It might be one of their few wins this season, but Toronto started things off with a W in Cleveland. The HQ takes a look at what should be a satisfying win for Raptors' fans.
One down, sixty-five more to go.
As Toronto Raptors' head coach Dwane Casey said post-game, "I don't want to get too excited on wins and I don't want to get too upset on losses."
A solid point, but after watching the Dinos convincingly beat the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, 104 to 96, it's hard not to be a little more optimistic about the team this year than perhaps you were a week or so ago.
Yes, the win came against a Cavs team that's likely headed for another top three spot in the lottery, one that was running it's offense at times through Andersen Varejao and Antawn Jamison, who looks to have aged 20 years in the past two.
But there was a lot to like in this win, and let's start on the defensive end.
Toronto out-rebounded their opponent by 8, blocked 9 shots, all in the first half, and consistently helped on D, especially around the rim where guys like Amir Johnson, Ed Davis and even James Johnson consistently made plays. The rim protection was as good as I can remember since the days of Antonio Davis and Keon Clark and it was a joy to see even guys like Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani get in on the action.
You could really see the team's commitment to defence and not just in terms of blocking shots. With the exception of a few blown plays, guys were hustling out on shooters, fighting through screens, helping down low...it was a completely new look. Only once last season could I recall as solid an overall defensive performance and that was about a year ago to the day, when the Raptors upset a Dirk-less Dallas Mavericks' crew.
Again, yes, playing a woeful Cavs' team, but it's not so much the statistical results that seemed to shine through, it was the defensive methodology.
And that's really where this game was won as while Toronto's offense ended up with stats like "53 per cent shooting from the field," and "43 per cent shooting from 3," other stats like 13 free-throws, to Cleveland's 28, give you an idea that not all was perfect at that end of the floor. The Raptors hit their shots last night for the most part, but this is still far and away a jump-shooting team.
To rack up the W's this season, the team needs to get it done on D, which is what they did last night.
It will help that win column though if the Raptors can execute offensively the way they did last night.
Jose Calderon turned in a vintage Jose performance, (right down to the "fall down after scoring" lay-up, dishing out 11 assists, scoring an efficient 15 points, all the while ensuring the offense kept moving when he was on the court. This stood in stark contrast unfortunately to Jerryd Bayless, who more and more looks to me like a Marcus Thornton type; a shooting-guard who when pressed into PG duty, can at times work, but it's not who you want running your offence for 35 minutes a game.
Jose may be overpaid but last night showed just how important he is for this team.
Chris Paul or Derrick Rose he is not.
But without him, this team could be in a for a world of hurt.
It's not just his own assists, but by making the extra pass, other players started following suit and soon Ed Davis was dropping it off in the paint for Amir, and James Johnson was finding DeRozan on a kick-out.
Speaking of Johnson, he too was one of last night's MVP's. Along with Jose's play at the 1, and Amir and Ed in the paint, the other Johnson played some excellent D, rebounded the ball, found teammates (he had five assists) and was a key part of this victory. Rasual Butler got the start but thankfully Johnson got the bulk of the minutes, including key ones in the game's final minutes. He's still turnover prone, and his shooting needs a lot of work, but he looks like a perfect 8th man off the bench on a good team and I had a tough time watching last night, and not thinking that should the Raptors add some A level talent next off-season, guys like Johnson and Amir would be fantastic as "first off the pine" types.
The only other two players we should touch on are the team's two marquee names, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani. Both played very interesting matches with DeMar being essentially invisible till late in the game, and Andrea being up and down throughout. Both are going to have to be more consistent against other clubs, but it was encouraging to see both step it up when it mattered most, and while Andrea's numbers look about the same as usual (5 for 12), two fouls, only six rebounds, etc, he was a plus nine on the night and I felt helped the club more often than not.
More importantly to me, Casey scaled the minutes back for both he and DeRozan a bit, riding the hot hand of Davis, Amir Johnson and Barbosa etc, something I'm hoping we see continue against the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night.