It didn’t take long for the ACC to get a first-hand look at the much-lauded depth of the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors (1-0). After a start in which every member of the team’s starting five scored one of the game’s first five baskets, Toronto wrapped up their season opener with seven double digit scorers en route to a 109-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Sporting a 15-point lead through three quarters, the Raps endured a Hawks’ scoring barrage, including a 15-2 run and 13 points in a span of 2:27, to hold on after Atlanta narrowed the lead to four points. A critical offensive rebound by DeMar DeRozan (off of his own free throw miss), followed by a crafty passing play that led to an easy Patrick Patterson dunk, ultimately sealed the win.
With Kyle Lowry and DeRozan having uncharacteristically poor shooting nights (7-27 combined, although they did combine for 17 rebounds and nine steals), the door was opened for other Raptors to step up. The starting front court of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas combined for 33 points and 18 rebounds, while the bench was bolstered by Greivis Vasquez (12 points on 5-11 shooting, +13) and Patterson (10 points on 4-9 shooting, +11). For the Hawks, the guard trio of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and Mike Scott recorded 60 points (20 each) on a combined 23-33 shooting.
The home opener for the Raps offered an impressive on-court pre-game video display, 20,000 free “We The North” t-shirts and a halftime performance by Karl Wolf, yet still lacked some of the showy spectacle of past year’s player introductions and featured little reference to last season’s Atlantic division title. Still, the crowd was a vocal force and the team didn’t shy away from the lofty off-season expectations.
JV getting better
Valanciunas was on the floor for just 20:40 on Wednesday night, nearly eight minutes less than any of his fellow starters, three minutes less than Patterson and just 30 seconds more than Tyler Hansbrough. While part of it was his own doing – two of his three fouls on the night came early in the first quarter – JV still made the most of his time on the floor. He led all Raptors with 17 points on 4-5 shooting and made his mark at the free throw line, going 9-10. Among his eight rebounds on the night, three came on the offensive glass.
Parade to the line
Even before Atlanta began some late game intentional fouling, the Raps were getting to the line consistently and making their attempts count. Beyond JV’s free throw efficiency, DeRozan made seven of his 10 attempts and Lowry was 5-7 for a 27-33 (81.1%) collective team effort. Compare that to the Hawks, who made just nine of their 17 tries from the charity stripe, a figure – 52.9% that was strangely dwarfed by their 59.1% three-point percentage.
Note to Toronto: that Korver guy is a pretty good deep shooter. It seemed, given how many of his three-point attempts (he was 6-7) came un-guarded, that Korver’s three-point shooting prowess didn’t appear in the pregame scouting report. The sporadic defensive issues of the first three quarters mounted into an onset of errors in the fourth, as Teague diced his way through Toronto’s ‘D’ for easy lay-ups and runners, and Korver and Scott were the recipients of some open looks on the perimeter. I’m sure Dwane Casey will be the first to note that, while its nice to start the year with a notch in the win column, there’s still work to be done.
Like the Raptors, Atlanta now has some kind of agreement with a local rapper to support and promote the team. However, unlike the Toronto/Drake connection, the Hawks arrangement with T.I. seems to be actually resulting in a live performance by the hip-hop star.
Game 1 of the Budenholzer Era resulted in an efficient night of regular – and often open – three-point shooting. It remains to be seen, however, that the new head coach has been given the personnel with which to succeed. For as good as Korver and Scott looked at times on Wednesday, a wing rotation of those two and DeMarre Caroll simply isn’t going to instill much fear in opposing defences.
An early Florida swing begins on Saturday in Orlando (7:00pm, SN360), the first half of a back-to-back that will also see them visit the Miami Heat.
Prediction: Raps 112, Magic 107 (record this season: 0-1)