The Darko Rajakovic era arrived in Toronto pretty much as expected and in winning fashion no less.
A much more egalitarian offence was on display from the Raptors in which the ball moved early and often and was backed up by a stingy defence that relied on its physicality and speed to thwart the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on their way to a 97-94 opening night win at Scotiabank Arena.
Not a bad debut for the new Serbian-born Raptors coach, who admittedly was trying to downplay his first game as an NBA bench boss after years as an assistant.
The two teams played it pretty evenly throughout most of the evening with Toronto getting out to a 10-point lead early, but never really pulling away.
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The home side got a little separation with about 4 1/2 minutes to go in the game on back-to-back threes from new point guard Dennis Schroder and Pascal Siakam and didn’t look back.
OG Anunoby was stellar in his defence of Anthony Edwards, who scored a game-high 26 points but needed 26 shots to get there.
The Raptors offence, as mentioned, was a lot more spread out with Schroder’s 22 leading the way right ahead of 20 from Anunoby, 17 from Scottie Barnes and another 15 from Siakam.
The Raptors had 27 assists on 36 made field goals, which will make the new head coach very happy.
The team also shot 40% from three, a number few saw coming, as they made 14 of their 35 threes led by four each from Anunoby and Schroder.
The biggest surprise of the night was the inclusion of rookie Gradey Dick in the 10-man rotation at the cost of Chris Boucher.
Boucher appeared to have a solid pre-season, but was probably a victim of Toronto’s lack of shooting. Dick, as inexperienced as he is at the NBA level, can still shoot the basketball.
Before the game, Rajakovic admitted that deciding on which 10 he would begin the season with was not an easy or quick decision.
“It was (a) hard decision … Obviously, we cannot play them all,” he said. “But we’re going to go game by game. I don’t foresee that they are going to be (out) after one bad performance, that we’re going to get guys out of the rotation. I think that’s not fair. I don’t think that players want that, either. And for the players that get in the rotation, we want to give those guys more time so they can prove themselves, find the rhythm and everything else.”
From the positive-signs department came the performance of Schroder, who became the first Raptor to score 20 or more in his debut with the team since Kawhi Leonard did so with 24 at the beginning of that championship 2018-19 season.