Well, why don’t we start with the positives? Scotiabank Arena was rocking Wednesday night. A 19,800 fan sellout packed in to see the Toronto Raptors return home for the first regular-season game in 600 days and the pre-game festivities did not disappoint. Hannah Flores opened things up with a phenomenal spoken word poem called “We Back” welcoming the Toronto’s team back home, then Kardinal Offishall took the mic before handing things over to Fred VanVleet.
From there, things were pretty much downhill for Toronto who took a 98-83 beating from the Washington Wizards to open the 2021-22 season.
"We let the crowd down, it was a hell of a crowd. The fans did their part. We just didn't play well enough but it’s game one," Fred VanVleet said.
Rookie Gets Rooked
Scottie Barnes certainly got a rude awakening to NBA basketball early. He had three turnovers and three fouls in the first half alone and got totally lost on a Bradley Beal off-ball cut. He did, however, open his NBA career with a Magic Johnson-esque baby skyhook, driving left at Deni Avdija before floating it in softly over the 6-foot-9 Israeli.
It’s going to take time for Barnes, there’s no doubt about that. Raptors coach Nick Nurse just wants to see him get reps this season, over and over and over again against the league’s best. It’s OK, for now, if he airballs a corner three-pointer, as he did in the second quarter, as long as he’s improving and not losing confidence.
"Individually, he didn't play terrible, he didn't play amazing, I thought he was good. He was good in spurts," VanVleet said. "He'll learn. Again this is all a learning experience for everybody, myself included, but there's a pace and a flow and a rhythm to the game and once he learns that he'll be fine with his physicality."
Barnes did finish the game with a solid box score of 12 points, nine rebounds, and one assist.
Toronto’s half-court offense was the big question mark coming into the season. Could this team, especially early without Pascal Siakam, generate any offense in the half-court? Well, unless Fred VanVleet was making something magical happen, the answer Wednesday night was an emphatic no. OG Anunoby didn’t look comfortable for most of the night, shooting 1-for-12 from the field through the first three quarters before turning it on late. VanVleet and Precious Achiuwa looked out of sync in the pick-and-roll and Toronto never seemed to be able to create an advantage.
"We weren’t really executing much of anything at either end. And then when there was plays to be made, we weren’t finishing them off," Nurse said. "I thought there wasn’t much pace, we seemed to be in thinking mode a lot until you see that one little stretch there, the way we played in the preseason.
"There’s a lot of learning that’ll be going on tomorrow for sure."
Defense Just So So
Toronto’s defense was just fine, which is going to be a problem if the offense struggles this much. The Raptors couldn’t generate nearly enough fast-break opportunities to make up for their half-court offensive struggles and when they did create chances, the Wizards were usually quick to get back on defense and snuff out the fire.
"We didn’t put any pressure on them to get back either," Nurse said. "It was just like we were moving really heavy-legged, I thought, just slow up the floor."
The one real bright spot was Gary Trent Jr. who continues to look much improved on defense. He collected a handful of deflections and poked a ball loose fronting Montrezl Harrell in the paint. His passing and shot selection could still use some work, but the steps he’s taken defensively are very good news for Toronto.
Highlight of the Night
Rexdale’s finest Dalano Banton checked in late in the third quarter to a raucous applause and quickly made an impact, nailing a half-court buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the quarter.
"I'm grateful it went in, and I'm glad that's my first bucket and got it in the books," Banton said.
The Raptors did go on a late run led by a motley crew of Banton, Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., Chris Boucher, and Khem Birch. It was enough to make things semi-interesting late cutting a 29-point lead down to just 10, but the Wizards weren't going to fold.
Moving forward, though, Banton looks much better than most second-round rookies and he should get a longer look in the rotation next time out. It certainly seems as though he’s jumped Malachi Flynn for the third guard point guard spot behind VanVleet and Goran Dragic.
"He played really good," Nurse said of Banton. "I thought he was a big factor for the improved pace and offense. He was really getting guys to run and cut and move and making plays in transition so it was a good night for him."
Up Next: Boston Celtics
The Raptors will hit the road and head to Boston for a 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday night.