By Frank McLean
The NBA’s schedule maker has teased fans of the Toronto Raptors this year. The official opening of the 2016-17 season had the Raptors open the campaign at the Air Canada Centre with the Detroit Pistons and there was time when the Pistons would be a very compelling opening game, but not anymore!
Detroit was a surprising eighth seed in last year’s playoffs, but the roster they throw out on the floor now does not have a Prince or a Hamilton on it anymore. Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer weren’t coming out on the floor either.
To make matters worse the Pistons best player, Reggie Jackson, was out of the line-up with a knee injury and not expected back until sometime in December.
The next tilt on Friday night was the real opening night. The team the Raptors have to beat to make it to the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs made their first visit to the “SIX” since they knocked the Raptors out of the Eastern Conference Finals in six games back in May.
In the last five months Cleveland has been a pain in the backside of Toronto sports fans. It used to be a city whose professional sports teams stunk and broke the hearts of their fans just like Toronto has experienced in recent decades.
In a matter of five months the Cavaliers eliminated the Raptors and won Cleveland’s first championship since the 1964 NFL’s Browns did it in football. Then the Indians ended the Blue Jays dream of a World Series berth.
Toronto fans were ready Friday night and you could feel a buzz in the ACC like it was, oh I don’t know, opening night!
The Cavaliers did win a nail bitter, 94-91 and it was a defensive struggle that made an early October match-up look more like a playoff battle in May.
“Specifically on the defensive side, I thought we did exceptionally well,” Patrick Patterson said after the game. “Granted, they missed a bunch of shots, but I thought our communication, finishing plays with the rebound and just talking overall whether it was guarding our man or just help-side defence, I thought we did a pretty good job. Offensively, we just missed a bunch of shots we normally make.
“Defensive side of the ball, I think that is the only positive thing you can take away. Just our effort and our energy on that side.”
The Raptors did miss a few shots that if they made them maybe they would have gotten the “W”.
“Some of the same shots we missed, I know we’re going to make,” head coach Dwayne Casey said in his post-game comments. “There’s no consolation, they beat us. We’ve got to continue to believe in our offensive shots. Those are the same shots we’re going to make, but we have to take care of the ball. We can’t have 18 turnovers because it’s a jailbreak against that team.”
One big positive was DeMar DeRozan who had scored 40 points in the Pistons game and added 32 against the Cavaliers. His 72 point total for the first two games of the season is a new club record.
He averaged 23.5-points a game last season and is on pace to push that to an even higher average.
However one problem which has cropped up in the first two games of the season is three-point shooting where they have shot just 7-for-34.
A lot of that has to do with the extended absence of power forward Jared Sullinger who signed a one year free agent deal with the Raptors after spending the first four years of his career with the Boston Celtics.
Sullinger was supposed to fill the void of outside shooting, but he will not make his debut until February since he has a broken bone in his left foot suffered in the first preseason game of the year.
Sullinger should make a huge difference in the second half of the season and the playoffs for the Raptors.
However, it’s only two games down with another 80 to go before the playoffs begin and like last year, the 82-game regular season is just a glorified preseason schedule. Monday night’s game against the Nuggets should only serve to emphasize that fact.
This Raptors team has been built for a long playoff run, so don’t worry, time will fly, and April will come soon enough. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.