The Raptors will need team play to beat teams this year and almost came out with an opening day victory against New York. Like most of pre-season, there was a mixed bag which was entertaining and heartbreaking.
The Raptors opened their season at the ACC yesterday, and it was an interesting game.
We saw Andrea Bargnani become the spokesperson for the players.
We saw a lot of what we saw in pre-season.
We saw a new opening for the Raptors which may give 90% of their fans epileptic fits. (Thanks guys)
In thinking about the upcoming season, I talked about how tough it was going to be some nights to get through. There will be nights when it'll be hard to be a Raptor fan because this group may get badly beaten, or the effort might not the be there.
There were going to be nights when free throws and a lack of 3-pointers might do them in as well.
On opening night, we got a lot of that mixed bag.
There were times when the Raptors played as a cohesive unit and got the crowd going. There were other times where the team was coughing up the basketball and let the Knicks score easy baskets in transition.
To start off, we had Andrea Bargnani coming out strong after giving the Raptors faithful a little speech. Bargnani was firing from within the arc as a one-man offensive machine. Perhaps feeling a need to put actions behind his words, Bargnani stayed inside and scored by doing what the Raptors have needed for him for the last three seasons. Andrea also showed us a little defense in the first half with a couple blocks and taking a charge on Amare Stoudemire. Soon after, the rest of the starting unit followed.
You also had a guy like Reggie Evans doing what he did best. Rebounding, being a pest to Amare Stoudemire and getting his head into the Knicks, Evans showed that his pre-season work wasn't just an act. He showed me that he can be a very important cog on a very good team. Heck, if he continues like this, he's a guy that a team like the Heat probably could have used the other night. It was hard not to have a huge smile on your face when you saw Reggie play, and when the chants started, I was tempted to start chanting his name too.
Such is the effect of Reggie.
Adding to opening night was Jarrett Jack who scored some timely baskets and doubled down effectively on Amare Stoudemire to force some turnovers. Off of those turnovers, he created some good opportunities for his teammates. DeMar DeRozan was a willing recipient of some of those opportunities. Although DeRozan still shows that he needs to put in a lot more work on the defensive end, he has also shown that he's downright dangerous on the fast break, has some ability to back down his defender and can cut through a defense like a hot knife cutting through butter. However, it was Linas Kleiza who once again proved to be the quiet assassin when the Raptors got set in the half court. Kleiza was efficient from all over the court and you can see his usefulness inside of the paint in breaking down teams as he was often a much bigger opponent than his man was used to taking on.
Surprisingly though, our second unit didn't seem to be able to find their legs for the entire game. There were spurts where one or two players managed to make a marginal difference, but most of the time, their negative impact on the game wiped out whatever benefits they may have given. Leandro Barbosa started off slow, but took off in the second half, showing that his wrist is of little concern right now. While Calderon didn't really do that bad of a job on Raymond Felton, he just couldn't get his offense going. On the other hand, Sonny Weems wasn't scoring last night and was still giving up baskets too easily to Wilson Chandler on the other end. Amir Johnson was plagued with foul trouble and showed why he still belongs on a second unit, and even David Andersen seemed out of sync.
As a whole though, the Raptors main problem is something that may become a concern as the season wears on. It's only game one, so I'm not willing to ring out the alarm bells yet, but this Raptors team is going to have to be incredible disciplined to win games. The Raptors have to work much harder than their opposition at getting leads or getting baskets.
It's not about the lack of a star player.
No, my concern is 3-pointers.
By scoring seven threes to the Raptors' three, the Knicks placed a lot of pressure on the Raptors. At one point, the Knicks had made six threes to none, meaning that the Raptors had to find some way to make up a difference of six points.
It wasn't as though the Knicks scored a particularly high percentage from beyond the arc either. However, the Raptors needed to make up those additional points with their defense by causing the Knicks to cough up possessions, or getting offensive rebounds. And while it wasn't the sole cause of yesterday's loss, it's going to be something I'll continue to look at as the year goes on.
While yesterday's game didn't come out in the Raptors favour, Toronto was competitive despite having a second unit which seemed to completely disappear. The Dinos continue to show that they will play with heart and determination, which is what we continue to want to see from this team moving forward. Their schedule doesn't exactly start out easy and wins will be hard to come by as this team struggles to find consistency.
Nevertheless, the Raptors managed to fight New York down to a final 3-pointer. While I can question the reasoning behind Kleiza's decision to go with a 3 so early in the clock in that final minute, the Raptors did manage to fight the Knicks down to a final possession.
It's just too bad things didn't go our way.