Streak of misfortune reality check for Raptors
It was one of those nights where everything that could go wrong did. A much-needed big man came up lame, the kids who replaced him eventually wore down against the unrelenting talent they were facing, and shots of every imaginable kind clanged off the rim, the backboard, sometimes drawing nothing but air.
There’s plenty of time for the Toronto Raptors to fix what ailed them Sunday night, but at the moment all that stings is the misery of defeat, a 96-91 loss to the Sacramento Kings that had an inevitable feel about it as the night at the Air Canada Centre progressed.
A swollen knee kept Jonas Valanciunas out of the lineup, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins eventually chewed up rookie Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira, and the Raptors continued to shoot three-pointers like they had never tried one before in seeing a three-game winning streak come to an end. It was a frustrating night for a team with expectations.
“I know I have to play better and the team has to play better,” said Kyle Lowry, who shot just 5-for-16 from the field and missed seven of the 10 three-pointers he tried. “It’s only one loss, but there’s a lot of pressure on our team because we’re one of the better teams, and I put a lot of pressure on myself because I’m one of our better players.
“We just have to play better as a group and myself individually.”
Offence was an issue. The Raptors shot just 36 per cent from the floor and made only seven of 30 threepoint attempts. The absence of Valanciunas hurt, primarily because the Kings had little regard for Poeltl and Nogueira and loaded up the coverage on Toronto’s major scoring threats.
“There’s a lot to learn from the way they were guarding me and Kyle — what to expect in the screen-androlls, what the bigs are supposed to do, what to do on the weak side, small things like that,” said DeMar DeRozan, who was held to 23 points and shot just 7-for-20 from the floor, ending his streak of 30-point performances at five. “It’s a great learning tool for us.”
Valanciunas, listed as day-to-day with knee swelling from an incident last week that he says he can’t remember, would have been nice to have to battle Cousins, who shredded Toronto for 22 points and 14 rebounds. Poeltl, Nogueira and rookie Pascal Siakam did what they could, but they were over-matched.
“They played as well as you can against Cousins. He’s one of the hardest matchups that you can have in the NBA,” coach Dwane Casey said of Cousins. “His physicality, his speed and quickness, his ability to score, draw fouls is uncanny. That’s a tough matchup for any big player. I thought Poeltl did a good job until he got into foul trouble, and then he got tentative like most guys do.”
It was always going to be a season of learning for the Toronto rookies, who have been force-fed more minutes thanks to an injury to Jared Sullinger and a sore ankle that cost Nogueira his spot in the rotation.
For the most part, the two kids have been good to very good, lauded for their savvy and their work ethic. The sting of a loss notwithstanding, they’ll take something away from Sunday as well.
“I gotta live with that,” Poeltl said of the fouls that limited him to 181⁄
2 minutes. “Some of them are stupid fouls on my part, and some of them are a little cheap where I can’t really do anything about it. But the way I gotta approach it is, take away the stupid fouls I’m making and all of a sudden I’m not in foul trouble anymore, because I can take the one or two fouls that maybe aren’t too much contact. I can take that and still be out there on the court.”
NBA scoring leader DeMar DeRozan’s streak of 30-point games was snapped. He finished 7 for 20 from the floor.
Raptors rookie Jakob Poeltl tangles with Kings centre DeMarcus Cousins in the second half of Sunday’s game.