TORONTO - Having watched the tape of his Raptors’ first exhibition game, new head coach Dwane Casey remained as giddy and jacked up by their play as he was in the immediate aftermath of the game.
“A lot of positives, a lot,” Casey said with a look of supreme satisfaction Monday morning less than 24 hours after holding the Boston Celtics to 76 points and a 39% shooting performance.
Not even the ability to watch the game in slow motion and play it back as many times as he wanted changed Casey’s mind that the defensive progress he hoped to see following an intensive week of defensive drilling, was in fact there.
At the same time, Casey had just as clear a look at his team’s early offensive shortcomings. And having seen that, Casey had no problem changing things up just a bit and flipping his own and his team’s attention to the offensive side of the game, if only temporarily.
“Today was more of an offensive day,” Casey said. “Making sure we had guys where they were supposed to be (and working on our) late game situations. We didn’t execute the way we should have (against the Celtics). Being in the right spot. Those things will come. We are not panicking over that. Our No. 1 job from Day 1 is to get better defensively. Now not only have we gotten better defensively we have to maintain that level of intensity and that level of focus on the defensive end.”
While at the same time finding some offensive flow. Sunday’s game had next to none of that from a Raptors perspective. Casey said he would like to see the Raps pick up the tempo on offence a bit as well. Breaks were just too slow developing for his taste.
“We want to play a little faster and I think we will once we get more comfortable in our secondary break where we can flow into it where the point guard is not turn and turn again and turn again and fighting pressure up the floor.”
The longer it takes the Raptors to get down the floor the more pressure they put on their own offence.
“I thought we had too many situations where we were fighting the shot clock and had to jack up some ill-advised shots,” he said.
While Casey has pretty much overhauled the entire defensive strategy, he does not feel the same need to re-invent the offence. If there was one thing this team was pretty good at a year ago it was scoring and Casey realizes that.
“We may have to steal some of their sets from last year to get us going offensively, but those things will come,” he said.
James Johnson said the lack of success on offence Sunday only made the defensive progress that much more rewarding.
“With 21 turnovers and still to lose by just one against a team like Boston?” Johnson asked. “Obviously that is a great statement for what our defence can do.”
Johnson actually had very little to do with the outcome of the game — he did have four blocks in his limited playing time — having spent just under 10 minutes on the floor despite coming out of that week long training camp with a glowing endorsement from Casey.
Johnson is a willing and physical defender, two things this team has lacked for some time now and after a training camp where his name was regularly put forth as an example of where this team needs to get, his lack of run in the first game was a little odd.
Johnson, though, and this is another signal this team is buying in to what Casey has been preaching, refused to let his sparse playing time in the pre-season opener become an issue.
“If that happens in a game and he thinks Forbes or Rasual are going to be better in that position, then I will go on the bench and cheer for my teammates,” Johnson said.
Turns out Johnson’s conservative playing time was a result of Casey wanting to see what newcomer Gary Forbes could do and had nothing to do with any he personally did or didn’t do in the game.
“He’s gong to be in the lineup going forward. It was more what Forbes could do for us. We wanted to see what he would do in a game situation. We know what James can do and we’re comfortable with him in game situations.”
With just one more exhibition game before the lights come on for real on Boxing Day in Cleveland, Casey wants to see a little more of the offence come around but will not tolerate any slippage on the defensive end to get it.
Just because the focus might have moved over to the offence for a day, Casey said defence will remain this team’s No. 1 priority throughout this season. That’s just the way it’s going to be for the Raptors for the foreseeable future. Offence won’t be ignored but it will always take a back seat to defence.