Basketball is back!
Has there ever been so much hype surrounding a Toronto Raptors preseason game? That question can be answered by the nearly twenty-thousand fans who sold-out Rogers Arena in Vancouver to get the first glimpse of this year’s team.
I’m going to cut to the chase: Kawhi Leonard played basketball tonight... in a Toronto Raptors jersey... in real life. In fact, it was the former Finals MVP who got the ball rolling offensively for Toronto. On one possession, after pump-faking from behind the arc, Leonard calmly stepped into two-point territory where he proceeded to sink a smooth looking jumpshot.
And the preseason is underway courtesy of Kawhi. pic.twitter.com/YnpgG9nfH3— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) September 29, 2018
He would go on to show off his fancy footwork — courtesy of Kobe Bryant — just a few possessions later with this pleasant up-and-under move:
Kawhi is still good. pic.twitter.com/eNtz4m5wIZ— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) September 29, 2018
I can’t forget this drive-and-kick to longtime teammate, and soon-to-be Raptors fan favourite, Danny Green:
Legally — I’ve been told — I need to talk about other Raptors players for us to keep the blog name ’Raptors HQ’.
Jonas Valanciunas stood out for Toronto in the game’s first half after starting the night on the bench. In a choppy half polluted by referee whistles, Valanciunas was the beneficiary of four separate trips to the charity stripe, where he proceeded to go 8-of-8. He also shot 75 percent from the field in the half, on largely beautiful looking baskets.
That basket came off one of Valanciunas’ three first-half steals. The Kawhi Leonard effect, folks.
The second half was a case study of what the Raptors second unit will do if left on the floor for extended periods of time against an opponent’s bench. The Bench Mob, led by Fred VanVleet, pushed the pace on an unsuspecting Blazers quintet. The ball hummed around as Toronto used fast-break after fast-break to open up a game-high 17-point spread in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter featured extended looks at Lorenzo Brown, Malachi Richardson and newcomer, Jordan Loyd. The latter two looked engaged defensively, while last year’s G-League MVP, Brown eventually settled into an offensive rhythm. Greg Monroe fit well with the bench unit, providing rebounding and toughness as advertised.
Portland’s Meyers Leonard (just when I thought I had typed that name for the last time), showed well in his 15 minutes of action. The second most important Leonard put up 16 points in a second-half flurry of buckets, including 3-of-4 from deep. The all-star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot a combined 7-of-11 on the night, each limited to just 12 minutes of action.
Some garbage time minutes gave Raptors fans brief looks at Kay Felder, Eric Moreland, and Canadian Chris Boucher. Unfortunately for these camp hopefuls, the game’s final few minutes belonged to Lorenzo Brown.
When the dust had settled, the scoreline read 122-104 for the Raptors as their notorious depth was able to turn a seven-point halftime lead into a comfortable 18-point margin of victory.
Portland won’t see the court again until the 5th of October when they travel to Arizona to take on the Phoenix Suns, while Toronto makes their way directly to Utah to take on the Jazz in their October 2nd preseason clash.