Raptors hang hats on team defence

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey reacts to a call during the first quarter of their NBA...

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey reacts to a call during the first quarter of their NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Cleveland Monday night. Raptors won their season-opener. (REUTERS)

Ryan Wolstat, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:05 PM ET

The Raptors didn’t spend much time working on offence during training camp — the focus was squarely at the other end — but you couldn’t tell on Monday in Cleveland.

The Raptors put up 104 points on 53.2% shooting — 42.9% from downtown — despite not scoring a single point on the fast break.

While head coach Dwane Casey was pleased with the way his team shared the ball — 35 assists on 42 made baskets and just 12 turnovers — he knows one game doesn’t really prove anything.

“It was good that we had this opportunity to get our offence kicking a little bit, (but) it’s still a process,” Casey said. “We just have to continue to execute.”

That should be more difficult in upcoming matchups with the Indiana Pacers in the home opener on Wednesday night, defending-champion Dallas, Orlando and New York.

Those teams should all offer far more resistance than the likes of Antawn Jamison, Omri Casspi and Kyrie Irving (though, to be fair, Anthony Parker and Anderson Varejao remain two of the league’s better defenders and Parker put the clamps on DeMar DeRozan for most of the opener).

Casey also was not willing to give his team full marks for its defence, even though Cleveland shot just 41.2% for the game.

The Cavs actually bumped that number up quite a bit, after a poor first half, by shooting 48% from the field over the final two quarters. Later in the game, the Raptors had some trouble stopping dribble penetration and the squad also gave up too many offensive rebounds (15).

“(Ramon) Sessions came in in the third quarter and broke us down a little bit,” Casey said of Cleveland’s backup point guard, who played well.

“I give us a ‘C’ probably, as far as containing the ball.”

Still, overall, the coach was happy considering the brevity of training camp.

“We had a couple of slip-ups defensively, but for the most part, they made a run — and all NBA teams are going to make a run – and I thought we buckled down and got back into it with defensive stops. For us, that’s what we have to hang our hats on, make sure we get stops, or stop a run.”

Casey made an interesting call before facing the Cavs, going with veteran Rasual Butler at small forward instead of James Johnson.

The coach said he was looking for a tested presence and opted for the hard-nosed Butler.

Butler was aggressive early, setting hard screens and getting after the ball, but ended up playing only 11 minutes for the night, the fewest of the 20 players who saw action in the season opener.

Johnson, a starter since coming over from the Chicago Bulls last season, took the demotion well. He still played a game-high 36 minutes and was all over the court, compiling six rebounds, three blocks, five assists, five points a couple of steals and four turnovers — including one off the head of Andrea Bargnani.

Either Johnson or Butler will have tough assignments during Wednesday’s home opener, with Danny Granger and Paul George capable of doing far more damage than Parker, Casspi, Alonzo Gee or — at this point of his career — Jamison.

AROUND THE RIM

Given the uncertainty surrounding centre Aaron Gray, who is out with a rapid heart rate, the Raptors were interested in free-agent centre Krylo Fesenko. Fesenko agreed Tuesday to a one-year, $1.07 million US contract with the Golden State Warriors. The Raptors did not have an available roster spot and there is no obvious candidate to cut to add another big man … Former assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo doesn’t seem like the most popular guy in Raptor-land — unlike other assistants, he was not involved in pre-draft workouts this summer, even though he was the only assistant still under contract for the 2011-12 season and he was unable to make any impact on one of the worst defensive squads in the NBA. Now, Carlesimo has even taken what seems like a shot at former head coach Jay Triano and Andrea Bargnani. Carlesimo told grantland.com this week that Triano wouldn’t let him instruct Bargnani and other bigs to race down the court and let the guards try to get rebounds. Carlesimo said Triano told him it would be “demeaning,” then added an obvious dig at Bargnani, who is often mocked for his unfortunate rebounding totals. “At least our smalls had a chance of getting the rebound,” he said. Zing.

 

 


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