- The stat-line from Cousins says it all: 36 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks on 22 shots including 3-6 from 3 (!) and 9-12 from the free-throw line. They were +15 in his 41 minutes in a game they won by 6 points. They couldn't afford to not have him out there for any amount of time - he's just that good and he affects the game in so many ways.
- Jonas Valanciunas is a good young C who provides a lot of value on both sides of the ball and he got demolished. Cousins repeatedly stoned him in the post, pushed him off his spots and held him to 2-9 shooting. On the other end of the floor, the Raptors didn't even bother putting Jonas on him and started the game with Luis Scola guarding him, a completely hopeless match-up. Cousins can guard the other team's C and they can't guard him, which can force the other coach into a lot of line-up contortions. That's why Jonas only played 20 minutes tonight - they had to leave Bismack Biyombo in the game the entire 4Q to give someone who even had a chance of matching up with him.
- Cousins has apparently decided to turn himself into a face-up 4 this season and the amazing part is how well it's working. He's knocking down transition 3's and he's forcing other teams to guard him out on the three-point line. From there, he can take guys off the dribble and use his length to Eurostep to the basket and finish from funky angles around the rim. Guys who are 6'11 270 should not be able to move like DMC and they shouldn't be that smooth with the ball in his hands.
- I don't blame him for not playing much in the post because he's just going to get double teamed and the Kings don't have a lot of shooters to spread the floor for him. It's much easier for him to see the double teams when he's facing up and taking guys off the dribble and he can make all the passes in the book, although he does tend to force the issue sometimes and turn the ball over.
- What can't Cousins do? He can shoot 3's, create his own shot off the bounce, score with his back to the basket, create shots for his teammates, dominate the glass and protect the rim. His presence on the floor almost single-handedly makes the Kings a legitimate team. He's playing like the best C in the league so the real question is just how good he is in relation to everyone in the league. He's a Top 10 player for sure and the way he is playing right now you could make the argument that he's a Top 5 player.
- The question for the Kings is can they space the floor around Cousins and what frontcourt player does the best job of complementing him? They played Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, Quincy Acy, Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay at the 4 on Sunday. There's room for a lot of different combinations when you play Cousins almost the entire game.
- They closed the game with Gay, Marco Bellinelli, Ben McLemore and Rajon Rondo next to DMC because you almost have to have a max spacing configuration from the other 2 spots with Rondo and Gay out there. I liked Bellinelli and McLemore together because that gives them two guards who have to be guarded out to the 3-point line and who can put the ball on the floor and make plays off the bounce. If the Kings are going to be a good team this season, that's a combo that is going to have to work for them.
- You got the full Rajon Rondo experience in this one. Toronto basically wasn't guarding him. There were two times in transition when he was bringing the ball up the floor and no one picked him up. He literally took the ball to the front of the rim without encountering any defensive resistance. (He went 1-2) The amazing thing about him scoring 7 points on 3-10 shooting is they were mostly wide-open shots. It was like he was playing in an empty gym on offense.
- Eventually Rondo started standing by the front of the rim which is crazy because it's almost impossible to force the ball into a 6'1 guy in that spot. He had 14 assists but he also had 7 turnovers because he was constantly forcing the ball into really tight spots - he had no other choice since he wasn't trying to shoot the ball. He's still really good at finding guys in transition but he just destroys your spacing in the half-court. The amazing thing about the Kings win streak is they've been playing Rondo almost the entire game during it.
- George Karl clearly doesn't trust Seth Curry. The problem is defense - he had no chance of guarding Cory Joseph. He's not very big and he can't press up on guys without giving up lanes to the basket. It's all about match-ups for Curry and the Raptors 2 PG line-ups put Karl in a tough bind when it comes to finding minutes for his backup PG. They could get going when they get Darren Collison back.
- Rudy Gay had 27 points on 16 shots in 37 minutes. Demarre Carroll is supposed to be a defensive stopper and he couldn't bother Gay at all. Gay shot over the top of him and created easy looks at the basket whenever he wanted and then got free a few times when Carroll lost him going through screens. You can see the outline of plan in Sacramento - let Cousins and Gay dominate the ball and score in isolations and hope you can put enough defense around them to survive.
- Willie Cauley-Stein left the game in the 1Q because of a concussion but he showed some promise in the limited time he was out there. The Kings were switching every P/R he was involved in, which was a good way to maximize his skill-set. He's a 7'0 who moves like a guard who can block shots around the rim and defend on the perimeter. Using him in that role is a great way to stifle an offense and he'd be amazing in an all-switching line-up like they use in Golden State or Milwaukee. Sacramento still needs to figure out how they are going to use him on offense but Cousins becoming a 3-point shooter does make that easier.
The Raptors probably should have won this game. They were in control for most of it but this was a classic example of a good team without a superstar losing because they had no one who could match his impact on both sides of the ball. They couldn't guard Cousins and he made them a one-dimensional team on offense by shutting down the paint and preventing them from getting any points on Jonas V post-ups.
- I was going to say this was a better DeMar DeRozan game than I'm usually accustomed to seeing in terms of him not holding the ball and not settling for too many mid-range jumpers and looking to set everyone else up. Then I look at the boxscore and he had 24 points on 22 shots and 5 assists on 4 turnovers. They do a good job of spacing the floor around him but I can't say I'm a terribly big fan of a SG who can't shoot 3's who needs the ball in his hands and takes a ton of contested long 2's. He's a pretty good playmaker who draws a lot of fouls and he can play a little defense but I'm just not sure if the pluses out weight the minuses in terms of building a team around him.
- Demarre Carroll and Kyle Lowry did pretty much all their damage around the three-point line. Lowry can dribble into 3's, which makes him really tough to guard, and Carroll does a great job of moving without the ball, especially in transition. Neither one of them is a physically dominant player at their position and they can't finish over the top of some of the better rim protectors in the league, which puts a ceiling on how good they can be. Nevertheless, you do have to like two-way players who can stroke 3's and they give the Raptors a pretty solid foundation on both sides of the ball.
- I guess Luis Scola is playing well this season but I'm still not a believer. He can't guard anyone on the perimeter or protect the rim and he doesn't shoot a lot of 3's. He doesn't do a lot for you off the ball and he's no longer good enough to have a lot of offense run through him. He was -4 in 20 minutes and James Johnson was +8 in 12 minutes and I don't think that was a coincidence.
- Here's what I've been wondering for awhile with Toronto:
- I feel like Johnson is an ideal defensive 4 in the modern NBA with his ability to move his feet in space at his size. Playing JJ + Jonas V together would be a great defensive combo upfront. The problem is the domino effect because he doesn't provide a lot of spacing and the floor would get kind of clogged with JJ, Jonas and DeMar. What would happen if they took DeMar off the floor and they put another plus shooter like Terrence Ross in his spot? You would have more than enough floor spacing with Lowry, Ross and Carroll, you would have four plus defenders on the floor, you could score a lot of points going defense to offense and I'm not sure that redistributing DeRozan's possessions to everyone else would really hurt the team's efficiency all that much, especially considering how much space everyone would be playing in.
- Cory Joseph played pretty well and the 2 PG line-up of Lowry and Joseph presented a lot of problems for the Kings. He doesn't shoot a lot of 3's but he's got a pretty good jumper off the dribble game. The Raptors have a lot of two-way players on the perimeter who can get their own shot, which is a pretty good start at being a pretty good team.
Toronto has a good team but it does seem like they have hit their ceiling unless they can get more out of Valanciunas. Pairing him with a slow, non-stretch 4 like Scola isn't going to do the trick, that's for sure. Patterson is a great shooter but Johnson is the best two-way PF on this roster and the only way to make that work is to play him with three plus shooters on the perimeter. That's where committing to DeRozan really boxes you in in terms of line-up construction. If they lose again in the first round, I think the move to make is to let him walk this off-season and try something else.