The Toronto Raptors opened their exhibition season on Sunday by being dominant at home to Canada.
Pre-season or not, holding an NBA team—even a team in rebuilding mode like the Utah Jazz—to just 33 points in the second half is incredible. And that’s exactly what the Raptors did in a 114-82 win at Rogers Place.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse said many of his so-called “middle roster” players who saw most of the minutes in the game did some really good things to distract the Jazz.
Leading by just one as going into the second half, the Toronto Raptors started the third quarter 17-3 up in their pre-season opener for both teams.
The Jazz, a team in the process of rebuilding after stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were swapped during the off-season, looked a lot like a club starting from scratch, shooting 32.6 percent from the floor on a night and hitting 23 shots. turnover.
“We’ve done a lot through our first four rehearsals to come together as a team,” said Jazz coach Will Hardy, who said it was important to see how this new version of Jazz worked in a “competitive environment,” even then. only the first game of pre-season.
“We are looking for everyone to communicate and solve problems as a group. The young players, to get a place in the rotation, they have to do the dirty work, they have to go further. to the physical level of the NBA.”
The capacity crowd at Rogers Place watched the pre-season curtain raise. Tickets sold out for the NBA Canada Series games just minutes after they went on sale, and lesser bowling tickets sold for over $700 each on secondary sales sites.
“The crowd loves it, it’s the only chance they get to see us in their hometown or hometown,” Nurse said. “And, they usually carry it. That’s cool because, listen, there’s a lot of pre-season games you go through that don’t have any energy and are almost leaning towards negative energy. We didn’t have to go through that, and it was fun.”
‘Rock star treatment’ in Edmonton
Guard Fred Van Vleet said the Raptors received “rock star treatment” since they landed in Edmonton on Saturday. “Hopefully we put on a good show,” he said. Van Vleet, expected to be one of the team’s stars again this season, played just 9:39 at Edmonton, scoring all three points.
“It was a good exercise, people were flying around,” Van Vleet said, as dozens of fans pressed against the Hall of Fame hall glass chanting his name as he tried to speak to the media.
“I’m not even going to try and judge it in any way. There was a lot of damage, a lot of mistakes, that’s to be expected. But I think we played with great energy.”
The Raptors lead with 11 points and 10 rebounds from Chris Boucher, one of five Canadian players to miss the game. Kelly Olynyk (no points, six rebounds) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (no points, five rebounds) dropped to the floor for the Jazz, while Dalano Banton (nine points), and Khem Birch (five points, five rebounds) also saw time for the Raptors. .
Of the 18 players on the Raptors’ roster, only Thaddeus Young did not score.
“It just shows the support we have, playing in Canada, the fans supporting us wherever we play,” Boucher said. “It really makes the environment better, but it’s still a pre-season game. There are still things we need to improve on. But the fans are definitely helping to make it feel like a real game.”
The Jazz debuted with a new look in the starting lineup with the seven-foot-tall twin towers of Lauri Markkanen and Olynyk, an inch under seven feet, on the front court. Markkanen became the Jazz’s top scorer with 20 points.
Edmonton native Matthew Kallio was one of the officials on the pitch for the match. He is a non-staff referee for the NBA and also officiated at the Tokyo Olympics, but learned in August he would become official staff for the league. He moved to Calgary, but being a part of this game in his hometown was special.
“There’s a lot of honor and pride,” he said. “It’s been a long journey, a lot of work to get here. But, at the same time, it’s a game of basketball. I love this game. But I will cherish the moments after the game, after the work is done.”
The first match Kallio ever led was at Rosslyn Edmonton School. Kallio is a junior high school student, and was asked to referee the junior games because there were no other referees available.
“I decided to throw a whistle around my neck and jump on the floor because I [physical education] teacher asked me.”
‘Time for another team in Canada?’
And, does the Raptors’ attention in other countries suggest that, although the Vancouver Grizzlies come and go, is it time for another team in Canada?
“Expansion is not an easy topic,” Nurse said, “But from what little I know, game growth has been quite rapid here, recently. And it would help any city with a beautiful arena like this.
“I think the overall growth of the game across the country will definitely make the team very viable.”
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