Did you feel a little dizzy coming into this one? Wednesday night was just another game for the Toronto Raptors, but there sure was a lot of outside noise.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were in town, so top billing went to Andrew Wiggins in his first NBA game back in Canada. With Anthony Bennett also in the house - or is it Kyle Lowry, Mr. Prime Minister? - it was proclaimed Canada Basketball Night. Minnesota coach Flip Saunders attended personal matters, so Sam Mitchell patrolled the Air Canada Centre sidelines for the first time since being fired from Toronto in 2008.
A lot to process.
It was, though, just another basketball game. For the Raptors, it was just another in a string of games where the defence was poor. In this one, the offence did enough to eke out a 105-100 victory over the now 14-53 Timberwolves.
With so much hype around the visiting Canadian, it was one big Lithuanian who was the engine for the Raptors. +15 in 24 minutes, Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points, 15 rebounds, and one shiny dime in a dominant performance against a young, skinny Timberwolves frontline.
The big man was on the floor for the Raptors’ best run of the night, an 11-2 start to the third quarter that gave them the lead for good after a 54-54 split in the first half. When he left the game, the Timberwolves made their runs, including two in the fourth quarter that put a good scare into a healthy Raptors lead. One could argue Valanciunas could’ve played more (nine minutes in the first half is a light workload), or that James Johnson, the Raptors’ most skilled post-up player, should have played more than five minutes against an undersized and inexperienced Minnesota team. Those arguments, however, seem to be falling on deaf ears.
The Raptors also got 21 points from DeMar DeRozan and 15 from Terrence Ross in the win. Kyle Lowry left the game in the third quarter with a back contusion and did not return. His status will be watched closely in the coming days.
The Timberwolves played with a lot of effort, despite suiting up just eight players. Their rookie phenom struggled with foul trouble all night too, as Wiggins finished with just 15 points, one shy of Jamaal Magloire’s record 16 in a Canadian’s home country NBA debut. Kevin Martin filled in with the hot hand, scoring 37 on 14-for-28 shooting. Chase Budinger chipped in 19. Ricky Rubio had a meaningless stat line, because he bent the laws of physics for 2.3 seconds.
This game rehashed a lot of what Raptors fans have been saying for weeks. The defence is better when James Johnson is on the court, but Dwane Casey appears wary of late to play Johnson at the 3, as he’s been using a Lou Williams / Greivis Vasquez / Kyle Lowry backcourt first off the bench. When faced with young big men, the team is better with Valanciunas on the court, yet Casey continues to plateau his minutes in the high 20’s on a regular basis.
The storylines in orbit around Wednesday night were new to Toronto, but the ones we’re left with are the same. The Raptors still have much to improve before the playoffs begin. A narrow win over one of the NBA’s worst teams doesn’t give one much confidence.
What were your thoughts on this one?