October 13, 2012
Big night for Raptors' Big V
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
Jonas Valanciunas’ first NBA start was a successful one.
The rookie looked far more comfortable in his second outing, playing 30 minutes in Toronto’s 82-75 win over the Detroit Pistons at the ACC on Friday night.
The big man hit a big running hook shot in the final minute to stretch Toronto’s lead to five, capping an 11 point, eight rebound evening, then helped lead to a steal at the other end to seal the game.
When asked if he works on his hook shot, the affable rookie said with a laugh:
“Ya, this morning.”
Before the game, Valanciunas wasn’t particularly amped up, but did say he was pleased head coach Dwane Casey had the trust to start him.
His actions on the court belied his pre-game demeanour though. The big man pumped his fist after a made basket early and broke out a wide smile after being called for a foul he thought was a clean block.
“I’m happy because we win. I liked the crowd, how they were supporting us. It was wonderful, it was a great day,” he said afterwards.
The pairing of Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani was quite encouraging defensively for the Raptors. Their length gave the shorter Pistons all kinds of problems inside. Not a lot of teams can throw out two agile seven-footers.
On offence, Valanciunas opened things up for his teammates — as advertised — with his relentless effort and his persistence in rolling to the bucket.
It is abundantly clear that we are still very much in the midst of the pre-season. Detroit shot a putrid 7-for-23 (30.4%) and missed 6-of-12 free throws in the first half. But that wasn’t the worst of it — the Pistons turned the ball over an astounding 15 times in the half.
The Raptors weren’t much better, coughing it up 11 times and shooting 41.7% through two.
The final two quarters were a mild improvement, the Pistons shot a lot better, the Raptors a tad worse.
Casey felt bad about the sloppiness (41 combined turnovers).
“Somewhere Dr. (James) Naismith is shaking his head. It wasn’t pretty to watch,” Casey said.
“I apologize for our display, but I thought our guys battled, the effort was there. We haven’t had a day off and we played like it.”
DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 14 points, Ed Davis added 12 in a good outing at both ends.
DeRozan looks improved offensively so far this pre-season, he has been extremely aggressive and opponents have had trouble stopping him from getting to the hoop, but he remains a work in progress.
Since he almost always shoots, opponents are able to draw charges on him. They did so twice in the first half and DeRozan had a dunk attempt emphatically swatted when he could have dropped the ball back to Bargnani for an easy bucket following a steal.
There is nothing wrong with isolation plays, but they need to be mixed with other modes of attack if DeRozan is to take a significant jump this season.
The Raptors lifted the minute restrictions Valanciunas had been placed under in his first game.
Casey said he started him “to kind of get his run in and get the butterflies out. Just more to get used to the pace of play.”
Valanciunas wasn’t surprised his minute restrictions were lifted so soon into his return.
“No, we did a great job with (team medical boss) Alex McKechnie, we treat (the injury every day. I’m ready to play now,” he said.
“I’m 20 years old, I don’t need like a month to come back.”
The Raptors lost point guard Jose Calderon to left hamstring tightness early in the third quarter. Calderon has battled hamstring issues for years.
He got tangled up with Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey earlier in the game — Stuckey said he flopped, Calderon angrily yelled back and apparently had reason to be annoyed about the slight.
The timing might be OK since presumptive starting point guard Kyle Lowry continues to rehab his groin injury and the Raptors don’t play until Wednesday.
Lowry did not play again, but was in full uniform, perhaps hoping Casey would forget about his injury.