Rudy Gay launched a long lob to a soaring DeMar DeRozan, who finished with huge one-handed dunk early in the third quarter Wednesday.
The Toronto Raptors dropped a 101-89 pre-season decision to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the highlight-reel connection between the two athletic Raptors was perhaps a promise of more to come for the two who’ve now had the benefit of some time playing together.
“It’s going good, I know where his sweet spots are, and vice versa,” said DeRozan, who topped Toronto (1-1) with 17 points.
“We’re just trying to put it together, especially when we need to get a bucket, and be aggressive, and get other teams in the penalty. That’s one thing we’re trying to do.”
Gay finished with 11 points.
“We’re trying to get in the rhythm of the offence, being aggressive, trying to create for others, trying to get that down pat,” DeRozan said.
New Raptor Tyler Hansbrough had nine points and seven rebounds, while Jonas Valanciunas had nine points and five boards and Kyle Lowry had eight points to go with four assists.
Kevin Love led the Timberwolves with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Nikola Pekovic had 12 points and eight boards and J.J. Barea added 12 points.
It’s a new season under a new general manager in Masai Ujiri, but there is stability in the Raptors’ starting five that didn’t exist at this time last year. All five are returnees compared to a year ago when three of the starting five were newcomers.
Added to that, Gay was acquired during the mid-season trade that sent Jose Calderon to Detroit, and had to learn on the job without the benefit of training camp or pre-season.
Together, DeRozan and Gay can open up space for each other, and pose a huge threat to opponents’ defences, who have to decide who’s the more important player to focus on.
Apart from the alley-oop, Wednesday’s game at the Air Canada Centre was typical pre-season, not a pretty performance for either team, featuring mis-timed alley-oops and sloppy turnovers.
“It’s pre-season,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I don’t think you can talk to a coach in the NBA now that is where they want to be. We are definitely not where we want to be defensively.”
Valanciunas said it was a “bad effort on defence tonight.”
“We still have time and a lot of things to fix and we’re going to start tomorrow,” he said.
The Raptors sophomore centre, who was beaten up by the league’s top centres early in his rookie campaign, had some trouble with Minnesota’s centre Pekovic on Wednesday.
“He’s a really good player, and it’s not easy to go up against him,” Valanciunas said. “It’s easier than last year, but I still have to fix a lot of things.”
The Raptors, who won their pre-season opener 97-89 over the Celtics in Boston on Monday, trailed the Timberwolves 29-22 after a sloppy first quarter.
New Raptor Steve Novak drained three three-pointers in the second to help Toronto take a 59-55 lead into the dressing room at halftime.
Ronny Turiaf led the T’Wolves with seven points in a third quarter that saw the visitors regain the lead, up 83-75 with a quarter left.
Casey went with mostly newcomers down the stretch as he continues to get a feel for what they have to offer.
Toronto next hosts former Raptors No. 1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani and the New York Knicks on Friday.
They open the regular season at home against the Celtics on Oct. 30.
Notably absent on the night was The Raptor, the team’s much-beloved mascot, who’s out for the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
Casey said he called The Raptor after hearing of his injury, which required surgery.
“I was disappointed, my daughter cried, she was upset,” Casey said. “(The Raptor) is a good man, but he’ll bounce back, he’s in good hands with the physicians. The Raptor will be back.”
The Raptors will hire a replacement for the man under the costume, who’s been with the team since Day 1.