After the hype and excitement of a 7-1 preseason, the Raptors’ 2006-07 season got underway for real last night in New Jersey. While the false start — a 102-92 loss to the Nets — was disappointing, there is so much optimism that this club could potentially be playoff-bound this season, that one defeat can’t diminish our hopes.
Coach Sam Mitchell is in the final year of his contract, and after four straight non-playoff seasons (not all under him of course), the time has come for Toronto to take it the next level or else find a coach who will.
President/GM Bryan Colangelo has come in and from Day One he put his stamp on this organization. He’s done an amazing job turning things around and instituting an environment that’s about winning. Colangelo came in with a plan and has executed. While it may take some time before we reap the rewards, it’s so clear the club is headed in the right direction.
- Much was made of Andrea Bargnani struggling as he tied the third-lowest first-game point total ever by a number one overall pick with just two points. In fact, he had more fouls (three) than points, leading to an undistinguished nine-minute opening game. But let’s put things in perspective: this kid turned 21 a week ago and was drafted as a project, not someone who would light it up immediately. He’s undergoing tremendous scrutiny as the Italian press is following him around. But I have no doubts about Bargnani’s long-term prospects. He can shoot the three, is a wonderful passer, can put the ball on the floor and — judging from the pair he got last night — can help out more in blocks than expected. Patience is the key here. Give him time to adjust to a new continent and a new game and you’ll be pleased with the results.
- The Raps’ passing looks much cleaner than it’s been in a long time. The club averaged 19.4 assists per game, but had 21 in the loss, despite having to work nine new players in. That total will soar when these guys click.
- Speaking of working everyone in, all 12 players played at least 8 minutes. Now that’s depth.
- I feel like a broken record with the first-quarter opponents’ field goal percentage already, but what I can say? The Nets shot 61.1 per cent in the first stanza and, sure enough, Toronto trailed 28-27.
- Old nemesis Vince Carter was doing a good job drawing fouls early, but then kind of went in the tank for a while before finishing strong. He only wound up getting to the line four times, sinking them all. Yet Carter still managed 25 points, thanks to a superb 10-for-16 shooting night, including sinking 1-for-4 from downtown. He completed the double-double with 11 boards and added six assists, but Carter would have easily topped 30 had he been more active early in the third quarter.
- The high-tempo offense looks good. Toronto was moving the ball up the court so fast. New point guard T.J. Ford has simply blinding speed pushing the ball. And everybody’s running. I counted only one time in the first half when the ball was walked up to the time line. Ford provides the Raps with something they’ve been missing for a long time — a true point guard. Sure, Toronto gave up a lot in Charlie Villanueva to get this guy, but he’ll be worth it. The early returns were sweet as Ford drained 19 points with seven dimes and five boards. He even shot well (8-for-15) and that’s not his biggest strength.
- Speaking of Charlie V., we’ll get a chance to see him tomorrow night when the Bucks come to town for Toronto’s home opener. I have a surprise party to go to and am unsure what the TV situation will be like, so feel free to drop me a note with any game notes as it looks like I may miss this one. (I best bring the stuffed Raptor along for moral support…this could get ugly. In fact, perhaps I need this.)
- Toronto is gunning for 100 shots per game. It got 54 in the first half and had 75 through three quarters, winding up with 94 in total.
- Early sloppiness by the Nets kept the Raps in this game. New Jersey had 15 turnovers with 6:45 still to play in the third quarter. It wound up with 23 all told — five by Jason Kidd.
- I suppose we can forgive Kidd, however, considering he racked up triple-double number 76 for his sure-fire Hall of Fame career. Eight points, four boards and four assists came in the decisive four quarter when the Nets outscored Toronto by six to put the game away.
- Anthony Parker struggled with his shot for most of the preseason, but as we noted towards the end of the exhibition schedule, he started turning things around. That continued last night when Parker, the starting two-guard, dropped in 9-of-17 from the field (two out of three from beyond the arc) for a team-high 22 points in 36 minutes. Not bad for his first NBA game in six years. Toronto fans are going to love this guy. He just never seems to make a mistake and is a fantastic addition to the club.
- Despite shooting over 51 per cent for the game, New Jersey sinks just one of its first 15 three-point tries. But the Nets nail two out of their final three attempts from downtown to help ice Toronto. Rookie Marcus Williams is 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, but fear not, this kid is going to be something.
- While Williams will help spell Kidd this season, make no mistake — this is still Kidd’s team. He proved that with his dominating fourth quarter. Kidd joked the other day about feeling strong enough to go out and average a triple-double this season. Then he proceeds to score 14 points with 10 boards and 10 assists. Sick.
- Another Raptor rookie, Jorge Garbajosa, struggled from the floor, hitting just one of eight shots in 20 minutes. Don’t sweat it — his shot was flat last night, but this guy’s track record of draining shots is irrefutable.