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3 things we’ve learned after one Raptors game

Raptors, Scottie Barnes, Raptors Wizards

The Toronto Raptors’ opening night wasn’t without its teachable moments against the Washington Wizards.

Both off the floor and on it, Toronto’s homecoming debut was filled with excitement, disappointment, and a few things in between.

What follows are some things we learned, gleaned from players, coaches, and jumbotrons.

Nerves existed for “The Return”

Whether a rookie or an experienced team member, the regular-season return to Scotiabank Arena after 600 days away meant something for everyone. The common denominator, though, was a bundle of excited nerves, and it manifested itself on the floor.

“It seemed to me we weren’t fully engaged and something was there and it probably was just a pretty big moment,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. “Bunch of new guys wondering where they heck they are out there and running around and stuff, but we’ll make some strides forward and play better, I’m sure.”

Dalano Banton, the star of opening night, also admitted he got caught up in the emotions of not only playing his first NBA game, but for his hometown club as well. It was most clear just before the game started, as he stood on the hardwood for introductions.

“Playing the season opener and kind of just seeing everybody out there, y’know, it’s a really good fanbase in preseason, but to see it in the regular season and to see all those seats packed and filled just to see us play, we’re grateful for it,” Banton said.

While the sort of tension that the young players felt was textbook, it wasn’t the only kind. Fred VanVleet, who shot just 5-20 from the field in 35 minutes, and OG Anunoby, who went 3-17 from the floor in 34 minutes, felt it in their own way, playing in enhanced roles compared to prior seasons that, in some ways, are still foreign to them.

“Nerves and all of that comes in a lot of different forms and fashion,” VanVleet said. “I just thought that we were a little tentative after the first couple minutes. We had a quick seven and then we just hit a wall.”

Ultimately, of course, the season opener was just a single game, the opening paragraph of a much longer story. The Raptors know that, and in a year where development will be under a microscopic lens, they know that every experience is edifying.

“I said, ‘Listen, there’s not a whole lot of time to do anything in this league except get yourself rested and ready to come to practice tomorrow to really learn,” Nurse said, “and we’re gonna play better the next one out.’”

Transition game needs refinement

When it comes to on-court specifics, this season’s Raptors squad is projected as a team with some obvious flaws. But their strengths to alleviate those flaws have been made abundantly plain, too, and Wednesday’s contest showed just how vital it is that they manage to do what they’re best at well.

Transition, then, is key. And while the Raptors managed to create a number of opportunities to get out on the break, they found themselves disconnected and sloppy once there—throwing outlets into the hands of waiting defenders, tossing lobs a beat too early, forcing some looks that should’ve been dumped off.

“I don’t think we put enough pressure on them and even when we got steals and we were out we just didn’t seem to be able to get the ball moved forward safely enough where there was an advantage,” Nurse said. “Or if we would’ve just hung onto it and the guy would’ve pushed it himself it was probably going to develop into a numbers advantage.”

It’s the mark of a young team that the cadence of one of their strengths was off just a smidgeon for large portions of the game. It was ugly, true, but the roots are there, and eventually, the Raptor hope, so will be the fruit-bearing tree.

“Some of it was just sloppiness,” VanVleet said, “throwing the ball around, throwing it off of each other’s feet, running into each other’s way. It’ll take time. We’ll get a flow and a rhythm which we had zero of and that’s the way that Nick is coaching us is to play within a flow but sometimes it’s not there.”

It wasn’t like the Wizards’ defense was a sieve in transition, either, and that it was just the Raptors’ offense that was inept. They got back on most every play and forced their young opponents to make decisions, finding success in a fundamental steadiness.

“You give them credit,” Nurse added, “they played really well and they did get back but I don’t think we put enough pressure on them.”

Scottie Barnes’ favorite food

According to the jumbotron pre-game, which displayed images of different players and offered some mostly innocuous facts about them, Scottie Barnes’ favorite food is baked beans.

Evidently, someone on the team has to take him around to experience more of the Toronto food scene.