10 things: Raptors no-show on defence in unacceptable loss to Kings

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·7 min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 126-124 loss to the Sacramento Kings.

One — Tough: Is it really playing below your competition when the competition is better than you? The Raptors gave a half-assed effort against the Kings, who are so porous on defense that the Raptors still managed 124 points in one of their worst performances of the year, and still it wasn’t nearly enough as the Kings led for the entire second half. The Raptors have played hard and lost this season plenty of times. This wasn’t one of those nights. This was just an embarrassing display from a team that should be better than this. We have been saying this all season, and it’s past the quarter mark of the year, so maybe that’s just who they are, and perhaps the loss isn’t that surprising. It could be as simple as the better team won.

Two — Scramble: The only time the Raptors were remotely interested in competing was in the fourth quarter when they launched a late comeback that fell just short. That is more a reflection on how weak the Kings are than anything else because any competent team would have buried the Raptors by the final quarter. Nick Nurse searched all night for five players who would compete defensively, and finally found it with DeAndre’ Bembry and Yuta Watanabe who hustled for the full 12 minutes. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet both missed wide open threes on the same possession which would have forced a one-point game, before the Kings responded with a pull-up three from Harrison Barnes and a dagger triple from rookie Tyrese Haliburton. It was all free throws and fouls from that point on.

Three — Frustration: Lowry was thrown out for the second time this week, this time for saying something to a referee who told Nurse that it was “something that she couldn’t let go by.” Lowry had been jawing with her throughout the game, picking up a tech in the first quarter, and was ultimately thrown out with just four seconds left. Lowry is often hard on officials, picking at them both to earn favourable calls or even as a motivational tactic, but it’s unacceptable to have that lead to ejection, particularly twice in three games.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 29: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors looks on during a game against the Sacramento Kings at Amalie Arena on January 29, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
The Raptors fell short against the Kings on Friday for their third straight loss. (Getty)

Four — Amateur: The assistant coaches should show this entire game in the next film session because there were mistakes on just about every other play. There was a missed dunk and a missed layup, both wasting great setups from Lowry. Closeouts were excessive and jumpy where defenders left their feet to give up driving lanes and cheap free throws. The Raptors would turn the ball over and bleed layups right after timeouts. Players just repeatedly getting beat off the dribble with no help at the basket. The Kings got wide-open dunks against a zone defense. Elite shooters like Buddy Hield were just left open repeatedly. The Raptors made so many mistakes that you would never think half this team contributed towards a championship, or even that they were second overall on defense last season. They played the kind of defense that the Kings would be embarrassed with.

Five — Random: Norman Powell and OG Anunoby were out, so Nurse had to scramble yet again to rebuild his rotation. He started with Terence Davis, and went with his usual combination of Chris Boucher and Stanley Johnson off the bench, but it quickly unravelled. Davis got into foul trouble as usual, and Boucher was getting waxed in the matchup against Hassan Whiteside. So Nurse scrambled his rotation, tried to match Whiteside’s minutes with Aron Baynes, but then pulled the plug on that and went to a zone. Then he called for Paul Watson for apparent defensive duties against De’Aaron Fox, but Fox just blew past Watson for a layup and Watson’s night was over in 10 seconds. Matt Thomas was summoned off the bench, and he showed why he was buried in the first place with his defense being even worse than Watson’s. Nurse finally settled on any five guys who were willing to defend for the fourth quarter, but by then it was too late.

Six — Professionalism: Not all of it is on Nurse. After all, if players aren’t performing, then he needs to think on the fly and go to the next option. It’s the players who are ultimately responsible for being ready when called upon. Davis wasn’t ready to defend, picking up two fouls in his first shift while his assignment Barnes had 26 points to lead the Kings. Boucher was always at a disadvantage against the bigger Whiteside, but that doesn’t explain why he missed point-blank shots or why Whiteside was allowed to essentially stuff him into a locker like a high school bully. Thomas was the worst offender, as every single Kings player drove by him like a kiss-and-ride zone, especially on consecutive sequences where career backup Cory Joseph whizzed past Thomas like Allen Iverson against Antonio Daniels. Players need to be ready to perform, especially on a night where more minutes were up for grabs.

Seven — Insistent: Pascal Siakam got whatever he wanted on the inside against the Kings, and it was strange that he didn’t check back into the game until less than four minutes to go in the fourth. The Kings tried Whiteside, Marvin Bagley, Richaun Holmes, and an assortment of guards against Siakam, but he spun, dipped, faked, and stretched past them all. Siakam even collected two driving dunks and matched his season-high in free-throw attempts at 14. There were some sloppy moments early on with Siakam failing to make the right read or forcing mid-range jumpers after taking a dozen useless dribbles, but for the most part it was a good performance. Siakam is always so much better when he is decisive and insistent on getting to the basket instead of trying to think his way through an isolation on the perimeter.

Eight — Tired: The biggest bright spot from this game was the performance of Yuta Watanabe, who was the main driving force behind the Raptors’ comeback along with Lowry. Watanabe’s energy always pops against the general morass of basketball in an empty arena, but especially so on a night where the Raptors weren’t engaged. Watanabe worked tirelessly on the glass and took on the challenge of guarding players who were much bigger or much quicker than him. This was also Watanabe’s best game offensively, including a hard driving layup in crunch time with a lefty finish over Whiteside’s contest at the basket. If anything, there are opportunities that Watanabe is leaving on the table where he could look to score, but that’s hardly a problem. The Raptors have enough shoot-first players, and not enough players like Watanabe who clock in every night with the intent on doing the dirty work.

Nine — Together: One simple fix for the Raptors would be to simply communicate with one another. They are often undersized so there is nobody at the basket to erase mistakes, therefore it’s imperative that they work together to collectively get stops. They were much better against a tougher opponent in Milwaukee earlier this week, but this was another letdown similar to the second game against Indiana. If the Raptors have any hope of being decent this season, they need to be tied together on defense, rather than this messy display against the Kings.

Ten — Perspective: The last time the Raptors were 7-12 was immediately after the Rudy Gay trade. That deal was intended as the start of a rebuild, except the Raptors finished the year on a 42-22 run to set what was then a record for wins in the regular season. There was a redundancy at the time between Gay and DeMar DeRozan on the wing, and Gay was taking (and missing) so many shots that were better served for the Raptors’ prospects. You can read into the parallels between 2013 and 2021, or you can ignore them, but the answer is the same. The front office needs to make a move because this isn’t acceptable.

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