There were a lot of doubts following Wednesday’s Toronto Raptors season opener — doubts that the vision of an all-length team, without a player taller than 6’9”, missing its longtime floor general could really compete at the NBA level.
But it was, of course, just one game.
So after just two games, it would be unfair to completely flip that script. But holy cow, did the Raptors showcase the all-length, all-running vision to its utmost in routing the Boston Celtics 115-83 in Boston tonight.
Most of the damage occurred in a sensational third quarter, where the Raptors outscored the Celtics 33-17 and completely took Boston out of its game. The Raptors forced the Celtics into 7-for-21 shooting and six turnovers, while only committing two turnovers of their own.
And the main driver of that inspired third-quarter play? None other than Gary Trent Jr., who scored 13 of his 20 points in the frame. And he did it in a variety of ways too, including a couple of nice drives into the paint and a banked-in, straight-on 18-footer. But it wasn’t just the scoring; much like he did in the preseason, Trent impressed with his on-ball defense, pressuring ball handlers and forcing turnovers. He was credited with four steals on the night.
Speaking of steals and quick hands, Fred VanVleet reminded everyone as well that he has some of the quickest, strongest hands in the game. Although VanVleet scored only 11 points on 10 shots, he had his (ahem) hands all over this victory, from digging down on ball handlers and knocking balls out, and leading the transition game the other way.
And that’s really what this game came down to — the Raptors getting into passing lanes and getting their hands on balls, and taking off the other way. The Raptors ended up with 22 fast break points and 58 points in the paint, compared to 9 and 32 for the Celts.
One of the guys leading those breaks alongside VanVleet was rookie Scottie Barnes, who had a sensational second game — he finished with 25 points on 17 shots and 13 rebounds. And although Barnes only notched two assists, his vision in the open court was on display all night.
And like Trent, Barnes was making his presence felt on both ends; he showed no fear in picking Jayson Tatum whenever the assignment came to him. Collectively the Raptors put the clamps on Tatum in the second half, holding him to just two points on four shots after the break.
Post game, Nick Nurse said he was pleased with the way Barnes mixed it up tonight, including going straight to the rim and finishing on drives. Overall Nurse said he felt Barnes showed much more composure and played at a better tempo tonight than he did on Wednesday — a completely understandable transition, given Wednesday was the 20-year-old’s first NBA game.
There seemed to be some confusion pre-game over who’d be starting; earlier in the day, Masai Ujiri indicated that Trent would start, but then Nurse said in his pre-game availability that Goran Dragic would start — even though Nurse said he could see a time in the future when Dragic would go to the bench.
Well that time came real soon, as Trent and Dragic switched spots right before tip-off.
Trent did open the scoring for the Raptors, but it was another sloppy start on offense. Two blown fast breaks in the opening minutes, combined with a couple of bricks from downtown, made it seem like we were in for a repeat of Wednesday’s offensive struggles.
But back-to-back threes from Trent and Scottie Barnes put the Raptors on the board. Barnes was the real highlight early, as also had a layup and a dunk in the frame, and showed no fear going at Jayson Tatum, at either end. Tatum, of course, got his, scoring 10 in the frame as the Celtics jumped out to a 20-12 lead.
Then Goran Dragic came in and made Nurse and Ujiri look like geniuses. Dragic, Khem Birch, Svi Mykhailiuk and Chris Boucher closed the quarter on a 9-2 run, by digging in defensively and getting out on the run. Their energy was much needed; the group looked much more active than the starters, on both ends; they really brought some defensive energy against an all-bench Celtics lineup.
The real difference was the offensive rebounding; the Raptors had 10 offensive boards and out rebounded the Celtics 17-12 in the frame.
That same unit started the second quarter, and maintained that energy, even as the starters began filtering back in. The Raptors were running and attacking at every point, and although they weren’t always converting (VanVleet missed three straight layups at one point), the tone was set for how they’d play the rest of the night.
The only black cloud hanging over the Raptors right now: the offensive struggles of OG Anunoby. Although Anunoby did his part defensively, including D’ing up both Tatum (18 points) and Jaylen Brown (nine points) at times, Anunoby hit only four of his 18 shots, and missed all five three-pointers he took. That’s after shooting just 3-for-17 on Wednesday.
It’s nothing to worry about yet, and you’ll recall Anunoby started off slowly last year too, before his shot came back to him. He’ll get there.
The Raps have a short turnaround, as they return home to host the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow night.