Raps pull up their Sox

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

Clearly trying to co-opt the miraculous success of the Boston Red Sox, the Raptors actually wore red socks last night.

After all, if the Red Sox can win a World Series, the Raptors can be competitive, right?

The sun still would come up in the morning. The stars wouldn't fall from the sky.

The fact the tipoff was delayed because some ill-advised confetti was falling from the sky -- well, from the roof of the Air Canada Centre, anyway -- did not dull the initial excitement of opening night for the NBA in Toronto. However, it became a tad annoying when the two head coaches -- Sam Mitchell of the Raptors and Jeff Van Gundy of the Rockets -- still were picking bits of paper off the court late in the first half.

When the Raptors surged to a 13-point lead six minutes into the proceedings, the confetti seemed justified. The Raptors quickly lost that lead when they dipped into their bench, but they collected themselves and managed to ride the Rockets to an encouraging 95-88 victory.

When Mitchell was asked if his first coaching win in his first game as a coach could have been any more satisfying, he smiled and said, "No, it couldn't." And frankly, for anyone who watched a Raptors game last season, 1-0 feels good.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police colour guard officially opened the campaign, and Canadian Idol winner Kalan Porter sang the national anthems. Porter then watched the game from a courtside seat, looking about as bored as any human being possibly could be.

The game wasn't dull, though. As promised, the Raptors at least moved at a fan-pleasing pace, eschewing the walk-a-thon methodology of a year ago.

"I kept saying to Rafer (Alston, the Raptors' speedy point guard), 'Don't wait for us,' " Vince Carter said.

Hey, maybe it was the red socks. And to match their red socks, the Raptors also wore their spiffy red uniforms, giving the proceedings a strong Canadian flavour that would have made U.S. President George W. Bush -- who hails from the same state as the Rockets -- uncomfortable.

Getting back to basketball, the first glimpse into Mitchell's rotation brought a couple of mild surprises. The starters were the usual suspects: Carter, Alston, Jalen Rose, Chris Bosh and Loren Woods, who was surprisingly effective against 7-foot-5 Rockets centre Yao Ming.

Donyell Marshall was the first man off the bench, followed by Morris Peterson. Then came two eyebrow-raisers: Milt Palacio (who for now has won the backup point-guard battle with Roger Mason, Jr.) and rookie Rafael Araujo (who some observers thought wouldn't get any court time at all near the start of the season). Mitchell then sent Lamond Murray onto the court, and rookie Matt Bonner even got some action early in the fourth quarter.

By the end of the night, though, only six Raptors -- the five starters plus Marshall -- had played extended minutes. And most of those guys looked exhausted in a horrific third quarter that allowed Houston to surge.

The more weary the Raptors got, the more they fell into their old habits and relied on jump shots. But despite some dangerous moments in the fourth quarter, the home side still was standing -- albeit huffing and puffing -- at the end.

"We're not guarding anybody," said a grumbling Van Gundy, whose Rockets sank to 0-2. "We're just a bad defensive team right now. It's pretty simple."

Life is pretty simple for the Raptors this morning, too, since winning tends to cure everything, at least temporarily.

START GAUGING

"I have my thoughts about our team, but now we start finding out," Mitchell said. "At least now we can start gauging."

So what was gauged last night?

The Raptors got only sporadic help from their bench and their determined starters tired significantly as the game wore on. So logically, what they need is a couple more starters.

If the Raptors are going to continue to wear the red socks, do you think Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez would be interested in switching sports?


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