Raptors treat Edmonton crowd to a win in Preseason debut

First game in Edmonton since 2008.

Last year the Raptors spent the preseason carving a new wings and wingspans galore identity, transitioning from the Kyle Lowry era and staying afloat while Pascal Siakam returned from shoulder surgery.

This time around? The familiarity is there.

Toronto is returning a league high 13 players from last season and the continuity showed right away, wreaking havoc on the defensive end that led a 28-11 fast break points advantage. Your typical preseason tuning reared its head on the offensive end with 23 turnovers and some missed shots that will go down in the regular season. However they scored 114 points anyway!

This game will be remembered because of the Edmonton fans, who haven’t seen the Raptors up close and personal in 14 years. Tickets at Rogers Place sold out in 20 minutes.

Man of the People

It’s only the third time that Toronto has played in Edmonton. 1999 featured guys like Vince Carter, Alvin Williams and even Master P. The Raptors most recent visit was in 2008.

Fred VanVleet only played 10 minutes but got the crowd going with a transition three (his lone basket), followed by nice dish to Siakam for the game’s first dunk. Then he really dug down on a possession vs Collin Sexton that resulted in “Young Bull” losing the ball out of bounds as the fans roared. Even Sexton had to smile afterwards, acknowledging Fred’s intensity.

FVV was featured off ball more, which will pay dividends in maintaining his health all season. Postgame, Fred joked about being able to handle his preseason workload and was extremely complimentary of the Edmonton atmosphere.

“You look up to the rafters, it felt like people were hanging from the ceiling. It was electric. From the moment we checked into the hotel yesterday (Saturday), rockstar treatment. Hopefully we put on a good show for them,” VanVleet said.

Some fans gathered outside by the media room, chanting loud enough to be heard while Fred was taking questions. At one point Fred stopped mid answer to say “I think they’re going to do that the whole time.”

After his media session was done, VanVleet took a wholesome moment to give the people what they wanted.

Here’s to hoping it doesn’t take another 14 years for Edmonton to see an NBA game.

Precious Achiuwa

Precious Achiuwa embodies the Raptors familiarity. He had his struggles early last season, always eager to make things happen but possibly doing too much too soon. Then once he found his stride, the wow plays took off.

Nick Nurse praised Achiuwa’s quick decision making and assertiveness, noting how comfortable Precious is in the offence. Achiuwa showed off that rapidly improving range, knocking down a three in the first quarter and also took it to the rim.

He finished with 10 points and five boards off the bench in 15 minutes.

Roster Spot Battles

Filling the back end of the rotation is what this preseason is about.

‘Justin Champagnie’s absence (right hip soreness), combined with Josh Jackson’s preseason debut could make things interesting. Jackson has impressed in camp, and continued that on Sunday with his defensive activity. Jackson got a couple deflections, a steal, a block, and mostly found driving lanes for 10 points.

Dalano Banton started his night by asking the Edmonton crowd “what’s gwanin?” This play below was something new.

That ball fake looked like it came from prime Rajon Rondo’s playbook. Banton said postgame on Sportsnet that he’s working on become a floor spacer, something Nick Nurse placed an emphasis on when Banton was in the 905. There were games where he attempted 8-10 threes a game. Samson mentioned on the Reaction podcast that Banton has a tendency in the halfcourt to pick up his dribble above the break, which ruins potential opportunities. He counted Dalano doing that twice in this game.

For now, we can enjoy what’s become customary of Banton’s game. Using his length and anticipation on defence and pushing the pace.

18 (!!) Raptors played and nobody logged more than 18 minutes, which was ideal for Nurse to make some evaluations. He complimented D.J. Wilson’s shooting ability. Gabe Brown knocked down a catch and fire contested three from the wing that looked C.J. Miles esque. He played less minutes (12) than Jackson and Wilson though (15 each).

Side Notes

Rookie Christian Koloko had seven points in 17 minutes, two of which came from a putback dunk. FVV has noticed the difference of having a seven footer guard the paint, saying “Sometimes you just have to be there to scare people.” Both Nurse and VanVleet praised Koloko after the game for being good on his feet, even when it comes to guarding on the perimeter. Some of that was on tape in summer league.

Khem Birch dealt with a litany of injuries last season but played with energy coming off a torn meniscus, grabbing four offensive rebounds in 11 minutes. Chris Boucher picked up where he left off last season with a double double. Malachi Flynn temporarily left the game after getting popped in the face, but had a nice showing with 8 points including two threes. Juancho Hernangomez banked in a three in his 12 minutes, but more needs to be seen. Thaddeus Young played the fewest minutes (five); you know what you’re getting. Thad found a cutting Scottie for one of his two assists.

Not much to say about the other starters (Siakam/Anunoby/Barnes/Trent). Gary probably looked the best out of the bunch. Scottie initiated some offence, including a contested midrange jumper. They’ll get plenty of words in future recaps. This was hilarious.

Five Canadians played in this game, including Kelly Olynyk and Nickeil Alexander-Walker on the Jazz. Utah’s jerseys will never be acceptable, I’m sorry. Not even going to try. What was the vision here?

One more thing: Jeff Dowtin Jr. didn’t finish this play (Alvin described it as “a million dollar move, but a two dollar finish”) but Jared Butler still got his ankles snatched.

What’s Next?

The Raptors will practice in Toronto, then meet the Celtics in Boston for Wednesday night’s game.

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