Exhibition opener no Real test for Raptors
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
|New Raptor Landry Fields goes to the basket under pressure during Toronto's game against Real Madrid on Monday night at the ACC. (AFP)
Idle for about six months, the Raptors were predictably scattershot during Monday night’s pre-season debut at the Air Canada Centre, a 102-95 win over Spain’s Real Madrid.
At times they looked like world-beaters, at others, like a group of players suiting up together for the first time.
Of course, that was exactly the case, with Dwane Casey getting his first opportunity to mix and match this new bunch of Raptors.
In front of a sparse crowd, the home side delivered a turkey of a performance early — most notably when DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields and Andrea Bargnani were blocked in succession — but things turned around when the second unit came in and keyed a 19-2 run.
Newcomer John Lucas III sparked the team’s best play and Amir Johnson, who pronounced himself finally back to 100% after a tough 2011-12 season, was also strong for the Raptors.
DeRozan led the way with 18 points, Lucas added 16 and Johnson had 12 points and six rebounds.
The third quarter was a foul-plagued slog, the type of game one would expect to see to open the pre-season, but both teams shot over 50% in the final frame as the Raptors pulled away.
Casey saw the contest as a “gauge” of where his team was at, with a number of tune-ups still to come prior to the regular season tipoff on Halloween.
The coach was most interested in how the Raptors performed defensively.
The answer was, not bad, but not great either.
“A lot of mistakes,” was Casey’s pronouncement on the defence afterwards, though the visitors were held to 41.9% shooting from the field and hit just 10-of-28 three-point attempts, Casey wasn’t happy about allowing 44 free throw attempts.
“Up and down, some good minutes, some not as good minutes, but I think that’s expected for the first game after not even a week of practice,” Jose Calderon added.
PUSHING THE PACE
Lucas knows Casey wants the Raptors to get the ball up the court quickly and he made a point of doing that as often as possible. Checking in late in the first quarter, Lucas fired the ball up-court three times before that quarter was done, leading to good offensive looks. Led by Lucas, the Raptors erased an early lead by the visitors and went on a 19-2 run.
Lucas nailed a pair of threes in the first half.
Raptors rookie Terrence Ross had a strong debut.
Ross looked a tad nervous on his first attempt, an air-balled three-pointer, but said it wasn’t because he was nervous, but rather because he faded a bit and took a bad shot.
Things went much better from there.
He nailed his next attempt, another in the third quarter and two more in the fourth without a miss and did some good things defensively, though Casey singled him out for making a couple of “typical rookie mistakes” but added that Ross’ upside is “off the charts.”
BIG V GETTING CLOSER
Jonas Valanciunas took part in pre-game warmups, came out for the pre-game introductions and is inching ever closer to a return.
“He’s close, he went this morning, still no contact, but he’s going hard, he’s going full bore, so he’s getting closer,” Casey said.
Casey said Valanciunas could debut with the team “any time this week,” but also cautioned that the team will not rush him back from his calf injury.
“This kid is going to be here a long time so we’re going to make sure he’s ready to go.”
Casey said that while Valanciunas is picking up the terminology in practice, he needs to play and get used to the speed and physicality of the NBA.
“Whether it’s sometime this month, this week, it’s important, believe me. But we’re not going to rush him.”