Talk about sensory overload. An early 6PM start to kick off their home opener, the Raptors introduced the team to a spectacle of pyrotechnics set to the tune of Headlines by Drake. The Canadian content didn’t stop there as Jamaal Magloire took to centre court to address the sold out crowd who were later treated to a halftime show by Kardinal Official. The show stealer though was Justin Bieber who sat courtside to take in the game and even bricked a 3 from Jimmer range during a time out. All the hoopla aside, there was an NBA game to be played so on to that…
Remember that whole thing about small victories and silver linings I mentioned before the season kicked off? Well tonight was full of them as the Raptors dropped a close one to the Pacers, 90-85. Another slow start from DeRozan combined with a struggling Calderon found the team in a 8 point hole going into the fourth. The fact that they were in this position had nothing to do with their defense, which picked up where they left off in Cleveland. Rather, the Raptors struggles came on the offensive end where the lack of practice time and a full length preseason were evident.
Andrea Bargnani carried the offensive load for the first half where the team mustered up just 34 points (Fans better get used to these low scoring affairs). Unlike previous seasons though, the Raptors remained focused on the defensive end holding the Pacers to just 38 points in the same span. They loosened up the D a little in the 3rd, but a late 4th quarter run put the team in a position to tie the game up. Considering this is a learning process and the system is fairly new, this team battled to the end when many times they could have just given up. These are the things you want to see in a team that is rebuilding. Getting the fundamentals right and the offense will follow.
After the game, Dwane Casey said he was happy with the way they played, feels they are right there and with time together as a unit, they are headed in the right direction.
The Night in Numbers
21 points for Bargnani has him join Bosh and Carter as the only Raptors players to score 20 points or more in 4 home openers. (via @RaptorsPR)
54% from the free throw line. Not going to cut it on most nights, especially when they only got there 13 times as a team.
2 straight games the Raptors have shot a better percentage from the field than their opponent. Tonight they held the Pacers to 39.5%
13 steals against a young, athletic team is another example of the effort the Raptors are bringing on the defensive end.
10 Fastbreak points registered by the Raptors who did not record a single point in that category against the Cavaliers.
0 first half points for DeMar though he ended the night with 22. Through 2 games, he has scored just 4 first half points.
22 second chance points for the Pacers to go along with the 16 points they got off 19 Raptors turnovers.
The Starting Five
4th Quarter Heroics – DeMar DeRozan knows he is a cornerstone for this franchise as it stands now but he isn’t getting worried about his lack of production early in games. After being held to just 4 points in the first half in Cleveland, DeMar notched 0 tonight. Postgame, I asked him if there was anything he feels he can do differently to get going early to which he replied, “It will come. I don’t want to start forcing things. I have to pick and choose, because some days its going to come later in the game”. That’s the right answer but the 22 second half points won’t be so easy each time. It may be early in the season but DeMar needs to find a go to move, one that he can bank on. Part of this growing process is building consistency and while its fun to play hero in the 4th it’s even more fun to play hero for the entire game.
James Johnson – Can we just call him Santa cuz this kid is stuffing the stat sheet every night. 14 RB, 8 STL, 5 BLK over the first 2 games. Save for the blown assignment late in tonights tilt, he was the best player wearing a Raptors uniform. After the game he took the blame for it but coach wasn’t letting him go down alone. James was a complete question mark coming into the season but it’s clear early what his role is going to be and if he keeps playing this way, expect to find him in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Andrea Bargnani – There was a 30 second span in the 3rd quarter where I was in absolute shock. Bargnani gets a block on David West, runs the floor, takes a pass from DeMar and slams it home. Yep, that was in a game and it didn’t stop there. Though not all of it shows in the boxscore, Andrea was active all night on both ends of the floor. He still can’t hold on to a rebound to save his life but it wasn’t for the lack of trying tonight. When the Raptors brought in a defensive minded coach, I was concerned that Andrea is going to have a tough time adjusting. So far, so good. He seems to be committed to making the effort coach is asking of him and if he can build on it there is hope for him yet.
3 Point Shot – The Raptors were a horrible 3 point shooting team last season and the stats are there to prove it. They even surrendered the sole record they had held for most consecutive games with a made three pointer. Totally different story through 2 games this season where they are shooting 41.7%, good for 5th best in the league. Most of the personel is the same but the looks they are getting are much better. DeMar adding the 3 to his repertoire has been a nice surprise as well. His 2 made three’s tonight were the first time he has done that in his career. During the game, @timpchisholm made a great observation on twitter – “DeRozan’s three point shot does not impress me as much as his confidence in it. Impressive indeed for a 9% 3p shooter last season.”
Physical Play – “Soft” and “Toronto Raptors” went hand in hand during the Bosh era, but this new version of the team looks like they want to change that perception. Several times during the game tonight things got scrappy but the Raps did not back down. Magloire got in the face of a couple Pacers and after the game DeMar said he enjoyed playing a more physical game. “Fun”, he called it. The team has each others back’s too. During a play where Amir Johnson went down, Hibbert offered him a hand which he refused and waited for his own teammate to help him up. Its a small thing but speaks volumes of the new mentality of this team.
Up Next: Raptors @ Mavericks. Friday, 30th Dec 2011 at 8:30PM