Forrest Gump ran until the land gave way to open ocean and not a second before. A great deal of the Raptors offense this season will be derived from Gump ethos pushing them forward, and forward again until they're forced to settle into the halfcourt and the .5 offense that remains a work in progress.
These Raptors are meant to be titans of the open court. Pascal Siakam rose to prominence by getting up court and on the positive end of Kyle Lowry hit ahead passes. O.G. Anunoby, perhaps more than anyone in league history, supplements his scoring with breakaway dunks after stealing point-to-wing and wing-to-point passes. Scottie Barnes doesn't go a day without receiving a comparison to Magic Johnson. These guys play a lot of minutes, play a lot of defense, and they get their fair share of runouts - this is by far the easiest way to keep winning games. Darko Rajakovic can tweak things, get more buy in, and improve morale (and he certainly has), but he can't change what this team is best at: the Gump ethos. Even Coach Darko had it postgame, sprinting into the dressing room like a madman before being showered in water to celebrate his first win.
"I hope we have elite defense every night. I think we have elite defenders." Rajakovic said after the win. "When we bring that kind of energy and juice, we're really good defensively. For us, that creates opportunities in transition."
Rajakovic added, regarding the offense: "I thought tonight we could have done a better job with a couple situations of not turning the ball over. I talked to Scottie at halftime that: 'we need him to push, but to also be under control'. And, we gotta continue trusting the pass. It's easy to trust the pass if you're making shots, when everybody's playing great it's easy to trust the pass. Trusting togetherness is the one (thing) when things are not going our way, and how we're going to stick together and stay together. We did it enough tonight, and we definitely have a lot of room for improvement."
No team has been better at getting out in transition -- and avoiding the halfcourt -- than the Memphis Grizzlies the past two seasons. They managed to get out running on 18 and 19-percent of their possessions, and these numbers are huge. The Raptors busted out in transition on 25-percent of their possessions last night, and better yet: almost 50-percent of their defensive rebounds led to a transition opportunity. This wasn't a team that had to wait with bated breath for a steal, or force the issue by gambling to try and jumpstart their offense; they stayed well within their defensive shell, defended like hell, and pushed after misses.
That defensive shell? The league's best after game one. The expectation isn't any sort of "if you're not first you're last" Ricky Bobby-ism, these Raptors don't have to be the league's best defense to be successful, but they should be in play for that status. You can't fully control for transition possessions, but through getting stops, getting steals, and pushing pace you can guarantee a healthy amount. The Raptors need to grab more than a healthy amount. The defense gets the ball rolling, and their star wings figure things out on the fly.