Home openers are all fun and games… until that point when your team has blown a late 8-point lead and visiting team’s point guard hits a floater in the lane with 2 seconds left to put them up a couple of points. Then it’s infuriating.
I was there at the Air Canada Centre earlier tonight to witness a crowd was completely alive, as the excitement of another fresh Raptors slate began. There were collective cheers and eventually signs as the Raptors do what they’ve typically done in the past, disappoint.
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of moments last night to be extremely excited about as Raptors fan and I still have them projected to make the playoffs in the East. However, the Pacers are just a little farther ahead. Here some game and team observations:
- The Pacers won the game, but I have to start with the Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas factors. These additions are literally going to change this franchse. Lowry finished with an impressive team-high 21 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals. He controlled the game for the Raps with his quickness, active on the ball defense and his shooting (6-11 FG, 2-3 3PT, 7-7 FT). He penatrated the lanes, dished and finished with explosiveness. I think there was even room for him to be more aggressive… this is his team now.
- The fans are already in love with Jonas Valanciunas. Even though he had very solid numbers (12 pts, 10 rebs in 23 minutes), perhaps his biggest accomplishment was staying out of foul trouble early, which will be his achillies heel all season. His hustle and solid on the ball defense in the post clearly impressed the crowd. Don’t forget, he’s 20 and will get better each game.
- The Pacers showed why they are the better team and simply had more composure down the stretch and were led by their three best players in Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert. Indiana weathered a Raptors storm (a 10-point lead) and when tied at 88, George Hill managed to get in the lane and hit a floater with only a couple of seconds left. The Pacers then applied solid defense on the inbound, forcing Andrea Bargnani to take a tough shot.
- David West absolutely dominated in the second half and scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the 4th quarter. He was making jump shots away from the basket (something West is extremely good at), no matter who was D’ing up on him. Several times, the Raptors left him open around the basket, which he made them pay (12-19 FG).
- Paul George got off early and finished the game with a double double, including 15 rebounds. The Raptors had no answer from him early on. Paul George is going to be a special player in the league and it’s easy to see why so many people have him near the top of their Most Improved Player rankings.
- Toronto also had no matchup for Roy Hibbert. Valanciunas played the most minutes against him, but Hibbert’s length was too much as he got easy buckets in the paint in the first half. His defense (5 blocks) in the second half was key in keeping the game close when the Raptors were gaining momentum. He silenced a rowdy crowd several times.
- Jose Calderon and Alan Anderson got crunch time minutes for the Raps. Calderon had a really nice game with 15 off the bench and made some key threes in the second half, but missed an ill-advised jumper late in the game. Anderson actually got 19 minutes overall.
- To the crowd’s frustration, the refs actually missed some very obvious calls against the Raptors in the game. Several times on Lowry and DeRozan, there was a lot of contact when driving to the basket where there was no call.
- Before the game, DeMar DeRozan addressed the crowd to thank them for the support. He also received a 4-year extension from the team ($38 million), what must have been moments before the game.