Lewenberg: Raptors victorious in sloppy preseason debut

Josh Lewenberg,
10/8/2013 2:58:37 AM
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After a long summer of off-court activity and speculation the Raptors finally got back to work on Monday night, opening the preseason with a 97-89 win over the new-look Celtics.

An impressive showing in some regard, the Raptors' victory was filled with the rust you would expect after a long layoff and the addition of several new players to coach Dwane Casey's roster.

Rudy Gay and newcomer Tyler Hansbrough led all scorers with 17 apiece for the Raptors, who turned the ball over 26 times leading to 26 Celtics points.

Toronto overcame its miscues thanks in large part to efficient offensive production and a complete defensive effort, on par with what Casey has preached throughout the early portion of training camp. The Raptors shot 52 per cent from the field, holding Boston to 40 per cent and out-rebounding them 46-26.

DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 13 points while sophomores Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas scored 12 and 10 respectively.

The Celtics began a new era, debuting with seven new players and a new head coach following a franchise-altering offseason. Without future hall of famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett - who were traded to the Nets this summer - as well as the injured Rajon Rondo, coach Brad Stevens' team looked a lot different than the perennial contending club Toronto is used to seeing at the TD Garden.

Gerald Wallace, who was acquired in the deal with Brooklyn, paced the new-look Celtics with 16 points and second-year forward Jared Sullinger added 14 off the bench.

Toronto-native Kelly Olynyk, the 13th pick in this summer's draft, scored 4 points playing 19 minutes in his first NBA game.

Starters picking up where they left off

Although Casey will use the preseason to experiment with his rotation, he opted to start game one with the group that finished last season atop his depth chart.

Made up of DeRozan, Gay, Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, the starting unit wasted no time reestablishing themselves on Monday, taking an early 14-2 lead and holding the Celtics to 2-of-11 shooting in the opening minutes. Apart from the expected preseason rust - resulting in 16 combined turnovers on the night and at least three from each starter - that group looked every bit as promising as they did at the tail end of last season.

Anchored by the always-steady Johnson and a bigger, stronger Valanciunas, they set the tone defensively and forced the young Celtics to settle for long, contested jumpers. Offensively they were efficient, shooting a combined 22-for-37 (59 per cent) from the field.

Although Gay and DeRozan shot just 1-for-6 from three-point range, an area of emphasis for them this season (it's worth noting, two of DeRozan's three attempts came at the end of the shot clock), the wing tandem was an effective 52 per cent from the floor. DeRozan continued to show improved awareness in the post while Gay recovered from some questionable shot selection in the first quarter to hit 4-of-5 shots in the second frame.

Casey has stated that he would like to see a more consistent defensive effort from Gay this season. So far so good in that regard as the Raptors' forward held Jeff Green to just six points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Each starter played 13-16 minutes in the first half but ceded playing time to the second unit late in the game, as expected.

Valanciunas plays big before fouling out

In a concerted effort to establish Valanciunas in the low post, the sophomore centre was involved in each of the team's first four possessions, resulting in three quick field goals - two dunks and a nifty hook shot over Brandon Bass. That fourth possession was whistled dead after Valanciunas was called for the offensive foul, going over the back of former Raptor Kris Humphries.

This was the first of six fouls for the 21-year-old, who fouled out with 3:41 left to play. Valanciunas was featured in the post throughout the evening and was impressive on both ends of the floor but continues to play out of control at times, culminating in his early exit. Casey and the coaching staff have been working with Valanciunas on his balance and his footwork to ensure he utilizes his added strength the right way.

Valanciunas finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 5-for-7 in 27 minutes of action.

Second unit, a work in progress

Understandably, the second unit - consisting of many new faces - was less in sync than the more familiar starting group.

Casey went 11 deep in the first 11 minutes, 12 deep on the night, experimenting with different combinations and getting a sense of where his new players fit in.

With the starters on the bench, Toronto's reserves coughed up leads in both the second quarter and early in the fourth as they struggled to initiate the offence and slow Boston down on the break.

With back-up point guard D.J. Augustin struggling in his Raptors debut (four points, 0-for-5 shooting), the offence lacked cohesion. Newcomer Austin Daye (four points, 1-of-5) also looked lost at times. Again, getting the new players acclimated and filling out the rotation is what the exhibition season is about.

Hansbrough, Ross lead reserves

Hansbough did not disappoint in his Raptors debut, living up to his reputation as the team's newest work horse (or instigator, depending on your perspective). In 21 minutes off the bench, the former Pacer was all over the floor. He got to the free-throw line (knocking down seven of eight attempts), grabbed nine boards - six on the offensive glass - and even baited Sullinger into a double technical.

A Casey player through and through, Hansbrough should be the first big off the bench this season and it's not hard to see him logging a career high in minutes played, assuming good health.

Meanwhile, in 25 minutes Ross was also a standout off Toronto's bench. The sophomore guard played with the confidence, consistent effort and efficiency that was seldom seen in his rookie year. Ross was active and attentive defensively - grabbing four steals - and made an effort to put the ball on the floor and get into the lane.

Ross, like Hansbrough, should be a big part of the second unit this season and could be the top offensive option for that group assuming he takes the next step in his second year.

Up Next

The Raptors return to Toronto where they'll continue their training camp and host the Minnesota Timberwolves for a preseason tilt at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. TSN Radio 1050 Toronto has the game at 7pm ET.

Valanciunas blocks (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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