For one day, all is right in Raptor land. The club is officially one game into its shortened 2011-12 season and Jose Calderon is running a balanced offence, the young guys seem to be embracing bigger roles (well, most of them) and, yes, Dwane Casey’s emphasis on defence seems to be getting through.
Sure, it’s just a win over Cleveland, but a road win is a road win and 1-0 is 1-0. To celebrate, how about the first of a new-look set of game recaps I’ll be rolling out this season?
It doesn’t get much more balanced than what the Raps put forth offensively against Cleveland. Seven Raptors (Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Leandro Barbosa, Ed Davis, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless) scored in double digits, each of whom took between 7-14 shots. In addition, every Raptor tallied at least one assist (Calderon led all with 11) to help the club hold a 35-21 advantage in the dime department.
Calderon ran a superb game and was probably the best player on the floor on Monday night, but the game was decided in the low post and that’s where Davis and Johnson shone. Collectively, the big men recorded 27 points on 12-14 shooting (a perfect 7-7 for Davis) while pulling down 20 rebounds and blocking five shots. Each man’s play offered promise for different reasons – Davis displayed the sleek low post moves and lefty edge that help boost his potential ceiling, while Johnson managed to stay out of foul trouble (well, severe foul trouble) while still employing a physical, aggressive game. James Johnson, meanwhile, picked up right where he left off last season as a stat filler, scoring just five points but adding six boards, five assists, three blocks and two steals (and, in the one stat column he could do without, four turnovers).
For at least one game, the Raptors are buying what Casey is selling. Davis and Johnson’s blocked shots made for nice, showy highlights, but the team’s collective commitment to positioning and providing help ‘D’ really stood out. DeRozan wasn’t particularly impressive on offence, but used his athleticism and length well in guarding Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi and, on a few plays, Antawn Jamison. Of course, it helped that those three all play far too large a role within the Cavs’ offence – largely because there aren’t a whole lot other options. Casspi, Jamison and Kyrie Irving combined to shoot 8-of-36 from the floor.
The Bad: (not much to complain about, though)
The Future PG
Calderon’s standout game should be the focus, but it’s still tough to completely ignore the 17:35 of court time that can be seen in the box score next to Bayless’ name. Casey has shown that he is willing to make Bayless work for his minutes and the response simply wasn’t there on Monday. Bayless was among just three Raptors on the wrong side of the plus/minus ledger, which served in stark contrast to the +12 Calderon. It’s not that his numbers were terrible (10 points, three assists), but he couldn’t duplicate the balanced game managing that Calderon produced which was so integral to the win.
Yeah, I don’t get it. I hear where he’s credited for serving as a veteran presence and providing defence-stretching three-point shooting, but is he really the kind of guy that skilled young players will bother listening to? And, for that matter, is he really contributing anything with what is, pretty much, subpar shooting from beyond the arc? If Butler was simply a low-risk guy brought in to round out the roster and offer short minutes / injury insurance, I wouldn’t mind his presence. However, there he was as the starting SF while 26-year old Gary Forbes got stuck with a DNP-CD.
- Scary to see Aaron Gray miss the game due to an irregular heartbeat. Although I guess if you’re going to have an issue crop up with a vital organ, there are worse places to do so than in Cleveland, home of the world-renown Cleveland Clinic.
- Speaking of scary, LeBron James tweeted “Ouch!” after Alonzo Gee landed awkwardly on his neck in the second quarter (he was fine), which begs the question: why is LeBron watching a Toronto-Cleveland game? Is he really so evil as to amuse himself by revelling in the Cavs’ misery?
- Neither T.O. product (Jamaal Magloire and Tristan Thompson) stood out in what was a big game for both, but their debuts (Magloire’s with the Raptors, Thompson’s in the NBA as a Cav) did inspire an interesting chat from Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins about the effect of the Raptors franchise on the current explosion of Canadian content in NCAA Division I basketball programs.
It’s home opener night, featuring a battle of unbeatens as the Raps host the improving Indiana Pacers on Wednesday (6:00pm, SNET).
Keep an eye on:
1) … the frontcourt battle. For Davis and the Johnsons, having success against Jamison, Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Ryan Hollins is one thing. Getting those same kind of results against Roy Hibbert, recent signee David West and Tyler Hansbrough (39 combined rebounds vs. Detroit) is a different kind of challenge.
2) … the Brazilian Blur. Granted, anything prior to the lockout seems like a lifetime ago (isn’t that right, Dallas Mavericks?), but Barbosa absolutely lit up the Pacers for 29 points on 12-21 shooting the last time the teams played (March 11, 2011).
The Pick: Pacers 96, Raptors 92