Through two games, a formula to a successful Toronto Raptors (2-0) basketball game seems to be emerging: play tight, responsible defense, get some scoring from the Kyle Lowry / DeMar DeRozan back court and find another one or two supporting point-getters in what is something of a third-option-by-committee situation.
On Friday night, in a 113-103 road victory over the Boston Celtics, that formula was followed to a tee. The Raps held Boston to 37.6% shooting (32-85) and kept them bucket-less during a 5:13 stretch of the third quarter during which they extended a five-point lead into a 13-point advantage. On the offensive end, DeRozan shot just 5-15 from the floor, but it was his 12-14 effort from the line that helped him to a team-high 23 points. Lowry, meanwhile, played the role of stat stuffer with 14 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Among the night’s added contributors, Carroll came forth with 21 points on 8-16 shooting and Terrence Ross turned some heads with his 21 points in 21 minutes.
After taking some time to find their stride as a unit on Monday night against the Pacers, the Raptors rode a fairly balanced effort against the Celtics. Although they didn’t pull away until part way into the third quarter, Toronto never looked particularly out of sorts nor did they ever look as though they were struggling to contain their opposition. Isaiah Thomas poured in 25 points for the Celtics, but no one else in green managed more than 13 points.
The game marked the Raps first chance to take on former teammate Amir Johnson, who had 11 points on 3-3 shooting and eight rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench. Raptor fans won’t get their opportunity to welcome Amir back until the Celtics visit on January 20th.
T-Ross chips in
How surprising was it to see Ross bolster the team with 21 points on 8-12 shooting? The fourth-year wing managed just five games of 20+ points during his disappointing 2014-15 season. Credit the 24-year-old, though, with finding the hot hand quickly upon entering the game late in the first quarter and also credit his teammates with recognizing the streak he was riding and getting him the ball.
Active on the glass
Boston bolstered an already deep rotation of bigs this summer, adding Johnson and David Lee to a unit that already included Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger. That depth did little to offset a commanding performance by the Raps on the boards. After topping Indiana 50-40 on the glass on Monday, they got 38 rebounds from their starting five along the way to a 53-38 advantage over Boston on the night. Jonas Valanciunas, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo did their part with 25 combined boards, but Lowry and DeRozan each added seven of their own as well.
When Valanciunas is on his game and free of foul trouble, as he was in Monday’s opener, it makes life easier for everyone else in the team’s big man rotation. When he struggles with foul trouble, as he did on Friday by picking up his fourth foul less than halfway through the third, the trickle down effect is troublesome. Patrick Patterson still hasn’t found his form, Scola is better suited to play sparing minutes (particularly this early in the season) and Biyombo is pretty foul-happy, himself. The Congolese big man has shown flashes of the interior force he can be, but has now picked up 11 fouls over just two games.
Casey is on the brink of some Raptors history. Friday night marked his 156th win as the Raps head coach, tying him with Sam Mitchell for the franchise lead. His next win will give him sole possession of that No. 1 spot.
In the world of Raptors 905, the team’s D-League affiliate got a little bigger by adding a colossal local presence on Saturday. The 905 acquired 7’5″ Toronto native Sim Bhullar from the Sacramento Kings for guard Ricky Ledo. The first NBA player of Indian descent remains a raw project with mobility and conditioning issues, but the potential upside of the 22-year-old is obvious and he will surely be a fan favorite at the Hershey Centre.
Some NBA observers have ridiculed Boston’s asset-collecting approach to a rebuild, suggesting that they are currently comprised of a whole bunch of fourth- and fifth-best guys on contending teams without the bottom-out possibility of landing a star. But that approach was still good enough to land them a playoff spot in the weak East last season and affords them flexibility as GM Danny Ainge plans the next step while armed with solid players on movable contracts and a slew of upcoming draft picks. That being said, they may want to tighten up a currently bloated rotation that saw 11 guys get floor time against the Raps.
After checking in with Amir, the Raptors reunion tour continues on Sunday as Greivis Vasquez makes his return to Toronto as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks (6:00pm, TSN2). Smart money’s on Vasquez getting a warmer reception from the ACC faithful than Phil Kessel will tonight when he arrives at the Hangar along with his Pittsburgh Penguins.
Prediction: Raps 108, Bucks 100 (record this season: 1-1)