Well, that was unusual, wasn’t it? The Toronto Raptors had won seven straight season openers heading into their matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans, but the Pelicans — under new head coach Stan Van Gundy and with two new starters in Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams — didn’t look like the old Pelicans.
The tables, in fact, looked completely turned — the Pelicans played smart, professional, well-organized basketball, and the Raptors looked discombobulated and slow-footed.
Which is nothing to overreact to — it’s game number one! — so let’s run down the thoughts and move on to game two.
Heading into this game, we were all given stark reminders that although basketball is back, this is still a very abnormal season taking place in an abnormal world.
First, we had the possibility that Norman Powell would miss the game, after contract tracing showed someone in his circle at risk. Thankfully his tests came back negative and Norm was good to go (unfortunately he also tested negative for defensive smarts, sorry sorry, I’ll take that one back right now).
Then, of course, there’s the whole… whatever-the-heck-that-is going on in Houston with James Harden partying without a mask, and then multiple Rockets being held out after gathering at a barber shop, leading to their game against Oklahoma City getting postponed and Harden getting fined.
Even during the game, we saw the Raptor himself wearing a mask!
So things are not normal, this isn’t a normal season and it’s good to keep that in mind.
It’s Good to Be Back
Props to the broadcast for showing Kyle Lowry’s introduction in full.
The greatest intro in sports pic.twitter.com/RI0xFac7uf— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 24, 2020
Never gets old. Never.
Not Sharp Defensively
Early in last night’s game I thought the Raptors were doing a poor job defending the interior; Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram had lots of room to operate and were getting to the rim and finding cutters on drop-offs and shooters on kick-outs.
But in the second half, it was the opposite — the Raptors did a better job inside, but let the Pelicans get too many open looks from three-point range. (To their credit, the Pels also hit some tough shots from deep even when the Raptors’ D was solid.)
No need to get alarmed after one game, but it’s fair to note that this isn’t exactly an all-new Raptors team out there — the only new Raptor to play significant minutes was Aron Baynes. Everyone else on the floor should be more than familiar with what the Raptors do on defense, including Chris Boucher and Matt Thomas, who were seventh and eighth of the bench; those might be new roles, but those guys should be well aware of their defensive responsibilities by now.
Hopefully it’s just rust and the team will hone their defensive edge in the coming weeks.
How fun was it to see Aron Baynes draw a change in the first quarter, and then see Lowry draw one in the second? Could be quite the competition between teammates to see who can rack up more as the season goes on!
Baynes was so-so in his first real Raptors game. He did a decent job bodying Steven Adams, who always seems to find success against the Raptors, but did get caught in no-man’s land a couple of times. His three-point shooting does not look good, but he showed some nice touch in the midrange, including draining. 15-footer off a smooth pick-and-roll with Lowry in the third, and a short baseline J (actually, more of a one-handed push shot) later in the frame.
Overall the fit seemed to be fine, and as Baynes locks in on what the Raptors do defensively — which I’m sure he will, he was a big part of some very good Celtics defenses — his fit will look even better.
Check out the sweet dish from Matt Thomas, who, immediately after receiving the ball off a screen and drawing the D, slips it to Chris Boucher for the layup (um, ignore the uncalled travel):
And then check out the sweet dish from JJ Redick to Zion Williamson after receiving the ball off a screen:
It definitely helps when your three-point specialist can read the defense like that! Think they worked on that when they were working out together during the offseason?
Thomas, of course, has a long way to go before he’s at Redick’s level. One thing that differentiates the two right now: Redick has no conscience. If he has an inch of space, he’s shooting. Thomas, though, still seems a bit hesitant unless he’s wide open. Early in the fourth he had a sliver of space on an inbounds play but declined to shoot, instead passing to Boucher again — who, of course, didn’t think twice about shooting (and missed).
I’d rather have Thomas taking a shot from downtown than Boucher any day.
Well, it certainly wasn’t pleasant watching the Raptors lose and fall to 0-1, but hey — it’s one game with a new team in a new city after a shortened offseason. Still a long, long ways to be in this bizarro world season!