Raps crash the party

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Minutes before the opening tip last night, 76ers guard Andre Iguodala took the mike at centre court and announced an impending celebration in this city for "those guys down the street."

We assume he was talking about the Phillies who, four hours later, would nail down their first World Series title in 28 years.

Iguodala then promised another celebration about eight months from now. We're assuming he meant his own 76ers.

Apparently, the Raptors weren't listening. After as bad a rebounding first quarter as any Raptors team has had, it was the visitors who looked like the ones serious about making the big jump this season, not the Sixers.

Yes, it's just the first game of the 2008-09 NBA season. But a 95-84 victory over a Sixers team getting U.S.-wide attention for being on the cusp of bigger things, is a huge statement for the Raps.

Chris Bosh had a game-high 27 points, but there were solid efforts from each of the Raptors starters as well as, perhaps surprisingly, a condensed five-man bench.

If there is a number the Raptors will take from this game it is 34, which is the percentage of successful shots they limited the Sixers to.

"That's a good basketball team," Sam Mitchell said of the Sixers. "To come in here on opening night against that team with the addition of Elton Brand. I mean we didn't play great, but we competed."

That first quarter, however, was every Raptors fan's worst nightmare. The home side outrebounded the Raps 22-5 in those opening 12 minutes.

Bosh was a non-factor for most of that first quarter but, like the rest of the Raptors, he kept his composure and battled back.

"If you are tested early like that, you are either going to go up or down," Bosh said. "You have to stay in the game. We stayed relaxed and we didn't panic."

The rebounding turned around in the second quarter, and much of that credit goes to newcomer Jermaine O'Neal who made a suggestion to his teammates between quarters.

"I told them that we can't get into our offence if we can't get the ball," said O'Neal, who finished with 17 points. "There has never been a possession in the history of the game to score without the basketball. We were running out. It was like me and four white (Sixers) jerseys at one time. As athletic as we are and as big as we are at certain positions, we should be able to get the ball. Philly sends everyone to the basket, so you have to send everyone and that's what I told those guys and they corrected it."

The saving grace for the Raps was that, as bad as they were on the glass, the Sixers were equally putrid from the floor as they failed time and again to take advantage of extra possessions. Despite that staggering advantage on the boards, the second-chance points for the quarter were just 4-3 in Philly's favour.

The game turned drastically in the second half when Mitchell sent out a unit that included Roko Ukic, Jason Kapono, Joey Graham, Andrea Bargnani and Bosh.

Ukic, who looked lost for a good part of the pre-season, was both confident and competent running the offence for the bulk of the second quarter.

With Ukic at the point, the Raps outscored the Sixers 26-15, erasing Philly's three-point first-quarter lead and taking control of the game.

O'Neal said he particularly enjoyed the emotion he saw from his teammates.

"This team has not been a very emotional team and you saw a lot of emotion out there," he said. "I don't know what happened the past 13 years, but I know these guys are making adjustments. It's just one game, but you have to be able to build off something and this is a great building block for us against a tough team in a tough building."


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