TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors’ problems with consistency continue, and veteran guard Fred VanVleet said now it’s a fine line between being serious about the losses and not slipping into negativity.
The Raptors coughed up a 16-point lead en route to 124-123 loss to the Sacramento Kings, marking the first time this season they’ve lost three games in a row.
“It is up to that individual character, coming in and having short-term memory but obviously understanding that it’s not acceptable … come in and try to get better. Work on your game. Watch film and lock in,” said VanVleet. “But I believe in this group and we’ll figure it out.”
VanVleet scored a season-high 39 points for the Raptors (13-15). Scottie Barnes had 27 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while Pascal Siakam had 19 points and Gary Trent Jr. finished with 11 for the Raptors, who were without injured forward O.G. Anunoby.
De’Aaron Fox scored 27 points and Malik Monk had 24 for Sacramento (15-12), in a heated game that saw the Kings play without coach Mike Brown for most of the second half. Former Raptor Terence Davis chipped in with 19.
Anunoby, who’s having a career year on the defensive end, missed his first game of the season in Sunday’s 111-99 loss in Orlando with a left hip strain, which is expected to keep him out at least a week. With Thaddeus Young starting for Anunoby, the Raptors used a league-leading 15th different lineup this season.
Coming off a pair of ugly losses in Orlando, the Raptors led by as many as 16 points in the first half, in part because of their ball protection — they had zero turnovers, marking only the second time in franchise history they went a half without turning the ball over.
Brown was ejected with 9:09 left in the third quarter when he rushed, irate, at an official after a whistle. A couple of players and assistant coaches held him back. Fox was also slapped with a technical foul.
While it was a five-point swing for Toronto — VanVleet scored on all three of the technicals, and then the two free throws for a 73-64 lead — it injected some life into the travel-weary Kings, who were coming off a 123-103 loss in Philadelphia the previous night.
“We just had to do it for (Brown), you know?” said Kings forward Domantas Sabonis. “We’re just happy for this team to come out and have a great second half. (Brown) has our back. That was big time. I feel like that kind of changed the whole mood.”
The Raptors led 93-88 to start the fourth, but the Kings chipped away at the difference and pulled ahead on Monk’s three-pointer with 7:44 to play. Trailing by four, Barnes drilled a three from in front of the Kings bench to make it a one-point game.
Down again by five in a final minute filled with free throws, VanVleet scored twice in the last 47 seconds to pull Toronto to within two points. Fox had a single free throw with 5.9 left, and then VanVleet’s three-pointer bounced off the rim.
“I feel like we play a good two to three quarters of good basketball, and then we just let up in one of the quarters,” Barnes said.
The Kings scored on 17 three-pointers to Toronto’s six, and outrebounded the Raptors 50-39.
“It will be a good film day (Thursday) to see why we’re giving up the shots that we’ve given up: 17 threes, most often they feel like they’re wide open and in rhythm, so we got to fix that,” VanVleet said. “It’s hard to win that way, when you’re giving up that many threes and you’re not generating or making those on the other end.”
The Raptors had neither won nor lost more than two in a row this season before Wednesday.
“I feel like we, just as a collective group, as a unit, as an organization, we’re just trying to stay positive,” Barnes said. “This was a very winnable game, I feel like, we should have won this one tonight.”
Davis, who was signed by Toronto during the 2019 summer league and was traded to the Kings almost two years later, drained three three-pointers in the first quarter. But VanVleet’s finger roll with less than a second on the clock capped a 12-4 Raptors run to close the quarter, and Toronto led 31-23 to start the second.
The Raptors stretched their lead to 16 points in the second quarter, but the Kings battled back to take a one-point lead on a three by Keegan Murray 1:17 before halftime. The Raptors took a 62-59 advantage into the break.
Raptors forward Juancho Hernangomez returned after missing four games with a right ankle sprain. The Raptors remain without Precious Achiuwa (ankle) and Otto Portis Jr. (dislocated toe) … Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes was at the game.
The Raptors continue this three-game homestand when they host the Brooklyn Nets on Friday and Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press