There just was no end in sight as the Raptors went into double overtime in pre-season play. Vicious D looks at a much more thorough effort in last night's win.Paying full price for pre-season games sucks. I've never understood it, but MLSE keeps on doing it. If you want to make the Raptors accessible to the youth of the city and grow your brand, you would naturally take the opportunity to try and fill the arena during pre-season since most people wouldn't go anyways.
But if you went to last night's game, you sure got your money's worth.
In the Raptors first true home game, the final score was almost as insignificant as the extra time spent in overtime. In what can be thought of as a "return to form", the Raptors came out punching with just about all their players and scraped out a win against a fairly quick 76ers club.
And while I'll be taking my sweet time over the season to talk about how the Raptors are developing a style to match their namesake, for today, we'll just call it what it is:
Whether it's by gang rebounding, getting after their man, or showing aggressively in the passing lanes, the Raptors really did a boatload more against the 76ers. And granted, this is only the forth pre-season game. However, as the Raptors began to tighten up their rotations and they get towards meeting their team goals, I would like to see a better look at what styles will work with the Raptors and what styles will just be incompatible with this team.
Yesterday's game was quite the learning experience as we got to see the Raptors in some new situations. The 76ers have players such as Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young, who are players who have given the Raptors many fits over the years. Newer players such as Jrue Holiday (recording a triple double that won't count) and Evan Turner give the 76ers some raw players who add extra depth and raw talent to the team.
However, unlike Boston or Chicago, the 76ers don't really have much size, and while the Raptors didn't exactly capitalize on this fact, the Raptors certain weren't out jumped by the 76ers either. Case in point is a guy who we're going to need to perform on a more consistent basis.
DeMar DeRozan came in and gave the Raptors a much needed presence by being an attacking force for most of the game. In what was a great display of all the new moves the former Rookie, DeRozan rose to the need by going to the line and attacking the basket. Showing off a variety of power moves to get into the basket, DeMar just looked a lot more in control and ready around the rim. And while his block on Craig Brackins was quite a thing of beauty, his development of his game to include a more physical aspect is most impressive. It's something that the Raptors will need from him throughout the year. Coaxing DeRozan to make this a regular part of his game is going to be a work in progress as he seems to need to get into a comfortable zone before this part of his game comes out. I'll be very pleased to see if he can string some games together with a consistent effort.
On top of DeMar, Jarrett Jack continued to keep the boat steady with timely baskets and Leandro Barbosa gave the Raptors a little flair from the bench. Both of these players feel like a couple of the clutch players we're going to need to win those closer games and they're both players who can turn it on and score in buckets full. The rest of the team also contributed as every player scored including Ronald Dupree.
Speaking of scoring though, the Raptors managed to do it in spurts and got enough to keep up with the 76ers. It may be obvious, but the Raptors were best scoring from transition or making the quick pass. Whenever the ball seemed to stop in the hands of a player or if they allowed the 76ers to get set, the Raptors seemed to lose their way. The worst of this came from players such as Andrea Bargnani and Sonny Weems; both of whom really were the two players I'd point out as being the real sore points of the night.
With Weems doing his best Bargnani impression by being a virtual black hole on the offense side and missing a lot of coverages on the defense, the Raptors showed that everyone can be prone to fits of selfishness. And yes, both players had moments here and there where they performed well and did what was needed of them, but both also played in ways that will kill the flow of this team. You could almost feel their teammates hesitate to give either player the ball for fear that no one would get it back.
But one thing the entire Raptors team has to work on is their absolutely abysmal free throw shooting. Shooting under 60% for the game, the Raptors would have easily pulled out a win had they even shot anything near a respectable percentage. And while there's going to be a laundry list of items, the Raptors continued struggles from the charity stripe are just going to make it that much harder to win regular season games in tight situations.
As a whole though, the Raptors got into the faces of the 76ers and it's this kind of work that was completely missing the other night in Chicago. And while the Raptors couldn't find the room to separate themselves from the 76ers because of the free throw woes, they also didn't completely cave to the 76ers when Philly made their runs.
What I hope the Raptors will take out of this game is that they need to put at least this kind of effort to be competitive in the league. While there's a lot to still clean up, the energy is there and it's something that the Raptors staff will surely build on.