VANCOUVER, B.C – The Toronto Raptors opened up their 2014 pre-season schedule against the Sacramento Kings at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Canada’s only NBA team travelled to the west coast earlier this week to set up training camp and promote ‘We The North’ and Toronto Raptors basketball. The Raptors had 18,900 fans on the edge of their seats as Vancouver got to walk down memory lane and experience the NBA back in Vancouver. The defending Atlantic Division champions scored 31 points in the fourth quarter and defeated the Sacramento Kings 99-94.
All-star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan showed zero rust as he led all scorers with 21 points in 21 minutes. The Compton, California native, will be counted on to carry the Raptors back to the playoffs and well beyond the first round. DeRozan’s back court teammate, Kyle Lowry finished with 5 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes. Toronto’s fast court break will be dependant on the success of Lowry, and DeRozan. With opponents looking to target the Raptors dynamic duo it will also be important for players like Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Terrance Ross, and Tyler Hansbrough to contribute and elevate their game.
The atmosphere and roar of the crowd no doubt played a part in the slow start from the Kings. The visitors quickly got behind 7-0 after tip-off. Former Toronto Raptors small forward, Rudy Gay was booooed every time he touched the ball and it appeared to catch him off guard. Gay did not fair particularly well from the field. He shot 3/11 and finished with 9 points, 3 assists, and 2 blocks in 24 minutes of action. The Kings can’t afford to have any off nights from Rudy Gay if they hope to finish out of the Pacific Division basement this season.
As Vancouver got behind the Toronto Raptors they also showed support for Nik Stauskas. The Mississauga, Ontario rookie was drafted 8th overall by the Kings in the 2014 NBA draft. Stauskas had been a stand-out in the NCAA during his two seasons with the Michigan Wolverines. Stauskas played primarily on the perimeter and was used as a three-point sharp shooter. He drained an early three pointer and had 12 points. Stauskas felt his confidence grow and that helped him shake off his nervous jitters.
“I was a little nervous coming into the game, but once I hit my first shot I kind of settled in a little bit. I had some turnovers throughout the game, basic defensive mistakes, but I think as a rookie for my first game I just did a good job of trying to come in and be aggressive.”
Fellow Canadian rookie, Sim Bhullar did not check into the game until the final 20 seconds. Despite not earning an official statistic the 7’5, Bhullar was thrilled to be able to step onto the court in front of his family and friends who have supported him along the way.
“I was happy I got a chance to play. It’s always good to hear the ovation from the crowd, it’s special. I’m definitely happy, it was a good feeling when I went into the game. I’m happy I got the time that I got.”
Before getting into third quarter foul trouble, DeMarcus Cousins had an impact on the game. The 6’11 Centre delivered a thunderous dunk that would make Terrance Ross jealous. Cousins was a big presence in the paint and he ended his night 5/9 from the floor with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers, and 5 fouls in 21 minutes.
The main concerns for the Raptors in this game featured a lacklustre third quarter and poor rebounding. Toronto came out absolutely flat and gassed when both teams returned for the second half. All the momentum that had been built-in the first half was gone. Sacramento scored 33 points in the third quarter and at one point had a 65-60 lead. The Kings out rebounded the Raptors 45-30 and had 13 offensive rebounds. In 2014 Toronto finished 29th in getting to the rim. An improvement in cleaning up the glass will be imperative if Toronto wants to improve defensively this season.
The Raptors were able to get back in the game with a strong fourth quarter. Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez and Tyler Hansbrough provided a spark and much-needed energy off the bench. The crowd never left the Raptors side, but just for a moment the Kings looked sharp and poised to cause an upset. Venezuelan point guard Greivis Vasquez talked about the tight fourth quarter defense Toronto showed and how that helped them secure the win.
“We played hard, we relaxed maybe just a little bit defensively at times. In the fourth quarter we had nine out of ten stops and it really helped us get the win. Our identity is to play defense so we’ve got to play that. We’re pretty deep in every position. It was fun just to be out there.”
‘We The North’ was on display in Vancouver and the fans came out to support the Raptors, Kings and the NBA Canada Series. Vancouver may never see an NBA team return to the city, but on this occasion it was not a pipe dream.
Game Stats Toronto Raptors – Sacramento Kings
First Quarter Points: 20 – 17
Second Quarter Points: 27 – 25
Third Quarter Points: 21 – 33
Fourth Quarter Points: 31 – 19
Final Score: 99 – 94
Toronto Raptors Leaders: Points – DeMar DeRozan (21), Rebounds – Amir Johnson (5), Assists – Greivis Vasquez (8), Steals – Lou Williams (3).
Sacramento Kings Leaders: Points – Ramon Sessions (14), Rebounds – Reggie Evans (13), Assists – Darren Collison (6), Steals – DeMarcus Cousins (2).
Toronto Raptors Starting Lineup: PG Kyle Lowry, SG DeMar DeRozan, SF Terrance Ross, PF Amir Johnson, C Jonas Valanciunas.
Sacramento Kings Starting Lineup: PG Darren Collison, SG Ben McLemore, SF Rudy Gay, PF Jason Thomson, C DeMarcus Cousins.
Notes: NBA Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas received a standing ovation during the second quarter.