Well, the first Raptors preseason game is in the books and the initial impression is that it had all the looks and feels of an exhibition game.
Both teams struggled with their shot-39.4% for Boston and 38.4% for Toronto-and looked rusty on offense, committing a combined 37 turnovers-21 of which were committed by the Raptors.
The sloppy play was to be expected. It is after all, the first NBA game in about 8 months for most of these players; preseason or not, the first few games of this year are going to be rough on most teams.
Sloppiness aside, the Raptors actually looked impressive in a couple of areas of their game; the most obvious of which was on defense.
The defense came up big in the fourth quarter as the Raptors made a comeback from down 61-51 at the end of the third quarter to eventually leading the game 75-74. The lead didn't last long though, a Greg Stiesma layup put Boston up for good 76-75. In this one the outcome wasn't all that important. What was important was the way Raptors played on defense.
The Raps looked committed on the defensive end of the floor from the opening tip on. They began the game by forcing a Rey Allen turnover and never really let up the rest of the way. The team compiled 8 blocked shots and looked comfortable in their defensive rotations. This is something we have not seen from this team in quite some time, and was a breath of fresh air for Raptors fans that have suffered through the defensive efforts of the last few seasons.
The defense itself was nice to see, but it is representative of a point much more important to the team; and that is they seem to be buying what head Coach Dwane Casey is selling. Casey has been preaching defense from day one on the job and up until this point it was all talk. But today, the team showed that at the very least, they are taking Casey's words to heart. It is still too early to tell, but based on game number one it seems like things are already headed in a positive direction.
The man of the hour certainly is Dwane Casey, but in terms of players Andrea Bargnani is a close second. Bargnani's offensive numbers-4-14 shooting for 16 points-weren't great, but those will come once he gets used to giving maximum effort on both ends of the floor. However, today those aren't the numbers that matter.
For Bargnani his performance on the boards, highlighted by a 5 rebounds third quarter, was huge. Bargnani tallied 9 rebounds in total and showed a willingness to get involved inside and fight for rebounds; a welcomed sign for a guy that is widely considered one of the softer players in the league.
Defensively Bargnani was also impressive, showing that he has the ability to rotate and provide adequate defense both individually as well as within the team concept. If Bargnani can put in this kind of effort defensively, and on the boards on a nightly basis, we may begin to see the Andrea Bargnani everyone hoped the team had drafted with the number 1 overall pick in 2006.
Rebounding was another big positive for the Dinos in this one. They outrebounded the Celtics 39-35 which included standout rebounding performances by Ed Davis who had 10, and Amir Johnson who grabbed 5 boards, in addition to the aforementioned 9 by Andrea Bargnani. Rebounding is an area where the team showed improvements last year, and without Reggie Evans this year, is going to need extra efforts from guys like Bargnani, Johnson and Davis in order to maintain that level of rebounding prowess.
As mentioned above, the Raptors struggled offensively. This is true for the majority of the team but there were a few bright spots. One of the more obviously positives was the three point shooting of Demar Derozan. Derozan made both of his three point attempts and looked confident in doing so. This is a good sign considering he made all of 5 three pointers on 9% shooting from behind the arc last season. Making that three point shot is the next step in Derozan's development; if he can do this consistently, then the Raptors offense is going to look a whole lot different this season.
It is true that the Raptors showed promise in a number of areas during yesterday's game, yet they still fell short despite playing against Boston's bench for the majority of the second half. If game one of the preseason is any indicator of how the Raptors will fair this season, there may not be many wins, but internal improvement and defensive respectability are definitely within reach.