If every Raptors game is going to be this nail-biting, I’d recommend finding an Oncologist.
The Toronto Raptors put in a full team effort in their season opener and squeezed by the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers, 108-105. Pascal Siakam led the way with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals before fouling out with 16 seconds remaining.
All five Raptors starters contributed with each scoring at least 15 points, grabbing one offensive rebound, getting one steal, and hitting one triple. Gary Trent Jr. finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds, and was 4-of-8 from downtown. O.G. Anunoby filled the stat sheet with 18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Fred VanVleet had 15 points, 5 assists, 4 steals, and made some key plays down the stretch.
The hype heading into the game surrounded the budding rivalry between last year’s top two vote-getters in the Rookie of the Year race, Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley. Similar to how the award voting played out, Barnes was victorious. The reigning Rookie of the Year poured in 15 points, 7 assists, 2 steals, and was a game-high +20. Mobley finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block.
The other headliner in this game was the debut of Cleveland’s star acquisition, Donovan Mitchell. He looked just as comfortable in the Wine & Gold as he did in the... whatever Utah’s jersey colours were. Mitchell was nothing short of spectacular, amassing a game-high 31 points and 9 assists while constantly picking apart Toronto’s aggressive defense.
Nick Nurse said pre-game that the first 20 games or so were going to be about tinkering with lineups and seeing what works. Staying true to his word, one of the first substitutes to enter the game was heralded second-round draft pick, Christian Koloko.
The rookie did not disappoint as he immediately changed the calculus of the game. In one of his first defensive sequences, Koloko was left on an island with the other half of Cleveland’s All-Star backcourt, Darius Garland, who pump-faked the rookie... only for Koloko to quickly recover and register his first block. On the offensive end, it was evident that the chemistry he and VanVleet had from the Rico Hines runs was not a mirage. On Koloko’s first offensive possession, he received an alley-oop lob from VanVleet that was slightly off-target, but a sign of things to come. A few possessions later, Mobley was caught in the middle of Fred and Christian pick-and-roll. He wasn’t sure if a lob was going to be thrown and the minor hesitation allowed Fred to hit a floater. Later, Koloko’s activity on the offensive glass earned a foul on Dean Wade, a trip to the line, and subsequently, his first Raptors point. On the next trip down the floor, Koloko set a solid screen that gave VanVleet enough room to hit a three. Sign me up for all the Koloko stock!
Before the game, JB Bickerstaff spoke about how these early season games are about seeing how guys fit together and likened the process to a boxing fight, “Jab, jab, counter.” His Cavaliers must have gotten the message because they answered a lethargic first quarter with an explosive second quarter, outscoring the Raptors 35-23.
The Cavs turnaround coincided with the debut of Juancho Hernangomez. Suffice it to say, “Bo Cruz” remained on the bench for the rest of the game.
Cedi Osman was a key figure in the comeback as he proudly took on the title of “random bench player who lights it up from downtown against Toronto,” hitting three triples in the second.
Cleveland turned a 6-point deficit at the end of the first quarter into a 6-point advantage at the half.
Another pre-game assertion from Bickerstaff came to fruition in the third quarter. He talked about Toronto’s aggressive defense, being decisive with the ball, and taking advantage of the opportunities that were presented. Despite Garland exiting the game at halftime after Trent Jr. accidentally poked him in the eye, the Cavaliers, specifically Mitchell, consistently poked holes in the Raptors defense. Cleveland’s lead grew to 84-76 after three quarters.
Toronto opened the 4th with four triples as Trent, Anunoby (twice), and Precious Achiuwa each did their part in turning the 8-point deficit into a tie game in the first three minutes of the quarter.
In a key sequence, late in the 4th, VanVleet blocked(!) Jarrett Allen(!!) from behind, led the fastbreak with an outlet pass to Anunoby, who then found a lurking Barnes on the baseline for a transition dunk — giving Toronto a 98-97 lead they would not relinquish.
FRED VANVLEET TAKING THE BALL FROM JARRETT ALLEN.— THE SHIFT (@theshift_sports) October 20, 2022
He's 6'9 in his heart pic.twitter.com/hhcfAglpH6
Siakam was arguably the best player on the floor for Toronto. He consistently drove through any Cavalier defender to get to his spots. When shots didn’t fall, he crashed the offensive glass (3 offensive rebounds but it felt like much more) and seemingly made an impact play at every opportunity.
So, it was mildly surprising when, with under a minute remaining and a 4-point lead, Siakam drove at Mitchell and euro-stepped his way into his patented driving bank shot... only to have the shot rim out.
Cleveland seized the opportunity and eventually cut the lead to one with 4.5 seconds left. Barnes found some daylight on the inbounds pass, then while Cleveland scrambled to try and foul, he spotted Achiuwa for a breakaway dunk to finish the scoring and give Toronto their 4th opening-day victory over the Cavaliers — more than any other Raptors opening-day opponent.