Raptors rookies battle highs and lows

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

They were great at times and not so great at other times.

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell promised there would be nights like this for his three rookies and on opening night, the trio had its ups and downs.

There was a Joey Graham three-pointer to open the Raptors scoring for the season, a Jose Calderon-led second quarter surge and some key baskets from Charlie Villanueva. But in the end, Calderon was a non-factor in the second half, Villanueva fired an air ball on a potential game-tying shot and the Raptors lost 99-96 against the Washington Wizards at the Air Canada Centre.

"We're going to make some mistakes, but hopefully with our youth and our energy we can make up for it," Mitchell said.

Mitchell stressed there was plenty to build on and he's right about that. Calderon was a ball movement machine in the second quarter, helping the Raptors go on a 13-4 run. But in the second half, the Spanish point guard was almost invisible and finished with five points and three assists.

POOR SECOND HALF

"I feel bad because we lost," said Calderon, who resisted the urge to call home to Spain after the game in the early morning hours overseas. "It is special because it is my first NBA game. I try to win because I will always remember this game. But we lost."

Graham scored the Raptors' first five points on a three-pointer and a drive, but he missed some open shots as the game went along. However, he delivered the solid defence he has been talking about since he was drafted by the Raptors.

"I thought I did all right the first game," Graham said. "I wasn't nervous at all. I went out there and just tried to play hard and tried to make some good things happen."

Villanueva was 5-for-12 from the field with 11 points after leading all rookies in pre-season scoring. The big disappointment for the New Yorker was an airball on a game-tying three-pointer with less than 12 seconds left.

"I had a good look at the rim, it just fell short," Villanueva said. "Things happen. A missed shot, you can't do nothing about that."

Overall, however, the rookies showed they belonged.

"We all have our own little niche, things we're supposed to do out there," Graham said. "We showed coaches, general managers and fans we can do different things they brought us in here to do. We're excited about that."


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