TORONTO — There are in all probability not that many classes that may be realized from the Toronto Raptors’ comically ugly 104-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, a sport that appeared as if it had been performed with a basketball that was flippantly greased. Maybe even reasonably greased.
Nonetheless, there have been moments that underscored the work that the Raptors have forward of them. Barely a minute in, Kawhi Leonard picked off an errant Atlanta cross, then turned and fired a soccer cross the size of the courtroom within the course of Kyle Lowry. The guard awkwardly tried to set himself to obtain the toss, was taken out by Atlanta’s free security — sorry, small ahead — and ended up in a heap on the sideline. Identical to that, there was a transparent reminder that Leonard and Lowry have been nonetheless getting accustomed to one another — and likewise that performs that find yourself with the latter participant, simply getting back from a again damage, splayed on the ground ought to undoubtedly be averted.
Lower than a minute after that, after one other Hawks turnover on an evening once they had twenty-frickin-seven of them, Lowry and Leonard labored the ball forwards and backwards between them, which was good, besides the passes stored coming and the shot clock expired, which was dangerous. It was a Raptors turnover on an evening once they had nine-bloody-teen of them. If it felt slightly like a preseason sport, there was a cause for that: Wednesday’s was the primary sport with each Lowry and Leonard within the lineup for a month, and solely the 22nd of 43 video games on the Toronto schedule through which the 2 All-Stars have shared the courtroom. If this common season was to be largely concerning the new-look Raptors getting snug with each other, then they continue to be on the early levels. In courting phrases, they haven’t but met one another’s dad and mom.
Earlier than the sport, I requested head coach Nick Nurse if he was fearful that the lengthy stretch with out his two greatest gamers on the ground collectively would set that studying course of again to sq. one.
“I don’t suppose so,” he mentioned. “I feel there’s been numerous progress in numerous areas. I’m not that involved about it.” The coach mentioned that Leonard was enjoying within the stream of Toronto’s offence extra now, trying to cross when the defence collapses on him, and so he anticipated him to have the ability to discover Lowry in these conditions. Lowry, in area, with choices, normally leads to Toronto factors, as would unfold a few hours later for the game-winning basket, a Serge Ibaka dunk that got here from a Lowry cross and started with a Leonard steal.
However earlier than that second of brilliance, when the 31-12 Raptors have been struggling to place away a 12-win Hawks workforce, I noticed that I had requested the incorrect query of Nurse. It’s not about whether or not Lowry and Leonard can get snug collectively over the second half of the season; they’re every so good on the courtroom that they’ll determine issues out. Whereas DeMar DeRozan was the face of this workforce for therefore lengthy, Lowry was the man who so usually bailed it out with a well timed play that didn’t essentially present up within the field rating; witness the display screen/bodycheck that helped arrange that Ibaka slam on Wednesday. In Leonard, he now has one other teammate with the innate means to make a key hustle play. These two can be effective. The true query is how a lot time it’ll take earlier than Nurse can get everybody else sorted out. And the reply is: in all probability many of the remaining 39 regular-season video games. And possibly past that.
With Danny Inexperienced resting on Wednesday evening, the Raptors deployed their 14th completely different beginning lineup: Leonard, Lowry, Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. They used 12 completely different beginning combos all of final season. Nurse has mentioned all alongside, although, that he deliberate to attempt completely different starters to see what labored and what didn’t, a part of his season-long lab experiment. The surprising half, although, is how a lot upheaval has taken place in the remainder of the lineup. The workforce has nonetheless solely been absolutely wholesome for one sport this season, and received’t be for weeks but, with centre Jonas Valanciunas nonetheless working his manner again from thumb surgical procedure. The accidents have meant too many minutes for backup massive man Greg Monroe and numerous time within the beginning lineup for VanVleet, who was previously the ace of Toronto’s second unit. OG Anunoby has struggled off the bench, though he was wonderful on Wednesday evening, and Norm Powell has proven flashes of his previous self, though he was a large number on Wednesday evening, and C.J. Miles has continued to be a shining instance of why the subsequent Raptor to be provided the GoDaddy sponsorship ought to flee, screaming, from the room.
There’s a lot for Nurse and his workers to find out, is the purpose. If they’ll get constant bench minutes from Anunoby and Powell on the wing spots, and a wholesome Valanciunas, then they’ll get by even when Miles can’t hit water from a ship. Nurse mentioned earlier than the Hawks contest that he needed to have Lowry and Leonard on the ground to work on late-game executions, after which his workforce obliged by being so dangerous that they nonetheless wanted to design performs towards Atlanta within the ultimate minutes. It labored, form of. One resulted in a wide-open three try for Lowry, one an open three try for Leonard. Each missed. Good performs, although. They ended up sealing the sport on the Leonard steal and Ibaka dunk, as a result of that’s what good groups do.
Nurse mentioned on the eve of the season that he didn’t care what number of video games the Raptors received. The primary 82 video games can be a studying course of. Good for him, then, that there stays a lot to do on that entrance.