Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson famously said, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Last night, the Toronto Raptors threw haymakers at the Boston Celtics in a runaway 115-83 win.
The Raptors had carte blanche in their season opener. After a year in Tampa Bay, they were finally back home, and the fans and players were just happy to be in Scotiabank Arena.
This game painted a picture of what Toronto hopes to be this season: a physical team that uses its size and length to control games defensively and on the glass. The Raptors forced 25 turnovers and outrebounded Boston 60-42.
21 of those 60 boards came on the offensive end, resulting in 18 extra shot attempts for the Raptors. On a night where the team shot worst from the floor than in their opening game (42 percent versus 44.4 percent on Wednesday), their ability to set the tone with their physicality went a long way toward securing their first win of the season.
Five Raptors recorded five or more rebounds. The attack on the glass was spearheaded by two newcomers: Precious Achiuwa (15 rebounds) and Scottie Barnes (13 rebounds).
When asked after the game how a team without a traditional center can outrebound their opponent, specifically on the offensive glass, Raptors head coach, Nick Nurse, said it was because his team was able to “miss a lot of shots.”
Nurse has allowed Achiuwa to operate similarly to how he played during his lone season at Memphis. Then, after James Wiseman was suspended, the Nigerian was used as a small-ball center who was allowed to make plays with the ball in his hands and attack in transition.
Celtics center, Robert Williams III (nine points and six rebounds in 28 minutes), had a lot of preseason buzz about potentially making a leap this year; Achiuwa (15 points and 15 rebounds in 25 minutes) thoroughly outplayed him tonight.
However, the biggest takeaway from this game has to be the play of Barnes. After Dalano Banton stole the show in the first game, it was Barnes’ turn to be the rookie in the spotlight.
There was no hiding on defense as he was routinely matched up against one of Boston’s all-star wings. Between him, OG Anunoby, and timely help from others, the Raptors forced Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to shoot 11-25 combined.
On paper, Tatum’s 8-14 shooting numbers look fine, but Tatum did most of his damage in the second quarter. Speaking to the media postgame, Barnes said of the team limiting Tatum in the second half, specifically the third quarter, “he’s a really good player, so we just want to keep showing our length in gaps to try and influence him not to get in [the lane]. And when he gets real low, we just bring a bunch of guys and try to swarm him and don’t let him get easy looks.”
While the Raptors’ defense and rebounding were present throughout the game, Barnes’ play led the way for the team in the first half. Toronto only held a four-point advantage at halftime, and the fourth overall pick powered the team with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Offensively, he did a little bit of everything. He made an off-the-dribble three, he connected on catch-and-shoot midrange jumpers, he pushed the pace, he finished at the rim, and he made plays for his teammates.
After the game, Barnes attributed his performance to “playing hard throughout the game.” Barnes said, “it just matters about time and the situation. If we miss a couple, we’ve got to get the ball moving, then try to find the right shot, what’s best for us,” and he finished off with “If they leave me open, I’m gonna shoot it, no hesitation.”
It’s only game two, but this game showed a glimpse of what this franchise hopes peak Barnes will look like and why Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster were elated when he was still on the board when Toronto was on the clock in the 2021 NBA Draft.
“What I liked the most was he was at the front of the rim a lot tonight. Putbacks and cuts and drives, and that’s what we like to see–be able to use some of that size and length,” said Nurse after the game.
The Gary Trent Jr. rollercoaster was ascending upward tonight as he pitched in 20 points and helped Toronto extend their lead in the third quarter where they outscored Boston 34-17.
Trent Jr. got the start tonight and it seems like he will remain in the starting lineup going forward. Nurse said starting, “made Gary more comfortable” and that he was able to “feed off the other [starters].”
The big takeaway from yesterday’s performance is that this group is not a pushover. Their shots weren’t falling once again, but they dug deeper defensively and used their effort to create extra opportunities that ultimately led to them producing a double-digit victory.
The shooting struggles remain a concern–particularly from Anunoby who had looked on the way to taking his game to another level during the preseason–and the half-court offense leaves a lot to be desired. Nurse mentioned after the game that the team needs to “clean up spacing issues,” however, the NBA doesn’t award style points, so a win is a win.