Did Toronto Pinpoint Sabonis’ Kryptonite?

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 25: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings shoots the ball during the game against the Toronto Raptors on January 25, 2023 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The visiting Toronto Raptors successfully disrupted the league’s number-one offense, defeating the Sacramento Kings by a score of 113-95.

For only the second time this season, the Kings were held below 100 points as the typical operation on offense was completely disjointed. Sacramento got up 14 less field goal attempts for a lower percentage, committed an absurd 19 turnovers for 17 points, allowed 11 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points, and surrendered 58 points in their own paint.

Kevin Huerter went 5 of 9 from deep and lead the Kings with 21 points in addition to 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Going 4 of 7 from three, Keegan Murray scored 16 points. De’Aaron Fox put up 16 points with 8 assists, and Harrison Barnes added 10 points. And Domantas Sabonis’ double-double streak came to an end as he scored just 9 points with 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

The Kings did do a nice job of committing just 12 fouls and granting Toronto only 7 free throw attempts, but the Raptors controlled this game with their relentless activity and physicality.

Pascal Siakam lead all scorers with 26 points, 11 boards, and 7 assists, and five of his other teammates got into double figure scoring. Prescious Achiuwa had 19 on 75.0% shooting and Chris Boucher had 16, both off the bench. Fred VanVleet put up 17, Gary Trent Jr. 16, and OG Anunoby put in 11.

Nick Nurse’s team got off to a great start to their seven-game road trip, totally dismantling and sabotaging any offensive production for the Kings. And meanwhile, Sacramento will embark on a seven-game roadtrip with a bad taste in their mouth after this loss at home.

“Their length, their athleticism, their switchability, their ball pressure, their physicality sped us up and we didn’t do a great job of handling that at all,” head coach Mike Brown declared plainly after the loss.

Game summary (takeaways below)

The play from both teams seemed frenetic to start, but after a second-chance three and a wide open cutting lane, coach Brown called a quick timeout. Toronto was disruptive defensively and got off to a nice start from three, but the Kings offense got in synch, generating some nice shots to get a lead past the midway point of the period on a 10-0 run. Sacramento had a 4-point lead when Sabonis checked out, but the Raptors finished the first with a 1-point lead as most statistics were fairly equal, except for the 4-1 turnover advantage for them.

While Brown was experimenting with different variations of size in his lineups to counteract Toronto’s length, the Raptors were able to hit some tough shots. Meanwhile, the Kings offense lacked flow and cleanliness, even immediately after Sabonis reentered. The Raptors’ disruptive characteristics were on full display. Plus, they kept scoring inside and grabbing offensive boards, finishing the half on an 11-5 run and reaching the 26-point mark for paint scores to lead 58-50.

Starting the second half, the Raptors got a ton of looks inside while they continued disrupting. On a 17-2 run in the quarter, they extended the lead to 20 points as their defense inhibited the Kings abilities on offense, including forcing Sabonis into 7 turnovers. By the end of the third, Sacramento had committed 14 total turnovers. And the defense helped produce their offense for Toronto as Sacramento struggled to defend the middle, especially without much offensive rhythm. The Raptors lead 84-67 after a 26-17 third.

The Kings hit some shots and played some defense, but the Raptors kept finding ways to score inside. There were a few moments where the Kings looked like they may be able to muster some kind of run that could deliver a miraculous comeback reminiscent of their game in Toronto last month, but the visitors never wavered. 

“We all got our behinds kicked, from me on down,” Brown admitted postgame.

Disjointed and dismantled

What the Raptors did in this game might have been the most effective strategy used and executed this season against this Kings offense. Of course, they have an unusual volume of lengthy and athletic guys, but they did a great job of jamming a potato in the tail pipe of this Sacramento offense.

It began with harassing Sabonis with active hands, which helped lead the all-star center to a 9-turnover night. And 7 of them came in the second half, so Nick Nurse did a great job of highlighting that area and attacking it with added force. 

Nearly every time Domas got the ball, two or three Raptors players would come together to close the gates on him. He’d have some room to breath on the perimeter, but as soon as he got the ball around the paint or dribbled in there, the clamps were put on him

The same was seen when he tried to find scores for himself as he got blocked and bothered by the perfectly executed defensive help.

More than just pressing the big man, they also did their best to drop back in coverage and clog up most passing lanes. Worse, the looks Toronto was showing him on the offensive end seemed to force Sabonis to look like somebody else, looking sloppy and sometimes making poor or mistimed decisions.

De’Aaron Fox was no exception to this treatment. He committed 4 turnovers himself, one due to a convergence of defenders, two because of well-defended passes, and another due to well applied ball pressure.

In addition to 13 turnovers from Sacramento’s two stars, Toronto also benefitted from an additional 6.

Without any ability to find an offensive rhythm, the defense had little chance of making up for the lack of production. With all the turnovers and disruptions, the defense hardly had time to get set and offer Toronto the toughest look possible.

In short, as the Raptors played complimentary basketball to a tee, the Kings could find no continuity between the two ends of the floor. 

Really, it was an ugly performance, and not it the typical fashion. This was more than ugly, this was disheartening. Usually, ugly games look like the Laker game in the first week of this month where Sac lost 134-136; it’s typically due to a larger than normal lapse on the defensive end. In this one, there appeared to be little hope on offense, the side of the ball the Kings lead the NBA in.

Of course, one shouldn’t expect this to happen too often; Toronto has a unique roster filled with length and athleticism, it is therefore reasonable for them to have the potential to be this disruptive on defense. 

Still, given the success of the offense thus far, it’s safe to say the league has a limited range of options to soundly counteract this offense, but Toronto may have written a book on it. It’s one game, but it did a good job of acutely highlighting some potential tricks teams may be able to apply in games against the Kings.

As James Ham noted in his postgame question to coach Brown, Sabonis also had 8 turnovers on Monday against the Grizzlies. One has to wonder whether this is strategy—of bringing physical pressure Domas’ way—will continue to be employed after two straight games that forced a total of 17 turnovers. It’s hard to argue that it won’t be.

An abrupt end to Sabonis’ double-double streak

It really felt like the streak of 23 consecutive double-double’s for Domantas Sabonis would never come to an end. In practically every game, he’s well on his way to one by the end of the first quarter, even flirting with triple-double’s a fair amount of the time.

So for it to just end in the blink of an eye as it did Wednesday night against the Raptors was a bit of a surprise. Obviously, considering what was laid out above, it’s easy to envision what was different about this game, but it nevertheless felt easy to take for granted the nightly double-double’s.

It was a real damn shame because if Sabonis had gotten a few more, he would have pulled within 200 double-double’s of Wilt Chamerlain’s record where he posted 227 in a row between 1964 and 1967.

In terms of post-merger records, Kevin Love’s 53 in a row was already more than halfway cut into.

As unfortunate as it is, there’s little doubt that another double-double streak will ensue for Sabonis. 

Lineup experimentation

With Chimezie Metu promptly back after his knee injury last week and with Richaun Holmes playing with rejuvenated effort, the matter of who would play the backup 5 was something to keep an eye on in this game. 

Most would have been prone to think it was still Metu’s job, and while that proved mostly correct, things got interesting in terms of some of the lineups.

However, minutes into the game, when the first substitutions were made, it was Metu checking in alongside Davion Mitchell, going out to play alongside Sabonis. A bit later, Trey Lyles entered at the typical interval for the reserve center as he came in for Domas. And at the start of the second quarter, Holmes was out there with them.

Holmes did not have any minutes in the second half, but coach Mike Brown appeared to be trying to find ways to counter the tremendous length of the Raptors. It was a decent attempt given the Kings do utilize better size than Toronto that also contains a considerable level of athleticism, but it did not yield the most optimal results.

The most interesting aspect of this lineup experimentation was utilizing Chimezie Metu as something other than an undersized 5. It really appeared they just tried to put forth the most length and athleticism they had, which Metu embodies well.

It was odd then that Brown didn’t try KZ Okpala or PJ Dozier given that little else was working, but the Kings apparently view Metu as an intriguing piece, which is to say they see multiple uses for him.

Right now, that means he’ll continue to hold down the backup 5—presumably at least—but if the Kings do indeed acquire a true reserve for Sabonis, such as a Mason Plumlee or Nerlens Noel, then the coaching staff may be able to experiment with and utilize Metu’s length and athleticism outside the context of the center position.

Going forward

Say goodbye to The Golden 1 Center for awhile, the Kings won’t play in Sacramento for the next two weeks. Instead, they’ll be condemned to the dreaded seven-game roadtrip, which from the outset of the season always stood out as one of their most arduous tasks.

The Kings start off in Minnesota, where they’ll stick around for a few days, playing two games against the Timberwolves in a three-night span. Saturday will be the first contest and it will be the second of a back-to-back for Chris Finch’s team.

After winning on the road against the Pelicans on Wednesday night, the T-Wolves are now 9-4 in the month of January. Over these previous 13 games, Minnesota has a top-ten offense despite ranking near the bottom for most of the season prior to the change in the calendar.

Fans saw how Toronto was able to get off on the right foot in Sacramento as they began their seven-game roadie, so the Kings will have to look to do the same and prevent any of the clunky play from carrying over.

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Dan Smith
8 months ago

Nice recap, enjoyed reading it! Didn’t realize Minny had been playing that good in Jan, even without KAT. Could be bad news as they’ve had our number the past 10 matchups…not sure what they officially are, maybe 7-3 against us. They usually beat us on their home court, if I remember right. But maybe we’ll get lucky with them being on B2B.
A shame about Domas losing his streak. I was hoping he’d get a couple more to pass Jokic for 3rd longest streak next to Westbrook at 36 a few years ago and Love.