As a rule, locker rooms are like a funeral home after a professional team loses.
Then there was the Sacramento Kings after their 124-120 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday. Nobody was jubilant, but players and coaches mostly handled the loss with a shrug. The Raptors (5-2) are, after all, the defending NBA champs, and they had a lights-out shooting night. That the Kings (2-6) had a few looks to make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter is a sign of improvement.
“Even though we lost and we’re not happy about that, we showed growth again, which I’m happy the direction we’re moving,” coach Luke Walton said. “This is a tough place to play, it’s the NBA champs and they were making a lot of shots tonight. Our guys hung in there, stayed close. A week ago, this was a game that was turning into a 25-point game, so to give ourselves a chance at the end is all you can ask for. At the end, they made shots and we missed them. You tip your hat to them; we learn from it.”
The Raptors made plenty of shots in the first half. With the Kings up 17-16 midway through the first quarter, Toronto went on a tear, finishing the quarter up 36-23. After missing their first four shots, the Raptors hit 14 straight.
During their 0-5 skid to start the season, the Kings would have folded up shop and stopped running their offense or maybe be a step slow on defense. But that didn’t happen Wednesday as the Kings kept firing away after working to get open looks from 3-point range. The Kings tied a team record with 20 three-pointers – many on wide-open looks.
“Those first few games when they went on their runs, we didn’t withstand them, and it just got worse and worse,” De’Aaron Fox said. “Today, that’s what we did. They went on a run, we were able to answer. We’d go on a run, they’d answer. That’s a good team, that’s a championship team, so you kind of expect that out of them. But I think that first quarter, we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Fox got in foul trouble early, with three in the first half. That meant extended minutes for Bogdan Bogdanovic, who responded with his best game of the season. Bogdanovic went 6-for-11 from 3-point range to rack up 22 points.
“It’s gonna happen, we just have to keep working,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s hard to beat the team over here. They are, with a recent championship team, they move the ball well and they know how to win. ... They really scored on some tough shots. It’s hard when you’re playing with five shooters.”
When the Raptors’ shooting finally went cold in the second half, they turned the ball inside to Serge Ibaka, who racked up 21 points off the bench.
In the fourth quarter, Ibaka charged down the lane and had a thunderous dunk as the Raptors seemed like they were about to go on another run. But the Kings kept hanging around, and Harrison Barnes, who scored a season-high 26 points, hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 1:11 remaining to cut the Raptors’ lead to four.
It was a gutty response from a Kings team that showed none of that poise in losing the first five games of the season.
“They were hard to get rid of,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “I can’t count how many times we got up eight, nine, and then they hit a three.”
“(The Raptors) went on runs, they would take it to 12, 13 but we came down with a composure, which is what we are talking about,” Walton said. “For us, it’s about always what are we doing next, what’s the next play that we can make for our team and tonight I thought we did a good job, even when they got up, staying within ourselves, trusting the system, trusting each other and just sticking around, close enough to make a run.”
So this is what progress looks like for the Kings. They’re 2-1 since their 0-5 start, with reason to believe they can compete with some of the best teams in the NBA.
Up next is a trip to Atlanta for a Friday tilt with the 3-4 Hawks. Asked about the Kings’ attitude coming off a loss, Fox said they’re not going to worry about falling flat.
“We’re a confident group, obviously, looking back at the five straight (losses), it didn’t look that way,” he said. “But the last three games, I think we played pretty well. You can’t win every game but I think we played well tonight and (the Raptors) played extremely well.”
Cory Joseph’s homecoming
Toronto fans know what Cory Joseph can do. The backup Kings guard grew up in a suburb and plays for Team Canada in international competition.
So it wasn’t a surprise when Joseph came off the bench to provide a spark for the Kings. Joseph scored 10 points and added four assists and four rebounds to finish with a plus-minus rating of plus-9, the best on the Kings’ roster.
His effort earned notice from Walton postgame. To do it in front of an appreciative crowd was just gravy on the fries.
“It means everything. It was great, a great moment for me. I’ll always remember it for the rest of my life,” Joseph said. “Today was Canadian Basketball Day. It’s always an honor to play for Canada and my country, which I do and take pride in it. I think I represent to the best of my ability, not even in the summertime, but during the season, too. Every time I step on the court, I’m trying to represent my country and I think for the kids looking up I’m trying to do it the right way.”