It’s just one preseason game, but Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse knows how to tease his fanbase. Scottie Barnes — the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year — is a self-proclaimed point guard, and Nurse gave the fanbase what they wanted by starting Barnes at the point. Coach Nurse wasn’t done making things interesting, as he also gave Christian Koloko his first look with the starters.
Unfortunately, Barnes pulled off a stinker, and Koloko’s game peaked at 4 blocks in the first five minutes as the Raptors’ horrible offense was in midseason form, as the team lost their first preseason game to the Houston Rockets, 116-100.
Pascal Siakam tried to will his team with 18 points and six boards but shot a paltry 1-for-6 from the perimeter. Dalano Banton added 14 points off the bench, with 11 points coming in the first half. The Raptors could have built another high-rise condo in downtown Toronto with the number of bricks they attempted, shooting 6-for-34 from behind the arc, 2-for-7 in the midrange, and 22-for-38 from the stripe.
It also did not help the Raptors’ cause that they turned the ball over 17 times over the first three quarters, leading to 21 points off turnovers for the Rockets. It was fastbreaks, points off turnovers, and three-pointers for the Rockets, as they were +18 behind the arc. Jalen Green’s solid tough-shot creation led to 23 points and four trifectas. Rockets’ rookie Tari Eason’s 24 points came from plenty of effort plays.
The Raptors’ starters combined for 1-for-16 shooting from behind the arc, while Barnes looked about “two years away from being two years away” from being a passable point guard. With no Fred VanVleet around, the lack of natural point guard play was evident, and it made even the transition lineups look worse than they should be. Should we be concerned with Barnes’ performance so far?
The Raptors started the game in midseason form, shooting 1-for-8. If someone was watching this game with no prior knowledge, they might think that the Raptors are the ones getting reps for Brick-for-Vic sweepstakes, as they bricked almost every shot they took outside of the paint. Fortunately, the Rockets showcased some tanking versatility, allowing the Raptors to win the quarter ugly by repeatedly attacking Garrison Matthews, 29-28.
The Rockets opened the second quarter by adjusting the slider on their defense, and suddenly, the Raptors’ offense looked crisp. Dalano Banton took advantage with a couple of aggressive looks to the basket. O.G. Anunoby, not to be outdone, caught the defense napping for a thunderous dunk, forcing the Rockets to call a timeout. The Raptors came out of a timeout with a full-court press — who does a full-court press on a preseason game lol — but it seemed appropriate with this Agent of Chaos unit of Anunoby/Banton/Boucher/Achiuwa/Young. After a couple of sloppy plays, the Rockets retook the lead with a 7-0 run, but the 45 Express took the lead back in transition.
Instead of pulling away, the Raptors continued to rack up film review-worthy defensive mistakes as both teams traded leads. Bo Cruz was the first reserve fighting for a roster spot to get his number called but disappointingly went 1-for-3 from behind the arc despite being wide open. An 8-0 Rockets run pushed their lead to nine, with Gary Trent Jr’s pretty middy a sight for sore eyes, but Anunoby’s corner brick to end the half pushed their awful perimeter shooting to 2-for-15, as the Rockets closed the half with a 65-56 lead.
The Raptors opened the second half with the same putrid offense, as they continued to put up brick-after-brick on shots outside the paint, allowing the Rockets to build a 15-point lead. The lacklustre showing pushed Nurse to take Barnes out in favour of Banton, along with Khem Birch’s first appearance. The Raptors tried to amp up the defensive intensity while pushing the pace faster and getting to the paint a priority. However, they could not bring the lead lower than nine, as Jalen Green seemed to have an answer when the Rockets needed one. Barnes returned late in the quarter but looked indecisive and not in sync with his teammates. The quarter ended with how the game had gone so far: a Rocket (Kevin Porter Jr) three-point splash and a Raptor (Boucher) perimeter airball, giving the Rockets a 92-79 lead entering the final frame.
It was only a 13-point lead, and we have miracle workers at the end of our rotation, so this should not have been a tall order for the Raptors, right? Nurse called it a night for Barnes early in the 4th, finishing the night with pretty much an egg and perhaps his worst game in a Raptors uniform. Boucher’s corner trifecta broke the 19 consecutive perimeter bricks hoisted by the Raptors to cut the lead to 10. However, turnovers and inconsistent defense kept preventing the Raptors from making a comeback.
The Rockets managed to push the lead to 15 points off TyTy Washington Jr’s step-back three, but Gabe Brown was the first Raptor to hit two three-pointers(!!!), cutting the lead to 107-97, forcing the Rockets to call a timeout with four minutes left in regulation. Ron Harper Jr made his first appearance and quickly bricked a transition three, squandering an opportunity to cut the lead down, but he made it up on the other end, forcing a Rockets turnover. The game quickly got sloppy, and there is no comeback happening tonight.
At this rate, Gabe Brown, as a dark horse to steal a roster spot, is gaining momentum with his groundbreaking two three-pointers tonight, shooting 4-for-8 in this preseason. Heck, with how the game went, Masai and Bobby should be waiting in the tunnel with a pen and a contract.
Up next: The Raptors host DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls this Sunday.