The Toronto Raptors broke in their new home on Friday night — that is, their home away from home: Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena. Donning their new white and red Association Edition jerseys and with (limited) fans in the stands, they took the court to face the defending Eastern Conference Champions — and new inter-state neighbours — the Miami Heat. Although the Raps came out with the same drive they’re known for, they were unable to conclude their preseason with a perfect record, falling to the Heat 117-105.
The Raptors ran with a similar lineup as they did in their two previous victories against the Charlotte Hornets, only this time, their leader Kyle Lowry was making his preseason debut after missing the team’s first two games for a personal leave. Although it was nice to see those minutes spread amongst the rest of the roster, it was also very nice to see Lowry back out there — particularly after he led the way with 25 points.
Early on, the Raptors and the Heat started out just like any game between the two teams — slow and close in score. All eyes were especially on Lowry, who looked as good as ever shooting the absolute lights out. At 34 years old and heading into his 16th season, Lowry came out looking like the six-time All-Star and floor general he’s always been.
KLow's back pic.twitter.com/PSqAbLjTyu— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 19, 2020
I would also like to mention that the atmosphere of this game was surprisingly really nice. Although the crowd was small — though not small enough, with 3,200 in attendance — there was an exciting feel surrounding this game. It wasn’t a stark contrast from the NBA Bubble’s atmosphere, but it was enough to add a sense of normalcy to the whole affair, something positive as we head into the new season.
In the second quarter, the Raptors got some help from their bench. Namely, Chris Boucher decided it was time to catch fire, hitting three 3-pointers in a row. It was another glimpse of excellence from Boucher, who finished with 12 points on the night. After signing a big-time $13.5 million dollar contract this offseason, expect Boucher to want to push his game to next level as he gets bigger looks.
.@chrisboucher: Shooter pic.twitter.com/xZ1RCVsm28— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 19, 2020
While Boucher was shooting great, it was also time to draw attention to Pascal Siakam, who noticeably began to shoot with a great deal of confidence from three. He started the game off shaky, shooting just 25 percent in the first quarter, but he flipped that around in the second quarter, hitting three of five three-pointers.
It’s nice to see Siakam, who notoriously struggled in the Bubble over the summer, shooting with a lot more confidence and moving with some swagger back in his step. (Now we just need to see if he’s still able to get at the rim and to the foul line.) Although it’s still only preseason, but if Siakam can keep up that part of his play up, it feels like he can return to his primed season form we saw last year. He finished the night with 14 points and nine rebounds, which helped Toronto out too.
In the third quarter, the Raptors started to look sluggish as a team. Still, while the shooting was weak on Toronto’s end, Lowry continued to play like Lowry, putting up 14 in the frame and keeping his squad in it. Despite his absence through most of the preseason, Lowry was the most prepared player out there for Toronto. He’s proving once again that age is just a number, and that he’s poised for another strong season to cement his status as the greatest Raptor of all time.
In the fourth, however, the Raptors woes continued. With the regular season coming up next week, there was no reason to exhaust the starters anymore, so we got another great look at the Raptors bench. This was not their strongest showing out, however, as they started to shoot abysmally, hitting just 7-of-24 from the field and giving up a 10-point run off the bat. Raptors fans were happy to get some more glimpses of both Malachi Flynn and Yuta Watanabe, though, who scored five and six points respectively.
On Miami’s end, they were led by rookies KZ Okpala and Max Strus, who scored 24 and 22 respectively. Jimmy Butler did not play as he took the night off for rest. He, like Lowry, knows when it’s time to go all out.
Although the Raptors suffered the loss tonight, their focus has almost certainly shifted to Wednesday night, when they will be opening their 2020-21 NBA season against Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans at home. Buckle up, this one’s for real.