Pre-season Game No. 1 – Celtics 76, Raptors 75

Welcome to the first RaptorBlog post-game “recap” of the season.

This year, instead of writing a generic game recap that you can find thousands of other places, I’m going to make my post-game stuff a little more personal. After each Raptors game this season (unless I don’t see the game), I’ll post my thoughts on various points about the game itself, the team, the opposition, the coaching, the fans, and any other observations I make over the course of the contest. Sometimes the posts will be short and sweet, other times you may get a passionate rant that I hope you’ll appreciate.

I’ll include the link to the boxscore, as I did above, as well as embed the highlights, which you’ll find below. I’ll also select a Raptors Player of the Game, a Player of the Game from the opposition, and even a Goat of the Game if it’s called for. I’m working on a title for these posts, which I’ll have by opening night.

Without further ado, here we go.

Here are six thoughts from the first of two pre-season tilts against the Celtics:

1 – The starting lineup looked exactly the way I thought it would, with Jamaal Magoire starting at centre along side Andrea Bargnani, James Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon. I know Dwane Casey has said not to put any stock in pre-season lineups and rotations, but I’d bet those are the five that start on Boxing Day against the Cavs. As I had mentioned in my last post, Magloire may start to set the tone early, but guys like Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and even Aaron Gray will likely end up with more minutes, as we saw on Sunday.

2 – The lockout rust was evident, as all in all, this was an ugly game of basketball, with very few sparks of offence either way. The two teams combined to shoot an abysmal 56-for-144 while committing 36 turnovers (The Raptors committed 21). To be blunt, what did you expect from a post-lockout pre-season game between an aging veteran team and a young team trying to learn a completely new system under a new head coach?

3 – Andrea Bargnani. If someone had told you before the game that Bargnani would shoot 4-of-14 and miss a potential game-winning put-back at the buzzer, you’d probably assume it was another forgettable performance from Il Mago. Quite the contrary. I can honestly say I’ve never seen Bargnani consistently chase down rebounds and stay focused on the defensive end like I saw him do in this game. It was the polar opposite of what his career has been to date, as his work on the boards and on defence kept him useful despite a tough day offensively. Heck, he even set a rock-hard screen on Keyon Dooling and was seen jawing with Kevin Garnett. It’s just one meaningless game right now, but if Bargnani can bring that effort on a nightly basis, eight rebounds a game is attainable.

4- I must say, for a dull pre-season game, it was a pretty energetic crowd. The official attendance of 16,721 was definitely inflated by season seat holders getting a window of time to claim extra complimentary tickets to the game, but it wasn’t so much the size of the crowd that impressed me as much as it was how loud and into the game they were. I’m not sure if it’s a sign that fans are wholeheartedly embracing the tough it out defensive mentality or a sign that people were just so starved for NBA basketball, they would have cheered for anyone out there bouncing a ball. Never the less, it was nice to see them rewarded with an exciting finish, even if they did have to witness a game in which Greg Stiemsma put in the winning bucket.

If you watched the game on TV, I’m sure you heard all about the new 3-D illusion at each end of the ACC court. Basically, if you’re in the arena, it simply looks like the word “Raptors” has been painted diagonally with a shadowed background. But if you’re watching on television, it looks like a 3-D stand (you can see it clearly in the highlights above). I guess it’s cool, but I don’t find it that interesting, other than the fact that the Raptors are apparently the first pro sports team in North America to incorporate this European soccer-like illusion. Last note on the in-game experience: the new court, which RaptorBlog reader Monique Lawrence first alerted us to in September, seems to be getting rave reviews from fans. I agree with them, it looks sharp.

5 – In a sign of what’s likely to come this season, the young Raptors weren’t getting many calls from the officials. There were quite a few occasions when I noticed a Raptor getting called for a cheap defensive foul, while not being rewarded for trying to be aggressive on the other end. I’m not foolish enough to believe that there’s a conspiracy theory waiting to be discovered, but I’m also not foolish enough to dismiss facts. Young, unproven players don’t get many calls in the NBA, so the Raptors better get used to it. On Sunday, the Celtics took 23 trips to the line with the Raptors getting just 13. I will say though, I liked that the players themselves refrained from showing their frustration with the refs and also liked the fact that on the television broadcast, it looked like Casey was constantly in the refs’ ears.

6 – A word on the Celtics. They’re still a very good basketball team, but other teams are getting better, and they’re only getting older. The talent is still there, the will is definitely still there (J.O. even looked to have a pep in his step in this one), but the legs simply are not. I’d be somewhat surprised if Garnett and O’Neal combined to play 66 games this season, let alone if one of them came close to playing that many games on their own. With one of their few young pieces, Jeff Green, out for the season, and very little depth behind an aging, fragile front court, I just can’t see this team being a serious contender come May and June. I’d even go as far as saying I’d be shocked if they reached the East final.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 33 Min, 16 Pts, 4-14 FG, 2-3 3PT, 6-7 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Blk

Celtics Player of the Game: Brandon Bass – 25 Min, 9 Pts, 4-9 FG, 1-2 FT, 5 Reb, 1 Ast, 3 Stl, 2 Blk

This week, as we head toward the final stretch of the condensed training camp and pre-season, we’ll make our predictions for the Raptors’ season, recap the second and final pre-season game and take one last look at the rotation heading into the regular season. And of course on Wednesday, we’ll unveil No. 8 in our Ultimate Raptors Rankings.

Hopefully you enjoyed my take on the game, and will come back for another 67 of them.

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