By now you’ve probably seen the stat every year; the Toronto Raptors are under .500 for the first time since the 2012-13 season. Dropping their first “home” game to the New Orleans Pelicans in Tampa, the Raptors dropped an early 11-point lead after a dismal shooting performance from behind the arc in the third quarter. But those days are in the past, three days ago to be exact, as the Raptors hit the road to go toe-to-toe with a stubborn foe, the San Antonio Spurs.
Coach Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, starting off the season strong, took care of the Memphis Grizzlies the same night the Raptors suffered their loss. In the process, they quelled last season’s Rookie of the Year Ja Morant’s career-high 44-point performance. The squad out in Texas returns to their AT&T Centre for the first time since March and even though there won’t be any fans in attendance, the feeling of playing back at home could have an added advantage for the Spurs.
And to top it all off, it’s never a dull moment when DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry reunite on the same floor. (And, sure, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl too.) Since the franchise-transforming trade that took place two years ago, these two squads have been forever linked and also in the middle of some of the more exciting games of the season. They’ve split their season series twice now with the road team coming out on top during last season’s two matchups.
It may not be Christmas Day, but it is Boxing Day with a Raptors game. That’s more than enough. Here are tonight’s details:
Where to Watch
Sportsnet, 8:30 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
San Antonio — Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, DeMar DeRozan, Keldon Johnson, LaMarcus Aldridge
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (day-to-day)
San Antonio — Derrick White (out - toe), Quinndary Weatherspoon (day-to-day)
Brush Your Shoulders Off (And Look at Losing Streaks)
Wednesday’s loss to the Pelicans snapped a seven-game win streak in season openers for the Raptors. So it’ll be important for the squad to not only brush off the game, but also to remember their history of responding to losses. Falling in consecutive games has become a rarity for one of the East’s top teams, only suffering multiple loses on three occasions last season (two of which were three-game losing skids). On the flip side the Raptors overturned a loss with a string of victories (two or more wins) on seven occasions last season — the Raptors recorded 19 losses in total last season.
Recording 20 turnovers in their opening game — for reference the Raptors only hit higher than that mark on six occasions last season — this Toronto squad will have to do better to protect the rock. Going against the defensive-minded Spurs and stud Dejounte Murray, Kyle Lowry and company will have their hands full and will need to be mindful of disruptions and unforced errors.
All-Around Production for the Spurs
The days of system basketball, and Duncan-Parker-Ginobli running the show in San Antonio, are well behind us, and the Spurs continue to adapt with their new roster. Starters Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker, and Murray combined for an impressive 53 points in their season opener, pulling off a slew of unpredictable plays that left defenders guessing. It went a long way that Aldridge knocked down a few jumpers too, going 9-for-17 and even knocking down a three, while DeRozan closed the game out with nine points in the final frame, hitting five of his game-high 14 free-throws.
There is no shortage of scoring for these Spurs, who carry their sporadic success from the Bubble into the new season. For a Raptors side that looks like it’s still fine tuning their rotation, I wouldn’t call this a threat as much as it is a challenge. The Raptors have carried the identity of a defensive stronghold the past few seasons, and Lowry was quick to put that messaging forward at the onset of the season. It’ll be nights like this, and disciplined teams that score at a high-level, that test that sentiment to help the Raptors define their image.
This is an obvious one and it clearly needs to be stated, the Raptors shot 14-of-46 in their season opener from long range. The only takeaway I’m going with is that they weren’t afraid to let it fly but it came at a price. It’s no secret that going scoreless from deep in the fatal third frame on ten attempts is what handed the Raptors their first loss.
In short, the squad will have to find other means of offensive production when the long ball isn’t dropping. Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell combined for 3-of-14 against the Pelicans and have a habit of bouncing back from poor shooting nights, and Pascal Siakam looked confident from three. Now we just need to see if all three — and some other Raptors — find a way to maintain their shooting touch from deep, and score from elsewhere too.