TORONTO—In front of a sellout crowd, the Toronto Raptors gave Toronto sports fans a reason for hope and optimism.
Despite losing 90-88 to the Indiana Pacers, the third-best team in the Eastern Conference from a season ago, many positives can be taken from the game tonight.
Kyle Lowry's play in the home opener reminded this author of the basketball equivalent of Blue Jays' third baseman Brett Lawrie: All-out hustle, all-out heart, and most of all, all-out talent.
Lowry finished the game with 21 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and a team-leading five steals, easily taking the league lead in steals-per-game thus far.
His on-the-ball defence on George Hill in the final moments of the game left a sour taste in my mouth, as I thought that maybe backing off Hill, who at the time was 2 of 8, may have been the better move.
Also making his debut as a Toronto Raptor was rookie Jonas Valanciunas. Likely the most talked-about Toronto sports prospect other than Nazem Kadri, the very nervous Valanciunas struggled through nerves early on but managed to hold off the jitters and finish his first NBA game by registering a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The only part of his game that you can view as a negative was that he remained in foul trouble again. As a rookie, that's to be expected, but where I was concerned was that he led the Raptors in shot attempts, which probably should never happen when the likes of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani are on the team.
Even though the Raptors fought hard, another ugly facet of the Raptors' game reared its ugly head tonight—an inefficient half-court offence.
Stars Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan—the freshly signed DeMar DeRozan—both were practically invisible on the floor tonight, shooting a terrible 9 of 29 from the floor. Their rather pedestrian play didn't help when it came to picking up a call from the referees, whom may have thought they were refereeing a Cage Match tonight.
David West absolutely destroyed Bargnani in the low-post, and his face-up game made Bargnani's look like dog food. Bargnani, who has been battling the flu the past few days, really showed he was truly sick as his stamina down the stretch left much to be desired.
Another negative from the game tonight was the play of the Raptors' wing players. Everyone not named DeMar DeRozan shot "0 of" from the field, as newest Raptors Landry Fields and rookie Terrance Ross failed to impress in their debuts.
Ross saw the floor for only six minutes and forced up two strong shots that missed pretty badly. Meanwhile, Fields went 0 of 6, missing layups and wide-open jumpers. His form on his jump shot makes Shawn Marion's jumper look like Ray Allen's.
Many good NBA teams have phenomenal wing play, but yet again, the Raptors may have some of the worst wing players in the NBA this season.
To close out the article, I'll end on a positive, creating—as Stewie Griffin would call it—a compliment sandwich.
Despite the horrific shooting, inefficient half-court offence, and a pretty biased refereeing crew, the Raptors managed to compete and only lose on a last-second shot.
The Toronto Raptors are extremely underrated, and tonight showed why they could be a surprise team in the Eastern Conference.