The Toronto Raptors played an extremely exciting home opener versus the Indiana Pacers. The game was close throughout and showed two young bright spots for both franchises. Both Jonas Valanciunas and Paul George showed flashes of great promise.
The Raptors eventually fell to the Pacers (who, this writer believes will be a top-four team in the East) in the final few seconds after a controversial out of bounds call gave the Pacers the ball with just 20-plus seconds left. Consequently, George Hill lifted Kyle Lowry’s arm and hit a running jumper to clinch the win with 2.1 seconds remaining.
So what can we take from this game? Well, let us start off with the young big man in the middle:
The 20-year-old Lithuanian certainly endeared himself to fans in his NBA debut. He showed great tenacity on the glass and had a few excellent putbacks that led to many cheers from the fans. He actually got clocked in the head/neck in the late third quarter and didn’t return with as much vigour in the fourth however. That being said, 12-10 was a solid debut from JV offensively.
Defensively, however, there were certainly times where he showed how green he is, and it did not help as he went up against arguably the best center in the East in Roy Hibbert.
TSN.ca released their analysis of the game, and I definitely disagree with this assessment:
“The 20-year-old Lithuanian looked completely unfazed by the fact he was matched up against an NBA all-star in Roy Hibbert.”
I thought that Hibbert—the guy that the Raptors drafted and traded in the Jermaine O’Neal deal that I rued from Day 1—had his way with Jonas early on and continually got great deep position on the young Raptor. Hibbert had nine points and three rebounds in the opening quarter and was consistently iso-ed (isolated to exploit a one-on-one matchup) to take advantage of JV defensively. There were times when JV was called for a foul and was definitely phased by the call/outcome.
Valanciunas has far to come in regards to becoming accustomed to the higher level of play and competition in the NBA. That being said, one would be silly to expect any more from the young centre.
As previously mentioned months ago, probably one of the smartest basketball decisions made by the Raptors in a long time. I have been a big fan of Lowry’s game, and he brings an intensity, and as Jack Armstrong stated a ‘machismo’, that has been missing on the court for the Raptors.
His tenacity on defence and aggressive style is a great asset to the team, not to mention his offensive capabilities. But to me, there isn't much’to say about Lowry; he is as advertised. A great young point guard who can run his team and net you five steals in a game.
Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry
In the third quarter we saw both Calderon and Lowry on the court at the same time, which I believed was a great change of pace. Having both ball-handlers (who are both capable of hitting open shots) on the court together allows Calderon to play significant minutes and brings a new element over perhaps a backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan/Ross. I do not remember the specifics, but the Raptors were definitely successful in this set and expect to see it more often than anticipated.
Still Lacking the Leader to Finish Games
As I watched the final few minutes, it was evident that the Raptors are still unsure who to turn to in the final crucial possessions. Granted, it is one game and the team is still trying to get acclimated with three new starters on the court, but it is evident that someone needs to take the reins in these situations, as the final few possessions left me screaming at the TV as they consistently took long twos.
Whether it is DeRozan, Lowry or Bargnani, there needs to be that killer-instinct mentality to finish off your opponents Mortal Kombat style.
Great Energy and Great Defence
The team played well on defence and was energetic throughout the game. Granted, it was the home opener and everyone was revved up to be playing (especially with two rookies and two significant newcomers), so that was to be expected.
I think Casey will do an excellent job this season creating a structure for his team and maintaining that hound-like attitude that starts with their point guard Lowry. If they can continue to play with this intensity and continue to evolve as an offensive unit, then we are in for an exciting season that should end up with a playoff berth.
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