For better or for worse (okay, mainly for worse), what fans in attendance at Wednesday night’s home opener against Indiana saw was what Raptors basketball will look like this year.
Toronto maintained a high level of defensive intensity throughout the game, but took their share of dumb fouls. They spread the ball around and out-assisted the Pacers, but also turned the ball over 19 times. They kept things competitive until the bitter end and even showed resilience in closing the gap to two points late from what was a double-digit deficit, but proceeded to allow a back-breaking Danny Granger three and wound up losing 90-85 (again, what Raptors basketball will look like many nights this year).
Here’s what else happened during an eventful home opener that also featured Kardinal Offishall, Justin Bieber and the homecoming of Jamaal Magloire.
Magloire Sets the Tone
For a guy who wound up with just 13:33 of playing time, it sure seemed like Magloire was all over the place on Wednesday. There he was in the pre-game getting one of the loudest ovations during team introductions and then being the voice of the Raptors (apologies to Eric Smith and Paul Jones, not to mention Herbie Kuhn) in addressing the fans. There he was at halftime getting a shout-out and bro hug from Offishall during what was a pretty underwhelming halftime set. In the interim, he was providing a physical edge and mixing it up in the paint, as well as making life miserable for Dahntay Jones (more on that later), block victim Paul George and the rest of the Pacers.
Raptors Didn’t Fold
A stampede for the exits began among an otherwise excellent opening night crowd at 4:29 of the fourth quarter, as Granger got the hoop and harm on a reverse lay-up to give Indy what would be a 12-point edge after the made free throw. For the last Raptors team who played a meaningful game at the Air Canada Centre, that probably would’ve represented – for all intents and purposes – the end of the night. However, with Dwane Casey getting animated from the bench as though it was a one-possession game, the Raps, led by DeMar DeRozan, scored the next seven points and 13 of the next 16 to make it exactly that. The cynic in me would point out that it’s a whole lot easier to find the legs to make that kind of run in the second game of the season and first at home than, say, in the dog days of February, but the signs of character and competitive fire that emerged certainly represented positive takeaways. For one night at least, Magloire’s pre-game words about fighting hard and competing each night didn’t ring hollow.
Second Half DeMar
In what felt like a 48-minute representation of his 2010-11 season, DeRozan went from an utterly rhythm-less first half that included 0-4 shooting and no points (shades of his uninspiring first half of last season) to a red-hot second half scorer (22 points on 9-12 shooting) and clutch fourth quarter performer (shades of last season’s back half). DeRozan was integral to the late-game rally, but it does make you wonder where that same aggressiveness and confidence was early on.
That’s Right, They’re Kids
For much of the game and, specifically, the fourth quarter, the Raptors looked composed, confident and physical, as though the newly-acquired veteran presence had permeated the whole roster. Then Indiana called a timeout after Andrea Bargnani’s three-point play to map out an offensive set. When they returned to the court, the set had Granger parked in the corner beyond the arc. Mystifyingly, James Johnson, who was otherwise having a solid outing (six points, eight rebounds, six steals and a team-best +8), lost track of the Pacers star and gave a wide-open look to the last guy on the floor who should’ve gotten one. It wasn’t the only defensive miscue on the night (as good as Toronto was defensively, Indy helped by missing their share of open looks), but it was the most costly and also the mistake that brought to mind how young this team still is.
I showed him the love after Monday’s effort, so now I have to call him out on what was a miserable performance. It wasn’t just that Davis’ rebound total was matched by his fouls (three) or that he managed a paltry two points on 1-2 shooting, but he was the anti-Magloire, getting pushed around at various times by Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansbrough. I know this is all a part of his development, but it should still be frustrating for him, as it is for his supporters.
Protect the Rock
Is it too late for a new team slogan? I’m still not entirely sure what “Pound the Rock” is supposed to mean, but “Protect the Rock” seems relevant when it comes to a club that turned the ball over on 19 occasions against Indiana. Johnson, the worst offender on Monday in Cleveland, did his part in not coughing up the ball, but the same could not be said for Bargnani (four turnovers) or Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson (three each).
- It was a rough night for Jones even beyond an underwhelming four-point scoring total. The swingman was the victim of two rock-solid Magloire picks on the same possession, the second of which knocked him right down. Then, he looked none too pleased with J. Johnson’s posturing after an early fourth quarter block of one of Jones’ field goal attempts. In the end, Jones did get some measure of revenge with an emphatic dunk about a minute later, capped off by some added swagger on the part of the former Grizzlie.
- The small back-and-forth between Jones and Johnson weren’t the only set of not-so-pleasantries exchanged between the two clubs that have some heat dating back to last season’s conflict between Leandro Barbosa and Granger (the Pacers took exception to Barbosa’s late lay-up attempt in what was already an out-of-reach game). In addition to Jones-Johnson, Hansbrough and Magloire went to the floor in the second quarter in what was a battle of physical, blue collar forwards and Roy Hibbert reportedly had an altercation with a Raptors player off the court as well.
- I don’t have any particular feelings of hatred that some seem to possess towards Justin Bieber. He’s a kid with obvious talent who has found a great deal of success appealing to a demographic that I am not a part of, so I have no reason to feel anything but indifferent towards him. That being said, from the high-pitched shrieks of screaming girls in his general courtside direction (during the game, might I add), to the complete disregard for NBA regulations as he got up and attempted a three-pointer during a timeout, I wouldn’t be too broken up if he didn’t make it out to any more games this season.
- Kudos to the Raptors organization for hitting just the right note with the pre-game festivities, as well as the over-all game experience enhancement tools for the opener. The free t-shirt and rally towel for each fan was a nice touch from a club that reportedly asked and was denied permission from the league to make their home pre-season game free. Also, the video of Casey’s speech was compelling (loved the line about “we have roles for everyone here, from DeMar to Solo[mon Alabi]” and the personal messages of thanks to the fans from Casey and the players was spot-on.
The Raptors learn first-hand of the quirks of the shortened schedule, as they travel to winless Dallas on Friday to start a strange road swing that will also take them to Orlando and New York (8:30pm, TSN).
Keep an Eye on:
1) … Casey’s return. The coach will be presented with his NBA championship ring before the game and will likely get a warm ovation from a savvy American Airlines Center crowd that is well aware of the influence that Casey had on the reigning champs.
2) … J. Johnson vs Odom. Johnson may have an opportunity to atone for his late gaffe on Wednesday in the form of a defensive match-up against Mavs forward Lamar Odom. Odom will surely looking to get on track in Dallas after a wonky start that has seen him make two of his first 16 shots and generally struggle to fit in. Johnson doesn’t quite boast Odom’s length, but is similarly versatile and quicker.
The Pick: Mavericks 94, Raptors 85 (1-0 this season)