Even in the preseason, the Toronto Raptors are going to play hard until the final buzzer. It's the only way Nick Nurse knows how to coach his team. Frankly, it's the only way the motley crew of rookies and players on partially guaranteed contracts should be playing. Somehow a group led by Sam Dekker, Dalano Banton, Isaac Bonga, David Johnson, and Justin Champaignie climbed out of a five-point hole with less than a minute to go in regulation. But Banton's game-winning three-pointer ricocheted off the rim as the Raptors fell 113-111 to the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.
"It was super entertaining," Nurse said. "I would have bought tickets to watch that game tonight."
While the end of the bench may have made it interesting, there were certainly some notable takeaways from Toronto's more high-profile players.
Precious' Game Continues to Expand
From the moment Precious Achiuwa first joined the Raptors, the organization has been encouraging him to expand his game. They saw him as this versatile multi-skilled big who could be a difference-maker in their small-ball lineups. Saturday night was an exhibition in exactly the kind of difference he can make.
He was relentless in bringing the ball up the court, using his speed to blow by opposing bigs with ease. He stuffed the score sheet with 13 points, 13 rebounds, three steals, and two assists.
"He's very talented as I've told you guys before and he's got some pieces to his game," Nurse said.
The Raptors are still getting to know Achiuwa, Nurse said, and they'd like to see his finishing skills develop a little bit more. That being said, he's certainly been a star of the preseason for Toronto and it's not out of the question that he's tabbed for the start over Khem Birch when the season rolls around. Birch is still the favorite for that spot, but Achiuwa is making it interesting.
Up & Down Night from Barnes
Saturday night had a little bit of everything from Scottie Barnes. The rookie was a step slow on defense in the first half, repeatedly getting burned when he'd pinch inside to help on defense. At one point he hesitated to take a free throw line jumper which isn't good to see in the preseason from a 20-year-old still working on his shot. But, boy, was his passing impressive. He's a true point forward, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward with the playmaking skills to help facilitate the offense. He had six assists in the first half alone before finishing the night with nine points and eight assists.
"I think again he’s going to have to combine that with some scoring. They’re going to start playing the pass. When he gets by somebody, he’s going to have to get to the rim a little bit," Nurse said. "I think Scottie gets by some guys sometimes and he should probably be striding out into his layup, getting to the free-throw line a little bit more."
OG's Bag Gets Deeper
It turns out OG Anunoby's off-the-dribble skills on Thursday night weren't just a one-game fluke. The 24-year-old continues to show impressive new pull-up skills, nailing two off-the-dribble threes late in the second quarter. Take everything with a grain of salt in the preseason, but those pull-up skills look very real and should carry over into the regular season.
"He’s had big games in the past but he’s in his rhythm and his flow," Fred VanVleet said. "He’s been great, he’s been assertive finding his spots, I think me and him are finding a little bit of rhythm together so it’s good to see."
Goran Dragic once again got the start over Gary Trent Jr. At this point, it seems like that's the starting lineup Toronto is going to go with on opening night. Dragic should provide a little more playmaking and ball-handling skills in the starting unit while Pascal Siakam is out. With Trent, things can be a little inconsistent. He was red-hot in the second quarter, scoring 10 points, but finished the night with just 14 on 5-for-14 shooting.
Malachi Flynn got the nod ahead of Banton in Toronto's first substitution group. Banton struggled with turnovers on Thursday and Nurse seemed to be happier with Flynn's aggressiveness. While Flynn struggled with his shooting against Boston, missing all six of his three-point attempts, Nurse didn't seem too upset with his Flynn's lack of paint touches.
"I thought most of those he took are his kind of shot," Nurse said. "He doesn't make them tonight but whatever. ... I thought he got us into some really good stuff. He didn't maybe touch the paint all that much but I thought the opportunities that he took were good ones and I thought he had a good game, even though he didn't get much to show for it in the shooting department."
Svi Mykhailiuk, Justin Champaignie, and Freddie Gillespie all got early playing time as well. Unfortunately for Gillespie, it was another lackluster night offensively as he squandered two beautiful setups inside, one from Anunoby and another from VanVleet.
"I thought he did a good job tonight," Nurse said of Gillespie. "I thought he really held his own on the glass, he got a couple of extra possessions for us, I thought he screened well tonight. Those are things he can do."
Isaac Bonga continues to get playing time ahead of Ishmail Wainright, Dekker, and Reggie Perry. Dekker, however, did get some playing time late and nailed a clutch three-pointer to tie things up at 109-109 with less than a minute to go in regulation.
VanVleet went down in the second quarter after taking a Robert Williams shoulder to the head, but after a minute or so on the ground, he popped back up and didn't miss a beat.
Up Next: Houston Rockets
The Raptors will return home on Monday to take on the Houston Rockets in the first leg of a back-to-back.