The Raptors wrap up preseason play tonight as they close out their condensed schedule with the road half of a home-and-home with the Celtics in Boston.
Toronto used a 13-2 rally to tie the team’s first contest under Dwane Casey late in the fourth quarter — largely played against Boston’s reserves, but a late offensive putback from Greg Stiemsma put the Celtics ahead 76-75 with 12.6 seconds to play. That held up after both DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani couldn’t capitalize on one final offensive possession.
Here’s what to look for in the team’s second and final preseason tilt:
Does the Raptors’ defence travel well?
Dwane Casey described his team’s defensive effort at home “fantastic” and for good reason. Multiple stops, a conscious effort to deny straight-line drives and much improved communication at that end of the floor were a sight for sore eyes to many Raptors fans. Tonight represents a great test to see if that same intensity can carry over to a second straight game against the same opponent, but in a foreign environment.
But about the offence…
There were some classic symptoms of rushed and rusty offensive preseason play on Sunday as the Raptors turned it over 21 times, showed some shaky offensive execution and finished the afternoon shooting 38 per cent. All completely understandable given the team’s defensive focus in a rushed training camp under a new coach.
Two of the team’s starters played less than 10 minutes and 10 players actually logged more minutes than those two starters. Casey has said this game should be similar in terms of rotation as he continues to work with various combinations of players in specific situations. He’s added that there may not be anything resembling a “normal” rotation in this most abnormal of seasons.
Casey also admitted Tuesday that there’s been some increased emphasis on cleaning up the limited amount of his offensive sets he’s introduced to the team so far, so look for spme improvement with that tonight as well.
More quick thoughts:
– Andrea Bargnani went 4-14 and missed the potential game-winner late, but it was his effort defensively and on the glass that had many taking notice. We’ve been here before, the key now (and always) is sustaining it. With plenty of talent behind him at the four, some big bodies that can soak up minutes at the five and a renewed sense of accountability under Casey, the incentive’s there.
– In the limited amount of Amir Johnson we’ve seen in practice, he’s been impressive with his ability to knock down the uncontested 20-footer with consistency and he drilled one in the second quarter of Sunday’s game. If he can develop that shot and presumably post up a little more with his added muscle, he’ll get plenty of opportunity at both the power forward and centre spots.
– Sticking up front, can Ed Davis build on that sneaky good performance in 21 minutes of work on Sunday? Quiet double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds for a guy that’s maybe flying a little more under-the-radar then he ought to be. Casey added that the sophomore player “has to get that stamina up where he can really be physical for an entire game to go up against (Kevin) Garnett.”
– Two corner threes from pretty much the exact same spot in the first half for DeMar DeRozan. Keep an eye on how the Celtics adjust to his potentially increased range and how DeRozan responds tonight.
– James Johnson looks like he could be the most effective wing defender for the Raptors this season and might be among the league leaders in blocks from at small forward with consistent minutes. To do so, he’ll need to cut down on turnovers, like the four he had on Sunday.
– Johnson might face some competition for minutes from Gary Forbes who got a pretty good look on Sunday and didn’t disappoint with some solid shooting, good perimeter defence and a surprising knack for finding teammates with four assists.
Hope to see you in our twitter chat using the hashtag #Raptors just before tip-off.