Raptors fall in season-opener
TORONTO—From the rookie who earned a double-double in his NBA debut, to the team’s hardscrabble new point guard, to a jam-packed crowd at Air Canada Centre, the Raptors’ season-opener last night had all the makings of a positive vibe not felt by Toronto sports fans in quite a while.
It had everything, that is, except a victory.
Kyle Lowry scored 21 points while Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 10 rebounds in his NBA debut for the new-look Raptors in a game that should leave fans feeling optimistic about the season ahead.
Optimism summed up Toronto coach Dwane Casey’s feelings after the game.
“I’m proud of our team. I thought we showed more grit and spunk than we showed all last year,” he noted.
“Yes it hurts, but there are so many positives I’m looking at against one of the top teams in the NBA.”
Five Raptors scored in double figures as Andrea Bargnani added 16, Jose Calderon finished with 15, and DeMar DeRozan, who earlier in day agreed to terms on a four-year contract extension worth $38 million (U.S.), finished with 10.
“It was a fun game overall, just being out there, the first time in a while, just get a feel for playing a game especially against a top-notch team in the Indiana Pacers,” DeRozan said.
“It would have been that much better if we had won.”
The Raptors played with three new starters in Valanciunas, Lowry, and Landry Fields.
Valanciunas endeared himself to fans immediately, and had recorded his first double-double in just 17 minutes on the floor.
“I did double-double?” Valanciunas asked, eyebrows raised in surprise.
“I’m not looking how I play, it’s important whether our team wins or not,” he stressed.
The 20-year-old Lithuanian looked completely unfazed by the fact he was matched up against an NBA all-star in Roy Hibbert.
He blocked a shot in the game’s opening minute, grabbed an offensive rebound for a lay-up less than two minutes later, and scraped and clawed under the basket all night.
His rim-hanging dunk in the third quarter brought the crowd to its feet.
Lowry, meanwhile, came exactly as advertised—hustle and hard work, dripping sweat all game long, jawing at officials, and grinning like a kid at the coaching staff when he drained a three-pointer.
“He’s a hound,” DeRozan said of his new starting point guard. “He can pick up the scoring, he can pick up the defence, whatever we may need.”
The Raptors led by as much as 11 points in the third quarter before taking a 71-63 lead into the fourth of a nail-biting, see-saw battle that featured 16 lead changes.
Calderon—leading the Raptors’ second unit that was virtually Toronto’s starting unit last season—came up big in the fourth quarter, draining a pair of three-pointers less than two minutes apart, bringing the sold-out crowd of 19,800 to its feet.
His second with six minutes to play gave the Raptors a 10-point lead.
But some major defensive lapses left a wide-open West to drain shot after shot in the final few minutes. His basket with 1:20 left pulled the visitors to within 88-87.
The Raptors, on the other hand, didn’t score a field goal in the final 4:31.
After a George Hill free throw evened the score, Indiana was given possession of the ball after a video review and Hill drained a runner that sealed the Pacers’ victory with 2.1 seconds left.
Bargnani missed on a last-second shot.
Elsewhere in the NBA, Philadelphia beat Denver 84-75, Houston downed Detroit 105-96, Chicago upended Sacramento 93-87, San Antonio shaded New Orleans 99-95, and Utah dumped Dallas 113-94
Golden State nipped Phoenix 87-85, the L.A. Clippers downed Memphis 101-92, and Portland bounced the L.A. Lakers 116-106.