FINALLY some Raptors ball!
If you are a Raps fan it is damn near impossible not to be pumped up after what has felt like an eternity since the last time we wrote a tip-in. It's a great feeling to know that Raptors ball is back, and that despite Mr. Wahlberg's comments, this city is excited to see the new product.
Speaking of the new product, it was the fans first look at the new logo at centre court, the new warm-ups (which should probably be sent back before they are exposed to more fans....not good), CB4's new braids, and a new team. Looks like this franchise is really trying to change its identity. After one pre-season home game it is however, impossible to determine as of yet what that identity is and therefore it's important not to judge things to harshly. That being said here are some thoughts on the pre-season home opener.
First and foremost, a shout out to RaptorsTV who have decided that the Toronto basketball market needs two HQ's. The centre court HQ? Why not just centre court? It doesn't even make sense! Try something original folks. Ok...now on to the actual game.
No better place to start then with the franchise player. Bosh looked fresh and in mid-season form running the floor and stroking it from the outside. In fact Bosh nailed a three and looked very comfortable doing so. If Bosh develops even a reasonable stroke from beyond the arc does he not become near impossible to stop? He also looks like he has already developed some good chemistry with his teammates.
Now how about that first pick in the draft? What is obvious right away is that Bargnani is a walking mismatch and he is already oozing confidence. Although he missed quite a few shots none of them seemed ill-advised and he does have the ability to hit them. What was extremely good to see was that he did not shy away at all from contact. He took it to the hoop, played some high post, ran the floor and hit his free-throws. All very positive signs in particular for a rookie. He is a lot quicker and athletic than you'd think for his height and managed to keep the fouls to a minimum. You can see how talented this guy could be right away and with a bit of gym-work, he should be well on his way.
On the flip side, not everything was peaches and cream for Raps fans trying to get a glipse at the new guys. If you watched the game you generally saw four PG's go at it all night - Ford, Calderon, Rondo and Bassy....with a small dose of Fred Jones on the side. What is nothing short of shocking is that if you were to rank them in terms of their play, it would be Rondo, Calderon, Bassy AND THEN Ford. Call it nerves, call it getting used to the new ball, call it whatever, but that had better be the worst night Ford has all season long. His play was ugly, forced and far from loose and eight turnovers is simply unacceptable at any level of basketball. From last night's game you can see that the pick and roll seems to be negated and therefore it'll be interesting to see how Ford and Bosh mesh once the season starts and they're both playing major minutes. (Fast break and playing a similar running team like the Celtics is one thing...playing the Heat and Pistons is another.)
Calderon on the other hand was very confident with the ball, had two more assists, five less turnovers and made a SICK pass to CB4 for an easy jam. It's only pre-season but we at the HQ have been harping on the fact that Ford is really going to be pushed for the starting job and playing time in the crunch.
Speaking of that new ball, it looks like a lot of people are having troubles with it and there were a number of bad bounce passes and juggled balls tonight. You have to believe that of the 64 turnovers (no that is not a typo....64!) the ball contributed to a number of them. One person who seems to like the ball just fine, on both ends of the floor is Rajon Rondo. I know my compatriot here at the HQ, Franchise, was probably pulling his hair out watching last night's game as Rondo was the one player he felt Toronto should attempt to draft last year. Not first overall of course...but giving up a future pick or a veteran to grab Rondo would have fit perfectly into the style of basketball Colangelo wants to play. Plus, Toronto may not have needed to deal for TJ Ford. However once again, it IS only pre-season.
It sure doesn't look like Tucker or Slokar are going to get much burn. If you can't get the PT in the pre-season then get ready to ride the pine...or be taking buses for the year while playing in the D League. If that is the case neither player should complain. It would be nice to see Slokar get a few minutes though.
Ok now back to the positives, and perhaps this is the biggest positive of the bunch. The Raps looked better on defense. Not a great deal better, there were definitely some missed assignments and lack of help at times (see Rondo becoming Astro-Boy, turning on the jet packs and taking it to the hoop with no-one around) but there was better D. Considering how bad the defence was last year, seeing better wing play brought a smile to my face as well as the team's committment to fouling hard when guys do make it to the hoop. What was also a great was many of the players, Calderon in particular, getting to "the spot" quicker than the offensive player and drawing the charge. Very good signs. In fact, one of the guys who looked a little better on D was the one and only Joey Graham.
Graham tonight showed some good things. He hit the outside shot, chased down rebounds and looked more confident. He also looked quicker on his feet. Of course on the flip side he did pick up a bad foul and of course has his traditional offensive foul. Word must be spreading around the league that the best way to stop Graham is to take a flop and you will likely get the call. (And speaking of calls, while most of the poor calls went the way of the Raps, the refereeing was definitely in pre-season form as well.)
The game MVP? Well Bosh was the high scorer with 22 points in only three quarters but in our books it was Garbajosa and Calderon who get the collective nods. Garbajosa just looks like the real deal out there getting in passing lanes, grabbing boards, hitting key outside shots, hustling on defence, you name it and Calderon was instrumental in running the squad.
For the Celtics, Paul Pierce tore it up in the limited time he played but obviously Rondo was the MVP, hitting a crazy buzzer-beating 3 to tie the game and send it to OT. The Celtics should never have gotten a chance to tie but the Raps couldn't rebound a Boston miss resulting in Rondo's last-second heave. The play brought back painful memories of last season's 1 and 9 OT record and failure to close out games but in OT, the Raptors looked firmly in control. Hopefully we see this demeanor throughout the season.
As a final note from the Celtics' side, I'm not sure who Boston is going to cut to get their roster down from 18 to 15. Michael Olowakandi had his second straight solid game for Boston in limited minutes and Allan Ray looked good as well. Leon Powe and Kevin Pittsnoggle didn't get any burn so maybe that's an indication of where things are headed for GM Danny Ainge.
One player the Celtics should let go?
HOWLAND and FRANCHISE