If it hadn’t already been obvious that the preseason record doesn’t matter, the way the Raptors coaching staff handled their Tuesday night contest against the Utah Jazz made it abundantly clear.
In a game that began with Kyle Collinsworth filling a spot in the Raptors starting lineup, presumably to give the hometown player the opportunity to showcase his game in front of family and friends, the first quarter was filled with errors going both ways as the two teams tried to shake off the summer rust. Collinsworth started in the place occupied by Danny Green on Saturday night, and Nick Nurse also adjusted his starting center, choosing to go with Jonas Valanciunas rather than Serge Ibaka to match up against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, alongside Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, and CJ Miles, with OG Anunoby still away from the team dealing with a personal matter.
The first quarter involved a lot of sloppy basketball each way as Utah chased a 6-point lead at the end of one, but the second quarter was where the promise of this Raptors team showed through again, as they went on a 25-5 run to start the second quarter built around tough defense and Leonard showing his offensive repertoire, finding easy shots against a variety of Jazz defenders and looking more and more comfortable as the quarter went on, ending the half at 17 points, with Kyle Lowry also contributing a pull-up transition three as well during the flurry as the Raptors leaders continue to build their chemistry.
Oh man, oh man pic.twitter.com/RwcQtWNujE
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 3, 2018
Serge Ibaka had a notable first half as well, showing his value with some strong defensive play and shotmaking, but also making mistakes with some puzzling turnovers and decision making, while Jonas Valanciunas took advantage of the start, going right at Gobert and showing his inside touch, with another nice night in the box score with 18 points and 8 rebounds.
As impressive as that Raptors second quarter was, though, it came to an end and with it Lowry and Leonard’s nights did as well. Utah came back out in the second half with their starting lineup against the Raptors bench, and the Jazz went to work, immediately going on a run to build a lead that they would sustain until the end of the night. Norman Powell in particular struggled during the second half, forcing some difficult offensive possessions and finishing the night at a team-worst -20 in just over 15 minutes. With the glut of wings on the Raptors roster this season, Powell needs to have a strong preseason to find a regular role with the team this season, and this looked more like the lost Norm of last season, struggling to find his comfort and looking clearly frustrated at times.
This was a tale of two halves, really. The first half was the Raptors building comfort with the players who are known quantities, getting the chemistry going in preparation for the season while also getting players used to the pace of a NBA game again after a summer, or more in the case of Kawhi, away. This probably more closely resembles the team we will see once the season begins, and there was plenty of positives here, especially with another impressive outing from Leonard and with the solid defense in the second quarter. The other half, as with the game against Portland, was one of experimentation, both on the part of the players who were getting opportunities to showcase their game while looking for a roster spot in the league, whether with the Raptors or elsewhere, and on the part of Nurse, as the rookie coach looked to see different combinations of players and find out what he has in his roster.