After a satisfying start to the NBA season, the Raptors first regular season weekend was a major eye- opener.
It started with a loss in Chicago on Friday night that was unlike any of us — and probably all of you — had ever seen before or would ever like to see again. The mistakes and miscues were too numerous to list.
They followed it up with a solid first half against Nick Nurse’s Philadelphia 76ers, but could not sustain the effort into the second half, eventually dropping this one by a score of 114-107.
It certainly didn’t help the Raptors cause that, on the back-end of their first back-to-back of the season, they had to make do without the services of O.G. Anunoby.
The Raptors’ lockdown defender took the floor pre-game for the Raptors’ shootaround with the intention of playing, but the leg cramp that took him out of Friday’s game in Chicago prevented him from taking the floor on Saturday night against Philly.
Going up against a Sixers team that boasts Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, losing your top defender comes at a cost. And the Raptors paid it with both Embiid and Maxey taking turns torching the host team.
Both were approaching the 30-point mark as the game turned to the final quarter with the two star players eventually sharing the game lead with 34 points each.
Toronto remained in this one for a half only because of its three-point shooting. Not necessarily one of this team’s skills, the Raptors actually hit their first eight three-pointers of the night before a Chris Boucher miss ended the streak.
The Sixers meanwhile couldn’t buy a bucket from beyond the arc, missing their first seven before a Maxey make broke the three-point seal for them.
Despite the glaring discrepancy between the two teams in that one category, the Sixers managed to stay within range, getting to the half down only three point.
In the third quarter, it was all Philadelphia as the Sixers outscored Toronto 35-20, aided in a big way by 14 from Maxey, who seemed to be getting everything he wanted in the frame.
Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic did not sugarcoat the ugliness of Friday night or the ineffectiveness of Saturday because he fully expects there will be nights such as these as this team learns new habits, and each other, within the new systems the staff has introduced.
“It is going to be a journey,” Rajakovic re-iterated before the game. “It’s going to be a process, and we’re going to stay together on that journey. I think the most important thing for us is understanding that it’s going to take some time to have clarity (with) what we really want to do and not to get lost in competition itself that’s, ‘Oh, let’s get away from this because at some point something else might work a little bit better.’
“We’ve got to see the big picture,” Rajakovic stressed. “We’ve got to be able to be committed to our new habits and creating new habits, which is passing the ball, playing for each other and making those habits stick. So, it’s going to take time. But how do we make that (happen)? We continue keeping guys accountable and talking about and showing video and keep working on it.”
If you’re looking for progress, Saturday’s loss was nowhere close to the gut punch they received the night before.
Yes, there were a lot of too-easy buckets from Maxey in particular but overall, not the mental miscues and utterly sophomoric execution the Raptors were guilty of in Chicago.
Rajakovic stuck with his bench for the most part, although it appears Chris Boucher has found his way back into the rotation after sitting out the opener, while Jalen McDaniels saw significantly fewer minutes against the Sixers than he had in either of the first two games.
As expected, Rajakovic believes it’s far too early to start pulling people from the rotation entirely.
“For sure, it’s a process,” he said. “We want to give those guys chances. I don’t want to pull those guys out of rotation after two games or whatever. I want to give them opportunities.
“There’s going to be a full season in front of us to develop our second unit. You can see based on those first two games, our second unit is going to be very, very important for us. How we develop chemistry, how they come ready to play, and how they contribute to our team.”
Until then there are going to be some tough nights like the team experienced this weekend.