In case you were worried the Toronto Raptors would need time finding their groove again, Wednesday’s opener vs the Cavaliers showed the team is as Raptors-y as ever: passing lanes were eviscerated by long arms, shutdown defense was played down the stretch, Pascal Siakam was scoring spicily, scoring droughts occurred, and the Raptors’ second-round rookie looked NBA-ready in his debut. Masai Ujiri and the scouting department will not be stopped.
Tonight, the Raptors heads to Brooklyn, where they will take on the Brooklyn Nets, a team that features one of the league’s greatest scorers ever in Kevin Durant, and one of the league’s greatest conspiracy theorists ever, Kyrie Irving. Also on the roster is Ben Simmons, who you might remember from the Philadelphia 76ers.
Nobody can deny Brooklyn’s top-end talent. In fact, a lot of Raptors fans were probably hoping this game would feature Durant and the Raptors taking on Irving, Anunoby, and co. Alas, no Durant trade took place. But now the Nets exist as a team whose star player recently demanded a trade as well as the firing of the coach and GM, whose second star is unpredictable, and whose third-best player missed a whole season and has yet to settle in since June 2021. The dynamics are odd and they haven’t had time to gel. And yet, with talents like Durant and Irving, they can beat anyone on any given night. At some point Simmons will get back on track, too. The Nets are a weird team who have some figuring out to do. But the Raptors have their work cut out for them.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30pm ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam
Brooklyn – Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Royce O’Neale, Kevin Durant, Nic Claxton
Toronto – Otto Porter Jr. (hamstring – out), Chris Boucher (hamstring – questionable), Khem Birch (knee – questionable)
Brooklyn – Seth Curry (ankle – out), T.J. Warren (foot – put), Joe Harris (ankle – probable)
Scottie Returns to Brooklyn
After all the offseason rumours, I’m sure fans (at least the ones who became worried) are relieved that Scottie Barnes will play in Barclays Center wearing a Raptors jersey. The Nets apparently angled to acquire Barnes during the Durant sweepstakes, and the Raptors reportedly wouldn’t budge on that front. Tonight, I’d bet Barnes gives everyone a taste of why the Raptors kept their guy. Barnes has a way of rising to the occasion. A Friday night in Brooklyn feels a bit like an occasion!
You might remember some of Scottie’s big moments vs the Nets last year, like when he ripped the ball right out of Durant’s hands for the steal, or the late-game stepback three:
Durant himself has given Barnes glowing praise. Any possessions where they guard each other will be fun to watch. Barnes was held back a bit by some foul trouble during the season opener – tonight he’ll have a chance to be fully unleashed.
Whoever came up with this nickname — well done. All aboard the Kolokomotive! For a second-round rookie center making his regular season debut, against a team known for its size and featuring an All-Star center, Christian Koloko looked damn good on Wednesday. While he was a couple missed dunks away from putting up a more aesthetically pleasing statline, Koloko did haul in six rebounds — including a nice putback dunk for his first career field goal!
Most importantly to the team’s current needs, Koloko looked legitimately good on defense. He provided rim protection that simply no one else on the roster is consistently capable of. Check out how he deals with Donovan Mitchell’s drive:
Ambitious of Mitchell to think he could dunk on Koloko. #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/zpOZAGbeBw— Doc Naismith (@DocNaismith) October 20, 2022
So much good stuff on that play. 1) He doesn’t fall asleep as an off-ball defender — he’s guarding Jarrett Allen, but keeping his eye on Mitchell with the ball, which means... 2) He provides the help defense right on time. As soon as Mitchell blows by his man, Koloko leaves Allen and quickly shuffles to cut off Mitchell. 3) Despite his forward momentum, Koloko has the body control to gather and leap straight up, allowing him to cleanly defend Mitchell’s attempt. His sheer length does the rest of the work.
Koloko has a lot of room to grow, and his minutes might dwindle with Boucher returning, but the rim protection Koloko gives the Raptors could be worth some regular rotation minutes. My guess is Nurse gives him another chance to prove himself tonight.
Who will come off the bench tonight when Fred VanVleet subs out? More importantly: will Fred VanVleet sub out tonight? On Wednesday, VanVleet played 39 minutes. For the other nine, Nurse chose Dalano Banton to handle some of the backup point guard duties (he also checked in for the fouled-out Siakam for the final 16 seconds). Will Nurse go with Banton’s length and pace? Will he give Malachi Flynn a chance to showcase his growth? Flynn’s team option for the 2023-24 season was recently picked up, but he still needs to earn Nurse’s trust to be given regular run. The hope is that Flynn can be an aggressive but stout defender against guards, while being a little more assertive on offense. Keep an eye on the non-Fred minutes (assuming there are, in fact, non-Fred minutes).
Other thoughts: O.G. looked great in the second half on Wednesday and Siakam was amazing, carrying the offense with his creation at times when it looked otherwise stagnant. (Oh, by the way, I wrote this neat preview about how Siakam might take another leap this season!) Trent’s shotmaking was big for the Raptors, and hopefully Achiuwa can build on a solid second half. It’s good to have basketball back.