On a scale of 1 to Parade Day Marc Gasol, how much did you miss Raptors basketball?! Honestly, I don’t even think I realized how much I missed it until tip-off last night... or maybe when it was Pascal Siakam opened the scoring on a spin move? Even though it was a glorified exhibition game, even though it was sloppy, even though I’m still wary of the entire Bubble concept... it was pretty great.
Let’s run through some quick thoughts:
1. No Beats Missed
While there were plenty of passes and shots that missed their mark last night, the familiarity that the Raptors have with one another was definitely on display. The guys just looked comfortable with each other (at least the top seven did; it was pretty iffy in the bench lineups). The ball was swinging around the perimeter, bigs were finding cutters, Kyle Lowry was hitting go-ahead outlet passes.
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised; this is the same team that did play together for six months already, after all; it’s not like they’re coming off an offseason where there were personnel changes. But still, it was good to see that the team’s comfort level didn’t dissipate when they were apart for three-and-a-half months.
2. Where is Marc Gasol!?
Skinny Marc was conspicuous in his absence last night. I mean, he was there, so he wasn’t absent, but he didn’t play, and that was a bummer. I wanna see what the new-look Marc Gasol looks like! Nick Nurse said post-game that the centre-less Rockets were just a logical matchup to sit Gasol, and that he’ll play on Sunday. Phew!
(Nurse said McCaw will also play Sunday, so, uh, we got that to look forward to, I guess...)
3. TDII Energy
Boy, did I really enjoy the energy Terence Davis brought off the bench last night. Nick Nurse said he doesn’t believe in the “rookie wall,” but Davis sure looked like he had more punch last night than he did in February-March. He was explosive at the rim (on both ends, as he had a sensational block) and was active in the passing lanes. His shot wasn’t quite there (1-for-6 from downtown) but his legs were definitely in his shot, so that’s probably just rust and timing. I really hope he solidifies himself as the team’s eighth man.
4. Depth on Display
The Rockets led 73-72 after three, and both teams went to their benches in the fourth quarter... and that’s where the Raptors broke it open, outscoring Houston 22-10 and leading by 15 at one point. It is just a scrimmage, so I’m not sure it’s significant, but I think it shows the Raptors are more talented, eight through 12, than the Rockets — and pretty much any other team in the league too. It may not matter in the playoffs, but, I do think it gives Nick Nurse more opportunity to rest his top seven players in the “seeding games,” and, I think, more freedom to get creative during the postseason if a player doesn’t have it on a given night (or in a given series, like Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell against Philly last year). If Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can wreak havoc for five minutes, or Matt Thomas helps extend the opposing defense for a stretch, those are options that weren’t available last year that Nurse can go to.
5. The Game Experience is Pretty Weird
With the small gym, no crowd, and generic “NBA” court, the game really had the feel of a second tier European league matchup. Sure, there was some pumped in fan noise, standard in-game music, let’s go Raptors chants, and the Raptor himself made an appearance on the video board, but it wasn’t anything like what we’re used to seeing in an NBA game, or even a summer league or G-League game. It definitely felt off.
I don’t think it’ll take too long to get used to, though. It’s still basketball at the end of the day!
So, one scrimmage in the books, and two to go. The next two will be full 48-minute games, so we’ll see how long Nurse runs the starters out there. I expect it’ll be limited minutes again on Sunday, but perhaps a tighter rotation in scrimmage #3 to get the team ready for real game action.