Head coach Frank Vogel was not surprised at the intensity that was present throughout — at times it appeared Tyler Hansbrough and Jamaal Magloire might start swinging at each other and David West had a perma-scowl affixed to his face all night.
“Noooo, season opener, it’s a good team, this building is always tough to play in,” Vogel said of the leave-it-all-on-the-floor mentality both sides flashed.
“We treat it like a playoff game quite frankly. We have to come into these buildings on the road and treat them like playoff games and our guys treated it (like one).”
Indiana snapped a five-game losing skid in Toronto.
Vogel believes the Raptors are better than the sum of their parts.
“That team is better than they look on paper — they’re very well-coached, they had 35 assists last game. They move the basketball and they defend so they’re going to be a good team this year,” Vogel said.
“It’s a good win for us.”
Indiana centre Roy Hibbert said Toronto looks different than before, particularly up front.
“They’re a lot more physical and that’s the type of game we like,” Hibbert said.
We win ugly, that’s what we did … their bigs play a lot more physical than they have in the past.”
DeMar DeRozan had a great second half.
He earned praise from his head coach who called him the single biggest factor in the Raptors’ second half comeback before it fell just short in a 90-85 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The problem was the first half when DeRozan was pointless on 0-for-4 shooting.
“I thought everyone was hesitant and tight in the first half,’ head coach Dwane Casey said.
But no one seemed as hesitant as DeRozan who admitted this isn’t the first time he has struggled early on.
“I think it’s all going to come,” DeRozan said. “It’s only the second game. Even last year I started off slow but I’m starting to find my rhythm and find my spots on the floor, more stuff will come easier.”
Dwane Casey pretty much called it before Wednesday’s game when he talked about the need for his team to scrap with the Pacers and give them the same they threw the Raptors way.
Casey stopped short of predicting a brawl, but at times that’s exactly what it looked like with the two main combatants being the Raptors’ Jamal Magloire and Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough.
During the first quarter it looked very much like the two might go at it but cooler heads prevailed.
While those two seemed to be the most worked up, it was tough to find anyone on the two rosters who wasn’t throwing his weight around.
DeMar DeRozan, more scorer than scrapper, enjoyed the physical nature of the game that had the sellout crowd at the Air Canada Centre worked up.
“The crowd was definitely with us,” DeRozan said. “I don’t know what a playoff game feels like, but if it feels like that it is definitely going to be fun. We needed a good fight like that to show us that we need to keep working.”
At one point in the second quarter Hansbrough wound up prone on the court and Magloire came down rather heavily on the young Pacer with first his knees and then, for emphasis, the rest of his body.
The refs settled it by calling fouls on both players, Hansbrough having committed the initial foul on the play.
“It was more fun than anything,” DeRozan said of all the physicality in the game. “I like that. Both teams were going at it and both teams wanted to win. Those are the type of games I love.”
Before the game, Gray told the Toronto Sun “everything is good.”
However, Gray, though announced, did not come out to join his teammates and it was too late to deactivate him and suit up Solomon Alabi.
The return of the 270-pound Gray would be timely. The Raptors had to go against 7-foot-2 centre Roy Hibbert on Wednesday, 7-footer Brendan Haywood on Friday, Orlando’s Dwight Howard — the NBA’s premier and most dominant big man — on Sunday and Tyson Chandler in New York next Monday.
“We need his size and physical play,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said following the morning shoot-around.
“He’s one of our best post defenders. We need him.”
Needing one more stop, the Raptors lined up as the Pacers in-bounded the ball and then that slight moment of uncertainty occurred and took with it Toronto’s best chance at a win.
“Everything was going good except for that last rotation,” Raptors forward James Johnson said. “That was the one that cost me the most. I feel like I let my team down on that one and I have to learn from that and never let it happen again, especially at crunch time when we’re busting out butts so hard to get back.”
Johnson got caught trying to help out and wound up leaving his man just a little too far away. His man — Danny Granger — calmly lined up his shot as Johnson scrambled to recover and hit what turned out to be the back-breaking three-pointer of the game.
“They ran the normal play,” Johnson said. “We know it. We watched film on it. I studied it and we were on it. I just helped too much. I got over too much and got screened in — the big guy did a good job screening me in. Danny Granger is going to hit that shot every time when he’s wide open like that.”
The Granger three expanded the lead back to five and the Raptors never recovered.
Casey predicted Johnson was going to try and take full responsibility for the loss, but he had no interest in anyone taking the fall by himself.
“It’s the little things,” Casey said. “I know it’s a cliche but we’re right there as a young team. I cannot fault our men’s effort. They gave it to us. They fought back and fought back. I thought DeMar came to life in the second half but again I think we have to make a 48-minute collective effort together. It’s not one guy’s fault. It’s on all of us collectively not to have those breakdowns in crucial situations.”
While Johnson was more than willing to accept blame, there was no way his coach was going to let him. To Dwane Casey, everything is a collective effort, there is no singling out anyone.
“It’s a learning experience, big-game situation for him . . . and a veteran team like Indiana will make you pay if you have one mental breakdown.
“Believe me, this game wasn’t James’ fault at all. I thought he really battled, rebounded, used his athletic ability to get us in the game and I’m really proud of him the way he’s competing defensively.”
Battling and competing defensively is what the Raptors did on a night when the offence struggled mightily. But where previous incarnations of this team would have folded defensively when the shots weren’t falling, this group dug in and defended.
They were down by as many as 14 points in the second half but got back in the game by simply working hard on the defensive end. It salvaged the night, made the game entertaining and, despite the outcome, impressed the head coach.
“I cannot fault our men’s effort,” said Casey. “They gave it to us. They fought back in, fought back in … again, we have to put a 48-minute collective effort together.”
The Raptors, who shot 46 per cent from the field, did play hard until the bitter end. Even after Granger’s back-breaker, they came back and got a bucket to cut the lead to three again, but David West hit a jumper to end it.
“I know it’s a cliché but we’re right there as a young team,” said Casey.
“We owe it to our fans to come out and scrap,” said Casey.
That Magloire did, and that the Raptors must do consistently to make this 66-games-in-122-nights season anything short of a nightmare. They fell to 1-1 on the season with the 90-85 loss to the Pacers, staying in the game despite major offensive struggles because, for the second time in as many games, they held the opponent under 100 points and kept Indiana under 40 per cent shooting.
That’s new, at least compared to last year, but it was the second season in a row the Raps have lost their home opener and now the great grind begins, one which will include 18 back-to-backers for Toronto and one back-to-back-to-back sequence.
There was energy and defensive effort from Casey’s team, which the local audience seemed to appreciate. Magloire played 13 workmanlike minutes without scoring a single point but giving the team a small taste of the toughness it hasn’t had since Charles Oakley, rocking Dahntay Jones twice on one sequence with brick-wall picks. That type of play could encourage the likes of James Johnson and Ed Davis to do the same, which is what this team needs.
Magloire was on his feet exhorting on the troops as much as any of Casey’s assistants, and the first Canadian ever to play for the franchise has the makings of a leader. But it remains to be seen if he’ll play enough to fill that role — one suspects he won’t — and being more of a cheerleader than a contributor would see his possible impact wane as the season progresses.
With these Raptors and this season’s compressed schedule, Casey might never get his voice back. Even during a mostly pleasing outing from his NBA team, all things considered, Casey was standing up and hollering all game long as the Raptors lost their home opener 90-85 to the Indiana Pacers.
Casey knew Wednesday would be an opportunity. His team was going to be playing in front of a sold-out crowd, which figures to be a rarity this year. Beyond that, a home opener guarantees that the crowd brings a little more juice than usual.
And with the Raptors coming off three consecutive dispiriting seasons, this home opener provided a chance to change some minds, to lend some real-world results to the wide-eyed optimism training camp always seems to offer.
“I think we have a hot gym tonight, an excited gym,” Casey said before the game. “Our fans are excited to see our players. I told it to our guys, we owe it to them to lay it on the line: loose balls, taking charges, hustle plays. I expect our guys to do that.”
The Raptors gave Casey the effort he wanted. It just might not have been as controlled as he needed it to be. James Johnson, the Raptors reserve small forward, typified the evening.
Johnson was everywhere against the Pacers. He was arguably the best Raptor on the floor, garnering six steals, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
It was an undesirable ending to a raucous night at the Air Canada Centre for the boisterous towel-waving crowd of 19,800. Earlier, Canadian veteran Jamaal Magloire addressed the fans via a microphone, promising them the lockout had made the Raptors more hungry; Andrea Bargnani opened Toronto’s scoring with a monster dunk; and teen heartthrob Justin Bieber cheered it all on from the front row.
Bargnani, who sat much of the first half with foul trouble, rang up 21 points on the night. But it was DeMar DeRozan who led the charge for Toronto. After being held scoreless in the first half thanks to stringent defence from the Pacers wings, DeRozan scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter.
“Tonight, he came alive,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He got us back single-handedly in the game offensively. I thought everyone was hesitant and tight in the first half.”
DeRozan was largely being guarded by 6-foot-8 small forward Paul George and made nine of his 16 attempts from the field. He also contributed four rebounds.
“I missed a few shots and thought I got fouled on a few in the first quarter, but I had to adjust and that’s all it took,” DeRozan said. “I just picked by spots in the fourth quarter. I tried to elevate and use my athleticism to get over him and take the shots I knew I could make.”
But turnovers, poor free-throw shooting and foul trouble lead to the Raptors’ demise.
If it means anything to Casey and the Raptors, the Pacers thought they were a tougher team than former coach Jay Triano’s marshmallows.
“We know they have big guys who are a lot more physical than guys they’ve had here in the past,” said centre Roy Hibbert, whose team led 38-34 at the end of a throwback kind of first half.
In the end, the Raptors didn’t make enough plays to win a close game. Going 7-for-13 from the line didn’t help either, and until DeMar DeRozan attacks the rim more frequently, planting a seed in the minds of officials, they aren’t going to get the trips to the line. So they’d better learn to make the most of their economy.
Yet on this night, at least the Raptors pushed back. Jamaal Magloire is ready – all-too-ready, it seems – to assume the role of team spokesman (really – starting your pregame speech to the fans by thanking the owner for bringing you home?) but he flattened Tyler Hansbrough in the first half, on the ensuing tip-off swatted him in the face and set two bastard picks.
Johnson had two blocked shots and bless the lad – the spirit is willing.
And wasn’t that Andrea Bargnani hooking Hansbrough under both arms and backing him out from under the basket in the fourth quarter? Yes, it was – just like it was Bargnani locking down Hibbert a few minutes later drawing an angry yell and scowl toward officials from the Pacers centre.
“Things got a little closer than we wanted down the end,” said Granger, who finished with 21 points to lead the Pacers, “but we put together a good stretch to close it out.”
The way Vogel saw it, his team left town leading a playoff series. Just 32 more road games to go, coach.
“That team is better than it looks on paper,” he said of the Raptors. “They are very well-coached. They had 35 assists in beating Cleveland and move the ball well. They’re going to be improved this year.”
West, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds, wanted to be the go-to guy on defense late, too.
He went to Vogel with a little more than a minute remaining in the game and told his coach that he wanted to defend Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani down the stretch.
Bargnani, who had 21 points, missed two jump shots in the final 1:14.
"When it’s time to make plays on either end of the floor, I’m confident in my ability to be in the right spot," West said. "If they’re going to make a play, I want to make it tough for them."
Having a presence such as West on the court helps ease the burden of Granger trying to carry the team late in games.
The lack of an alternative go-to player in the past routinely left Granger shooting contested jump shots at the end of close games.
"It’s awesome because it takes a lot of pressure off of me," Granger said. "We have so many weapons. That’s the mark of us being a good team. Paul George (18 points) carried us in the first half."
Granger may not have made the decisive basket, but he had an impact in the fourth quarter.
He scored nine of his team-high 21 points in the final quarter. Granger’s 3-pointer in the corner, which came on a pick-and-roll play, put the Pacers up five with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game.
"They ran the normal play," Raptors forward James Johnson said. "We knew it. We watched film on it. I studied it and we were on it. I just helped too much and I got screened in. Granger is going to knock down a shot like that every time when he’s wide open."
Bargnani got off to a very slow start, receiving two fouls early in the first quarter. Getting into foul trouble was a big factor that contributed to his struggles offensively in the first half; yet his defensive intensity was nice to see, especially how hard he hedged defending the screen and roll.
In the second half Bargnani’s shooting lifted the Raps offense. Bargs was able to make open shots when the team needed them most. When it was all said and done, he had another lackluster rebounding effort, grabbing just 4 boards in 32 minutes of play; but on a night like this, you can almost excuse his poor rebounding with the way he played defensively and the way he shot and passed the ball.
Likewise, DeRozan had a very up and down game. In the first half DD struggled from the floor and did not register a single point. The second half however, was a different story.
DD got out to a good start in the second portion and never looked back. His second half performance included 22 points, 16 of which were in the fourth quarter alone. Those 16 fourth quarter points also featured two 3-point makes on two attempts, both coming at crucial points late in the game.
Derozan’s shooting display in the fourth is an extremely encouraging sign for a team that desperately needs an efficient shooter in order to make their offense work. If double D can show some consistency from behind the arc, than Dwane Casey may be more inclined to start the defensive minded James Johnson in place of the supposed shooter Rasual Butler.
Starting J.J seems to be the move that makes most sense, given both his youth and his defensive prowess he should be able to grow with this young starting unit, and perhaps even expand that limited offensive game of his.
All in all, the Dinos put in a solid effort and fell just short against an Indiana Pacer team that some are picking to finish in one of the top 4 spots in the Eastern Conference. Raptors fans have to be pleased with the outcome—a competitive game, that ultimately ended in a loss and will not have a negative effect on the Raptors’ lottery prospects going forward.
Perhaps the best lesson the Raptors can deliver in a season like this for their fans is determining which of their core can continue forward and be part of a future that is likely a couple of years away.
In that context a performance like the one James Johnson delivered—eight rebounds, six steals, and two blocked shots in 29 minutes off the bench—likely means in the big picture than another strong showing byAndrea Bargnani and his 21 hard-fought points in what was an ugly, defence-first struggle.
Bargnani is a known quantity; finding gems like Johnson to round out a rotation will make a long season worthwhile. Similarly, the confidence being gained and demonstrated by DeMar DeRozan—who shook off a slow first three quarters to score 16 points on seven-of-eight shooting in the fourth—will matter more in the long run than whether or not he could actually push Toronto over the top Wednesday night.
A few finds over the course of the 64 remaining games will make the 2011-12 season worth playing for a Raptors team that is already looking to 2012-13 and beyond.
On Tuesday the Pacers reminded Toronto that when it comes to rebuilding in the NBA there is more than one way to get good players and that they can arrive sooner and in greater volume than might be expected.
The lesson is that there’s hope.
This looked like a different Raptor squad out there. They were active on the defensive end. Although their perimeter defense let them down in the fourth quarter, they played tough most of the game. The system that Dwane Casey is implementing is clearly in its infancy stage, but the signs that it exists are there.
When players blew by Calderon, there was help to back him up. Shots were contested and the Raptors were forcing turnovers because of good defensive positioning and active hands, something that certainly hasn’t always been there.
this is very much a work in progress, but two games in and you can already feel the steps being taken. The Raptors are moving in the right direction.
So am I alone here? Was I the only fan cheering for my team to win tonight?
I know the plan this season. Lose as many games as possible and take advantage of having two first round picks in a very deep draft. Get that rebuild off to a flying start, right.?
To do that we’re going to have to lose a lot of games. So far, I cannot help but cheer for this team. I wanna win.
I feel like a Mini-Wheats commercial. The logical side in me wants the Raptors to lose and lose often, but the fan in me wants to see wins and eat free pizza.
All off-season long I’ve told friends and anyone who’ll listen that we need to lose games. I’ve been working on catch phrases for the season like “Give up the Farm for Barnes”, “Take a Drubbin for Drummond” or something of that ilk. But there I was on opening night and the home opener cheering like an idiot. Hoping my Raptors would go 2-0 to start the season.
The logical side of me knows that with every loss we are one step closer to adding a game changing player. But the losses sting.