The Toronto Raptors kicked off their season tonight as they hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight in Toronto. Head Coach Darko Rajakovic kicked off his coaching career with a hefty task — not breaking Toronto’s 18 game winning streak against the TWolves at home.
Which seemed easy enough (ish?) given the Raptors went 4-0 in the preseason. Luckily, the pieces came together and the Raptors were able to start the season with a 1-0 record, and Rajakovic got his first career win.
The Raptors went with a starting lineup of Dennis Schroder, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, and O.G. Anunoby. The TImberWolves started (Canadian) Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Mike Conley, Karl Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert.
Pregame, Coach Rajakovic told the media that he was going into the start of the season with a ten man rotation, but that he wasn’t “married” to it — meaning things could change game by game. By the first quarter, Rajakovic’s decisions made it seem like the ten men would be:
Starters: Anunoby, Poeltl, Siakam, Barnes, Schroder
Bench: Trent Jr., Dick, Achiuwa, McDaniels, Flynn
Gradey Dick as a rookie got first half minutes as well — to ROARING applause from fans at Scotiabank Arena.
We’ll see how this rotation changes as the season progresses. It was also the official premiere of the new offence — dubbed the “.5 offence” by Rajakovic.
One surprising omission from this rotation was Chris Boucher — who has been a staple in the Raptors rotation for years’ past. When asked about that decision postgame, Rajakovic mentioned talking to Boucher prior to the start of the season, calling him a consummate professional. He apparently told him to stay ready and assured the media that we will see him as the season progresses.
Overall, the game was a combination of messy and good, with the ball feeling sticky at times. Postgame, Coach Rajakovic commented that he thought there were times that the team took too long into the shot clock to get into offence as well. He wanted more cutting and driving, but was overall happy with the ball movement the team displayed as well.
Also included: a ton of fun moments. It was FUN! See below:
Let’s get into some specifics:
It was Pascal Siakam who started the game off with a three pointer to get the Raptors rolling. Yet the first quarter was mostly the Anthony Edwards show — he scored 12 of Timberwolves 25 first quarter points. The game was tied 25-25 after the first 12 minutes.
O.G. Anunoby took over more in the second half and was the highest scoring Raptor with 13 points. Overall, the second quarter was sloppier. The ball seemed to be slippery, passing was messy, and it seemed like the Raptors were struggling to adjust to this new style a little. There were six turnovers total for the Raptors.
Still, the Raptors led 53-51 at the half way mark.
The first big lead for the Raptors came in the third quarter when they went up ten points over the Timberwolves. On a few great drives from Dennis Schroder, and a few dunks from Scottie Barnes, the Raptors gained their biggest lead so far in the game.
Yet, a cold stretch for the Raptors resulted in Minnesota coming back to takeover the lead 74-73 at the end of the third quarter — still anyone’s game heading into the final minutes.
The fourth quarter started out with some flashy plays, and the Raptors were playing decent defence while also being active on the glass — leading them to force a few turnovers onto Minnesota.
It was definitely a closer win than maybe desired, but still positive. The Raptors were pretty safe in the final stretch with a six point lead in the final minute. Even when the lack of stoppage meant Jakob Poeltl was not able to be subbed into the final plays, Precious Achiuwa was able to hold down the fort.
The Raptors won with a final score of 97-94.
Let’s dive into some takeaways...
Despite the offence maybe needing a bit more time to even out, it was the defence tonight that stole the show. Scottie Barnes in particular put on a great defensive performance, finishing the night with five blocks total. He also has two steals, and seven defensive rebounds.
Scottie Barnes tonight:— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) October 26, 2023
Barnes becomes the first Raptor to record at least 5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists & 5 blocks in a game since Charles Oakley in 2001 and just the 6th player to do it in franchise history.
Coach Rajakovic also commented on how Scottie did well defensively tonight, and when asked about how Barnes mostly guarded point guards last year, commented on Scottie’s ability to guard all positions.
The team in total had 39 defensive rebounds, nine steals, and 11 blocks on the night.
Dennis ended up being the Raptors’ highest scorer of the night with 22 points, seven assists and three rebounds. He was the first player since Kawhi Leonard to score 20+ points in their Toronto Raptors debut, according to team PR.
Coach also commented on Schroder’s calmness as a positive to this team tonight. He mentioned that his experience on multiple different teams helped him be ready to lead tonight as the team experienced a lot of firsts — both on the coaching staff and on the roster.
One noticeable thing from Dennis tonight that didn’t necessarily have to do with his play was the amount of huddles the team had during the game. They seemed to be communicating both on the court and during timeouts and stoppage time quite a lot.
Beginning of a New Era
One key talking point tonight was the “beginning of a new era of Raptors basketball.” Both from a coaching perspective and a playing/scheme perspective — but also just from a vibes perspective. Being at the game tonight, everything felt a little fresh.
very, very loud cheers are coming from the Raptors locker room.— Amit Mann (@Amit_Mann) October 26, 2023
Maybe celebrating Darko’s first win? Maybe just celebrating winning?
Regardless, they happy
The energy was there — exemplified by the loud cheers heard from the locker room post game as the team celebrated their coach’s first NBA win. The emphasis on “togetherness” both as a talking point in Darko’s praises of his team’s fight and in their very apparent ball sharing as the game went on. The win to start the season.
As Anunoby put it “it wasn’t perfect, but we’re happy with how the game went.”
It seems, if anything, that the vibes are drastically better even one game in. The curiousity at how this team will perform is still there, and can’t be decided through one win — yet starting on a high note is another sign that this team is feeling good so far.
Onto the Next...
Starting the season 1-0 is great, but there are still 81 games left to play! The Raptors will briefly head onto the road this Friday to face the Chicago Bulls, before coming back to Toronto to complete the back to back against... Nick Nurse’s Philadelphia 76ers!!
The Chicago game tips off Friday at 8:00 p.m. ET on TSN, while the Philadelphia game will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.