Spend some time moving around the city and the there is definitely a warm and fuzzy feeling starting to take seed when it comes to the Toronto Raptors.
And it is all rather amusing considering that the Raptors, despite having won eight of nine games heading into Friday night’s encounter against the Sacramento Kings at the Air Canada Centre, were still a rather unappealing 12-20 on the season.
And nobody knows better than head coach Dwane Casey, whose job was felt to be hanging in the balance as recently as two weeks ago, that this recent run of good fortune means little unless the team can maintain the momentum.
Casey’s point was driven home rather forcefully by the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins, their battering ram of a centre, who showed the Raptors just how far they still have to go before they can seriously be considered a true threat in the National Basketball Association.
With Cousins bulling his way to a 31-point and 20-rebound evening, the Kings (13-20) pulled away with a dominating third quarter effort to register a 105-96 victory over the Raptors (12-21), who lost for the first time in six games at the ACC.
“We were just flat as a pancake,” Casey said after the decisive Sacramento triumph. “We had no answer for Cousins inside.”
The third frame was Toronto’s undoing, getting pummeled 28-10 that allowed the Kings to head into the fourth with an insurmountable 82-63 advantage.
And things don’t get any easier for the Raptors, who on Sunday will entertain the Oklahoma City Thunder, who merely possess the NBA’s best winning record.
Kyle Lowry came off the bench to lead Toronto with 24 points.
Before Friday’s game, Casey was ruminating that, despite Toronto’s unexpected recent turnaround, the Raptors have not proven anything to anybody yet.
“We’re still 12 and 20, I’m not jumping up and down throwing snowballs,” was the delightful way Casey termed the scenario.
Casey said that it is great that basketball has finally created a bit of a buzz around the city.
But he agreed it might also have something to do with the fact that there has been no daily drama of the Toronto Maple Leafs to steal away from the Raptors thunder.
“I’m not blind to the fact that we’re a hockey city,” Casey said. “I understand that.”
Casey also understood that in order to be successful Friday night the Raptors would somehow have to shackle Cousins, Sacramento’s hulking centre who the Toronto coach described as one of the “top bigs” in the game today.
The Raptors were dismally unsuccessful in that regard, as Cousins threw down 16 of his total, to go with seven rebounds, in a disjointed opening half where neither team played what could be described as clean basketball.
To give you an idea how bad the Raptors were struggling, they only made 50 per cent of their free throw attempts (9-for-18) in the first half.
Toronto finished the game a little better, hitting on 67.6 per cent (25 of 37) of their freebies while shooting a feeble 38 per cent (30 of 79) of their field goal attempts compared to 52.6 per cent (40 of 76) by the Kings.
“We made our bed, we slept in it,” was how Casey summed up the overall lethargic performance.
The Raptors have looked better, at one stage in the second quarter leading by as many as eight points before Sacramento closed on a 8-0 run to grab the advantage.
Nothing went right for the Raptors to start the third where the Kings stretched that run to 20 points for a 66-53 advantage.
Lumbering Toronto centre Aaron Gray muffed a couple of gimmes from in close and Mickael Pietrus compounded things when his cross-court pass ended up in the courtside seats for a turnover, one of 15 for the night for the the Raptors.
At one stage late in the quarter, Cousins curled the ball up in his big right arm near the top of the key like a fullback in football and powered past Ed Davis and finished at the rim with a dunk.
Not even the presence of Jose Bautista and Adam Lind of the Toronto Blue Jays, who tossed mini-basketballs to the crowd during a break in the action, was enough to perk up Toronto’s play.
Maybe Amir Johnson had the right idea, being able to watch most of the fourth quarter unfold from the privacy of the locker room after fouling out with just over eight minutes left to play.