Lewenberg: Lessons learned from opening night win

Josh Lewenberg
10/31/2013 3:49:29 PM
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TORONTO - For the first time in a week, Dwane Casey and his team had actual game tape to review in practice Thursday.

The Raptors, fresh off an opening night victory over the Celtics, had plenty to digest after barely coming away with a win the night before.

"I thought we did some good things in building the lead and some bad things in giving it back," Casey said after practice Thursday, his team giving up a 16-point third quarter lead before pulling away in the fourth. "I thought we had some execution issues once we had the lead."

Specifically, Casey was critical of some lazy passes and the team's poor transition defence that allowed Boston to score 25 points off the Raptors' 18 turnovers.

The execution issues Casey referenced stemmed from a stagnant offence down the stretch. To Casey's admission, the ball stuck too often in the final quarter. Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan relied heavily on isolation sets, leading to difficult shots and poor shooting nights for both of the Raptors' wing players.

"We've got to get the ball popping and moving," Casey acknowledged. "They're sending crowds to [DeRozan and Gay]. We had wide open looks on the draw and kick issues and we didn't make those plays."

"We'll do it," he continued. "I think the first game, [as] we saw last night, it's different than preseason. The intensity level is higher than preseason."

Kyle Lowry suggested that he and his teammates were especially cautious with the ball, restricting ball movement, because of the aggressive defence they saw from the scrappy young Celtics.

"They still have some remnants of the old KG, Pierce and that defensive group, which was always perennially one of the top defensive groups," Casey said, to Lowry's point.

"It was a good test for us but again, teams are going to game plan and teams are going to prepare for DeMar and Rudy and we've got to be able to play off them."

Lowry won't blame injury for shooting woes

Kyle Lowry refused to make excuses for his poor shooting night. The Raptors' point guard shot 2-for-8 from the field, 0-for-3 from three-point range and 7-of-12 at the line in his first game playing with a protective splint wrapped around an injured left ring finger.

"It is what it is, just an off shooting night," Lowry said Thursday, chalking it up to early season rust instead of the injury on his non-shooting hand.

As for the splint itself, Lowry's still adjusting to it although Casey insists it hasn't affected his point guard's play.

"I told him he may not have had a great shooting night but everywhere else, he did a heck of a job," Casey said. "He did a lot of good stuff defensively and I think once he gets used to the [splint] on his finger, that's going to help him tremendously."

"I don't think I'll ever get used to anything on my hand, on my fingers," Lowry said of the splint, which he'll be required to play and practice with for approximately five more weeks. "But I've got no choice right now."

Amir from three

It appears Amir Johnson has added the three-point shot to his repertoire.

The Raptors' forward, who played in his 300th game with the team on Wednesday, launched just 13 triples last season - a career high - making five of them, also a career best. In Wednesday's opener, he connected on one of three attempts from long range. The trey that fell was big for his team, a shot Vitor Faverani dared him to take with 6:20 left and one he celebrated by sweeping the floor with his hand.

"It was good [that] I finally hit one," Johnson said after the game. "They left me open. I know [the fans] were kind of hyping me up so I definitely had to shoot it. I knew it was good as soon as I released it."

"That was my celebration. I don't know, I'm just trying to figure out different three celebrations."

A day later, Casey said he's fine with Johnson launching from deep, provided he doesn't overdo it and uses the addition to his game at the right times.

"I'm okay with it [but] we don't want to make a living out of it," Casey said. "I'd rather for him to get into early post-ups and dive into the paint but he's worked on it, he's earned it, corner threes are good shots for him."

"I think teams now will respect him enough to go out and guard him."

On the road again

The Raptors get set to hit the road, where they'll play six of their next eight games and 19 of 33. Playing away from the Air Canada Centre was a challenge for Toronto last season. The team went 13-28 away from the Air Canada Centre.

"You always want to do a good job on the road," Casey said. "That's tough for a veteran team and a young team but moreso for a young team."

"Being focused on the road, going in with the same seriousness and focus when you're not in your home arena is huge. It's going to be a good measuring test for us in these first two games."

Their first pair of road contests will come in a weekend back-to-back, visiting Atlanta on Friday and traveling to Milwaukee on Saturday.

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