In case you hadn’t heard, the Toronto Raptors of Toronto, Ontario, Canada are your defending NBA Champions and after a scattered overtime victory over the not-defending champion New Orleans Pelicans are undefeated as such!
Opening night is probably not the best time to check your team’s temperature because they are almost surely going to be out of sorts and skew all of your temperature related data — but we’re going to do it anyways because these Toronto Raptors never get too high or too low!
With that small sample size caveat out of the way, let’s dig into what will surely forecast the next 81 regular season and 16 playoff wins.
Pascal Siakam, No. 1 Option
Game 1 of the regular season and Spicy P is already en fuego. 34 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists, a block and 11 trips to the free throw line where he made 10. He also shot 40% from three and was the unquestioned motor of the Raptors in their first win as defending NBA Champions.
Before the game, Zach Lowe and Michael Wilbon gave Siakam his flowers on ESPN, stating that he could could be an All-Star, All Defence and All-NBA this year, but Lowe added this at the end of the segment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Zach Lowe, but boy did Pascal put up a night to rival that admonishment. Siakam is going to be the Raptors release valve and number one option almost every night and if opening night is indicative of what to expect moving forward — Pascal could very well make Lowe eat his words.
Fred VanVleet, Efficient and Crafty
Ever since Kawhi Leonard made “The Shot” in Toronto to sink Philadelphia in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Fred VanVleet has been a different player. VanVleet walked into the Conference Finals series against Milwaukee like he didn’t just have one of the worst playoff stretches for a big-minute player and has been scorched-earth hot ever since.
VanVleet lead the team in the win against the Pelicans in +/- with a +18, played a whopping 44 minutes (a large handful of those on a gimpy ankle) and shot a remarkable 12-18 from the field including 5-7 from behind the 3 point line as he finished with a career-high 34 points. For a little cherry-on-top, he rounded out his line with 5 rebounds and 7 assists.
Blistering efficiency aside, Steady Freddy looks completely unflappable.
While he certainly earned his nickname “Steady Freddy” long before the championship run, for some reason, it feels like the name fits him a bit better. Kind of like he brought the nickname to the tailor to cinch it at the seams a bit. He isn’t pounding the air out of the ball, he’s making smarter reads in the pick and roll all while still being a dead-eye shooter off the catch and an elite defender.
We could be looking at a huge year.
Banners and Rings, The Mark of a Champion
First things first, let’s give a shoutout to OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka here. OG played with great bounce, exceptional defense and a readiness to fire away when the ball came to him. He’s medium-warm. Ibaka was not very good in the first half but was absolutely integral in keying one of the many Raptors’ comebacks during the second half with key rebounding and lockdown interior D.
Those guys aren’t hotter than these baddies.
Or this beautiful piece of fabric.
Those are forever hot.
Marc Gasol, King of the Party Bus
Woof — if it wasn’t for some inspired play from Marc Gasol in overtime, his entire opening game would have been a complete dud.
While Gasol still provided his requisite intangibles on defense, he looked the part of a 34-year-old guy who just played a whole helluva lot of basketball over the last year. Big Spain was 2-9 with 6 points and 5 boards, but those 7 missed shots were ugly; hell, one of his two makes was a 3 pointer off glass from straight away that he even wasn’t happy about.
Undoubtedly, Gasol will round into form when it’s important and shake off that additional 10 pounds he was gifted on his new NBA official weight. For what it’s worth, I would take 10 straight-games like this as a trade-in chip for this celebration alone.
Nick Nurse, Bench Belief
Nurse played eight guys in an opening night overtime win and one of them left the floor after rolling his ankle. On a scale of Canadian winter to Jamaican summer, Nurse’s shoulder is frost-bitten and about to snap off.
It’s been well documented that Nurse has not been happy with the play of this bench throughout the preseason and he showcased how unhappy he’s been by DNP-CD’ing every single newcomer outside of upstart rookie, Terence Davis (who played quite well in 15 minutes).
The Raptors, at some point, are going to need something from their depth guys and Nurse is betting that this icy starting point will light some fires under the backends of the backend of the bench.
Leo Rautins, Nickname Savant
Poor Leo, Matt Devlin was just not feeling Rautins’ new moniker for Marc Gasol: The Big Show.