Despite a solid pre-season, tonight's Raptors home opener against the Pacers would be the first real chance to see Toronto in action since the playoff disaster of last season. The spectre of that dismantling looms large, but then again, it was a different team, with different players. And as Coach Dwane Casey reminded before the game, "We can't live our lives worrying about last year." Well then, onward.
What's that saying? The more things change...? Well, the Raptors got off to a sluggish start and there was worry. Led by the hot shooting of CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey (who finished with 18 and 16 points respectively), the Pacers ran out to a first quarter lead and maintained it for the rest of the half. For the Raptors, the ball was sticking when it should be moving. The defense and offense looked slow and out of sorts. In short, the team looked like the Raptors of old. And this was before new Raptor DeMarre Carroll went down in the second quarter with a left elbow contusion. While Carroll writhed on the floor, we all just had to sit back and wonder: what has changed?
The bright spot of the first half for Toronto was, surprise, Jonas Valanciunas. He downed 6-of-8 shots for 12 points while grabbing 9 rebounds in the first half. He finished the game with a huge 21-16, canned some big free throws and, in the new more conservative defensive scheme, was less exposed on D. That was one thing that changed.
Carroll, meanwhile, bounced back from his injury scare to do what he was brought here to do: patrol the perimeter. His 14 point, 8 rebound, 4 assist performance was largely below-the-radar, but his suffocating defense on Paul George, who shot 4-for-17 for 17 points, was exemplary. When DeMarre came back in the game, things perked up. This was another thing that changed.
What didn't change? Despite his new skinny frame, Kyle Lowry still plays basketball with a frustrated fury, like he's seeking to right some gross injustice. His play in the first half, when the Raptors struggled, was poor. And yet, he'd dip and dive and shoot big shots and will the Raptors back into the game through the force of his persistent anger. Lowry finished with 23 points on 8-for-17 shooting and six assists. His running mate, DeMar DeRozan, kept things cool in that maddening DeRozan way: he shot contested shots, missed what felt like obvious passes, and yet somehow helped the team win (despite somehow missing six of his 16 FT attempts). Both of these things are nothing new.
There were other remarkable things about this year's home opener--Bismack Biyombo's one-man campaign against rims, Patrick Patterson's third quarter explosion, even the bizarrely heady play of Terrence Ross (for about three minutes). There was enough difference to help us forget the ghosts of last year.
Said Jonas after the game, "We were losing, by 17 or 20, and we got up. That's the most important thing. We know we still have a lot of areas to fix but at the end of the day we got a win."
It's just one game though; let's see what else this Raptors team has in store.
What did you guys think of the game?