Well, that was a game sure to please just about any type of Raptors fan, no? (final score aside for those wanting playoffs)
It was entertaining, the home team fought hard and stunned the Spurs early, there were encouraging signs from Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross and, in the end, San Antonio showed what a championship caliber team looks like and was worth the price of admission.
As always, some thoughts:
- DeMar DeRozan takes (and makes) a lot of tough shots. He was making most of them early, but it’s tough to do that all game. Especially now that he’ll be seeing the top perimeter defender on the other side for the bulk of contests. Once Kawhi Leonard got switched on to him full-time, DeRozan, not surprisingly, wasn’t as effective. He didn’t get a single rebound, but one thing he did quite well, was move the ball. Head coach Dwane Casey said before the game he is looking for DeRozan to improve “his quarterbacking out of the post” and “making opponents pay” for doubling him. DeRozan had seven assists and would have had more had his teammates hit some makeable shots.
- Jonas Valanciunas told me he was simply exhausted after a long trip, the trade of three players and in adjusting to the three hour time change. That’s why, after a dominant start, he faded. Valanciunas was bullied by his old Rytas teammate Aaron Baynes, who benefits from playing sparingly (even with Tiago Splitter out). Valanciunas said Baynes never stops working and he just didn’t have the energy to match him after spending Monday sick in bed. He’s looking forward to working with his new teammates the next couple of days and getting a new start on Friday against Philadelphia.
- Terrence Ross showed some flashes as well as the inconsistency that is still holding him back. There’s no question that Ross has the tools to be an effective NBA player. The mental side is where things need to come together. He’s making progress though and now will be given a larger role for the rest of the season to see just how far he can progress in his second season.
“It’s a great opportunity for him. Terrence is — and I’ve said this before and people laugh — he’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve coached in the NBA. He’s a freak athlete. But now he’s got to put all the fundamentals in there, the consistency, the mixture of shooting and driving and passing off the dribble. All those things need to be developed. He’s a great athlete, now he’s got to harness that and bring it in and be a complete player and do it on a consistent basis,” Casey said.
- Ross told me he’s ready for the challenge. He also said it’s been tough not having Quincy Acy (“he’s like a brother”) around, but said “(Masai Ujiri and his staff) are going to do what we need to do to win.”
- Casey called Greg Popovich “one of my idols.” “He’s one of the last of the cowboys, doing it for that long. They just keep coming out, churning them out. They could have come out with an emotional drunk from last year but they didn’t. They came out with revenge on their mind, which is the what a true championship team will do. That program should be the model for all of us to go after.”
- Pop was in classic form pre-game, berating reporters for lousy questions (he mocked mine, the first of the session about whether there’s a danger in a depleted team punching above its weight) and, generally having a good time.
On why Matt Bonner remains so popular in Toronto:
“He’s a weirdo. Matty’s Matty. He’s like a lumberjack from New Hampshire. He’s like the dweeb, egghead kind of guy. Highly intelligent. Great sense of humour, well-read, coach can’t understand have of the time. He always has questions that we don’t even know how to answer. That’s why we love him.”
On Pickering’s Cory Joseph:
“You know, he just keeps advancing. He’s a hard-working kid. Really cares, he’s always ready and would probably do better if his coach would play him more.”
“He gets it. If I play him for three games in a row and don’t put him in, he’s ready to go. He’s a classy kid.”
Casey on the Rudy Gay trade:
“The trade was something, Masai’s already talked about, he had to do to give the organization certainty going into the future. It wasn’t anything to do with Rudy’s talent. He’s a talented young man. The fit with he and DeMar was a little different. But it had nothing to do with Rudy whatsoever as a talent. You do that trade coming this way nine times out of 10. It’s nothing to criticize the trade of Rudy coming here. If you remember, we were scratching and clawing for that eighth spot at the time. It was a piece we felt like was going to get us over the hump. It was a talent acquisition. It was a good move. Going forward as far as the direction of the organization, I think Masai did the right thing to give us certainty with financial flexibility going forward.”
On where he and his staff go from here:
“I feel the utmost confidence in our staff and my ability to develop players. That’s what we’ve been doing since we got here. Ed Davis, DeMar — I’ve seen growth in DeMar. Terrence Ross is still growing. Jonas Valanciunas is still growing. We’re working hard at it. There’s not a staff that’s going to work harder as far as working with players. As a coach, you also want to win. That’s my goal, also, to develop and win, which is probably the hardest thing to do in the league. That’s what we were doing. We were working with guys. I don’t want to send a message to Jonas or T-Ross to go out there and make as many mistakes as you can and it doesn’t matter if we win or lose. We’re competing to win. I do know that our job is to develop those guys and get them as good as possible for the rest of the season.”