Coach Dwane Casey spent most of last week telling anyone who would listen that, offensively at least, his Toronto Raptors are still a work in progress.
Just how much work the Raptors have to accomplish offensively before the start of the regular season on December 26 became painfully evident at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon.
Treating the basketball like a radioactive object for most of game, the Raptors committed 21 turnovers that went a long way toward helping the Boston Celtics hang on for a 76-75 preseason victory.
It was Toronto’s first public outing of the NBA campaign that almost never was because of a bitter lockout that forced the league to cut the regular season to 66 games from 82.
And if the fans were somehow upset at being deprived of their basketball fix by the prolonged labour dispute it wasn’t evident at the ACC, where a gathering of 16,721 turned out to welcome the Raptors back.
They were treated to a pretty decent game as far as these preseason affairs go as the Raptors fought back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to take a one-point lead in the final two minutes.
Then, trailing by one, the Raptors had an opportunity to salvage a victory but they badly botched the final play that resulted in DeMar DeRozan forcing up a 10-foot shot that never had a chance as the final seconds ticked down.
“I thought our defence was fantastic,” Casey said. “We have what we call multiple stops and we had a lot of those. We try to get seven per game and we reached our goal.
“Offensively I said … We may throw it up in the stands and we did 21 times.”
The Celtics were playing without star Paul Pierce, who remained in Boston nursing a sore heel.
And with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Celtics coach Doc Rivers elected to put his faith in some of his younger players like rookie Greg Stiemsma while established veterans such as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen looked on from the bench.
Casey has been promising that the Raptors would beef up their defensive play this season and that was evident against the Celtics, who were held to 39.4-per-cent shooting.
Andrea Bargnani was an active force off the boards, hauling down nine rebounds and scoring 16 points. Ed Davis was also solid with 10 points and 10 rebounds during 20 industrious minutes of playing time.
Casey said don’t read anything into the makeup of the starting lineup, that it is still very much a work in progress and could change totally when Toronto plays its second, and final, preseason contest in Boston on Wednesday.
Canadian newcomer Jamaal Magloire started at centre with Bargnani at power forward and James Johnson on the wing. DeRozan was at shooting guard with Jose Calderon at the point.
Anthony Carter, one of general manager Bryan Colangelo’s free-agent signings, was unavailable, still bothered by a sore right shoulder that caused him to miss a couple of practices last week.
Offensively, DeRozan showed that the hard work he put in during the off-season on his three-point shooting is paying off, knocking down both of his long-distance attempts against Boston.
DeRozan only made five three-point shots all of last season.
Casey is excited the prospect of DeRozan turning into a more accomplished shooter but was clearly displeased how he handled the final play of Sunday’s game.
“That’s what we need from DeMar, we need that type of approach,” Casey said when asked about his three-point shooting.
“Again, it’s the focus on concentration down the stretch. We can’t have mental breakdowns, offensively or defensively.”