The home opener may not have ended the way Raptors fans wished it would, but the outcome certainly wasn't all bad. The HQ takes a look at the most important things to take away from the Raptors loss to the Pacers last night.
Yes, the bounce is indeed back as the Toronto Raptors finally returned to the ACC last night to take on the Indiana Pacers in front of, what seemed to be, a packed house. Unfortunately for the fans in attendance, the hometown Raptors dropped the opener 90-85.
The Raptors showed more grit and toughness in last night’s match-up than they showed, perhaps, in the entirety of last season. This was particularly evident in the slugfest of a first half; a half in which neither the Dinos nor the Pacers were able to reach 40 points.
In the second half though, the effort was there defensively, but both team's offenses started to get their shots to fall.
The Pacers jumped out to a double digit lead partway through the fourth quarter, but it was the Raptors that got hot; rallying from 14 down at one point to bring the game within 2 points with just over a minute left to play.
In the end, their effort proved to be all for naught. The Pacers hit some big shots down the stretch, including a dagger of a 3 pointer by Danny Granger and an impressive fade away jumper by new comer David West in the dying seconds, and that was pretty much it.
Despite the loss, the 19,800 fans in attendance were treated to a very different brand of basketball than most have become accustomed to during the Jay Triano era in Toronto.
The Dinos proved that they have what it takes to hang with one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference in the Indiana Pacers, and did so with some much improved defensive intensity, and hard work on that end of the floor.
The effect of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is already paying dividends. The Raps held their opponents to a measly 39.5% shooting, which is especially impressive when you consider the offensive weapons the Pacers posses in West, Granger, Paul George and Darren Collison.
Perhaps most impressive defensively was again, forward James Johnson. Johnson had a team high 5 steals to go along with his 2 blocks and 8 rebounds. His activity on the defensive end disrupted the Pacers offense on a number of occasions and was a big reason why the Pacers turned the ball over 16 times.
Johnson’s play in this one is already beginning to cause debate among Raptors fans over whether or not he should be starting, but more on that in a minute.
Bargnani got off to a very slow start, receiving two fouls early in the first quarter. Getting into foul trouble was a big factor that contributed to his struggles offensively in the first half; yet his defensive intensity was nice to see, especially how hard he hedged defending the screen and roll.
In the second half Bargnani’s shooting lifted the Raps offense. Bargs was able to make open shots when the team needed them most. When it was all said and done, he had another lackluster rebounding effort, grabbing just 4 boards in 32 minutes of play; but on a night like this, you can almost excuse his poor rebounding with the way he played defensively and the way he shot and passed the ball.
Likewise, DeRozan had a very up and down game. In the first half DD struggled from the floor and did not register a single point. The second half however, was a different story.
DD got out to a good start in the second portion and never looked back. His second half performance included 22 points, 16 of which were in the fourth quarter alone. Those 16 fourth quarter points also featured two 3-point makes on two attempts, both coming at crucial points late in the game.
Derozan’s shooting display in the fourth is an extremely encouraging sign for a team that desperately needs an efficient shooter in order to make their offense work. If double D can show some consistency from behind the arc, than Dwane Casey may be more inclined to start the defensive minded James Johnson in place of the supposed shooter Rasual Butler.
Starting J.J seems to be the move that makes most sense, given both his youth and his defensive prowess he should be able to grow with this young starting unit, and perhaps even expand that limited offensive game of his.
All in all, the Dinos put in a solid effort and fell just short against an Indiana Pacer team that some are picking to finish in one of the top 4 spots in the Eastern Conference. Raptors fans have to be pleased with the outcome—a competitive game, that ultimately ended in a loss and will not have a negative effect on the Raptors' lottery prospects going forward.
The Raps will now embark on a 3 game road trip starting Friday night in Dallas.