and Patrick Patterson, two former Kings, who came back to haunt their old team. Johnson made some really difficult shots around the paint, usually against some smaller defenders, showing off his talent that drove most of his coaches mad. Patterson took advantage of Cousins' discomfort defending the perimeter, moving around all over the court and getting open for threes. The Raptors were also able to beat the Kings on the glass for 13 offensive rebounds; as long as the Kings are playing Gay and Casspi together on the court, they are going to be vulnerable on the glass when Cousins has to go contest shooters.
In the fourth quarter, Cousins came alive. The Raptors tried to get away with a Luis Scola/Patterson frontcourt, and the Kings made them pay. This was a D+ game for DeMarcus Cousins standards, but he still led the team with a +33 in 32 minutes. Even if he wasn't scoring efficiently, he was dishing the ball with 5 assists and limited his bad mistakes with only 2 turnovers. With Rondo on the court, the Kings had few problems getting the ball to Cousins in the post where he was able to pick apart the Raptors defense to spoil any attempts at a comeback.
- Marco Belinelli is not justifying his minutes on the court right now. He hasn't shot the ball well and is easily the worst defender in the rotation. Yet Karl keeps dumping minutes into him. Ben McLemore had a nice game, scoring 12 points in 19 minutes, shooting 50% from three and playing some very solid defense. Yet Belinelli trumped him with 25 minutes. Karl is trying to get Belinelli going but if McLemore is playing well he needs to be on the court.
- The Raptors did a solid job guarding the Rondo pocket pass. And yet Rondo still had 13 assists. The Rondo pass is very close to becoming unguardable, and Rondo took advantage of the space that gives him to score around the rim with some spectacular layups
- Terrance Ross came in the game and took 10 threes, hitting three. The ball didn't stay in his hands for longer than five seconds before it was launched.
- This was another really weird game. Cousins got a technical for tossing his headband into the stands. Karl got a technical for arguing... I actually don't even know what he was upset about. Lowry got ejected for an obvious foul he committed on Boogie, but mostly because he was frustrated all night.
- The Kings rebounding is really concerning. Despite shooting 52% to the Raptors' 37%, they still got outrebounded. Karl has a propensity to play small at the 3 and 4 positions for long spurts of time, which hurts the Kings on the glass. I'm not sure there is a good fix at this moment. The best they can do is to instruct Casspi and Gay to crash the glass hard when Cousins contests a perimeter shot and just pray the damage is minimal.
After the Minnesota loss, the Kings had some soul-searching to do. If they really want to be a playoff team, they need to show this kind of intensity every night. They have the potential to do it, we just need to see it more consistently.
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