CLEVELAND -- For the better part of 36 hours leading up to the Raptors' first game action of the 2008-09 campaign, Sam Mitchell warned everyone within earshot that the game meant nothing.
And for a half his Raptors played like it. A team that would not attack the basket a year ago went right back to settling for jumpers and treating the paint like it was some sort of sacred ground. The defence, the focus of their entire training camp, wasn't much better, and that more than anything else concerned the head coach.
But a third-quarter turnaround, orchestrated by the Raptors starters and then followed by an equally determined second unit sent everyone home relatively happy with a 104-84 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"We have a lot of work to do ... but we got better as the game progressed," Mitchell said. "We made a lot of mistake defensively, especially in that first quarter. We can't give up 28 points in the first quarter. But the effort was there."
Holding the Cavaliers to 84 points on any night is an accomplishment although it must be pointed out that LeBron James played just eight minutes, all of them in the first quarter.
Still, Mitchell came away feeling he accomplished what he needed to in the first game. Andrea Bargnani, a guy rarely mentioned when any defensive accolades were handed out in the past by Mitchell got special mention.
"I will promise you when we do the grading (Bargnani) will grade out high defensively because he was where he was supposed to be in the traps and the rotations," Mitchell said. "That's what I'm looking for right now. I told the guys you have to carry out your assignments defensively and that's what I'm looking for and then finish it off by rebounding the basketball and he did that tonight."
It also was a big learning night for Will Solomon, who was seeing his first NBA action in six years.
Cavs point guard Mo Williams was picking up Solomon from the Raptors half of the court and giving the Toronto backup point guard a heavy dose of NBA pressure. Mitchell saw it happening and left Solomon out there for a team-high 32 minutes, figuring this was a perfect learning opportunity.
Solomon appreciated it.
"I was thrown in the fire, but I appreciate it," Solomon said.
"He showed me confidence and the only thing I could do is play hard and help the team."
Offensively, the Raps were led by Solomon's 17 points but it was the third quarter with the starting unit in for the first nine minutes which turned the tide of the game.
The Raps went into the half down by eight but when Mitchell went to his bench nine minutes later it was the Raptors in front by eight and the team never looked back.
Among the standouts were Bargnani with 15 points and a team-high eight rebounds as well as Kris Humphries, who continued his strong play from training camp, with 14 points and five boards in just 21 minutes.
A year ago the Raptors spent training camp trying to determine who from the group of Jason Kapono, Carlos Delfino and Joey Graham gave them the best shot at winning as the starter at small forward.
It turns out the answer was none of the above as Jamario Moon took over the spot.
This time around there really are no jobs to be decided. Midway through training camp in Ottawa head coach Sam Mitchell mentioned briefly he could insert Kapono as his starting shooting guard for Anthony Parker but admitted then he really wasn't sure if that was something he wanted to do.
Last night he went with Parker and sounds like a man who has put any plans on the backburner.
"In talking to those guys, I don't think they really care," Mitchell said. "I talked to AP and Jason about it briefly and they were both like, what difference does it make."
For a guy who just went through media training the day before, Mitchell was in a rather unco-operative mood yesterday in his pre-game media scrum.
"We haven't played a game yet," Mitchell announced before a question had been asked so whatever y'all are going to ask me I only have one answer, 'I don't know.' "
Mitchell did answer a few questions although like his players an hour or so later on the floor, was far from mid-season form. So what did Sam get out of his media training? "Media training 101, it says do not trust anyone with a camera, a microphone, or a pen."