Though the Raptors have been playing for more than two months, they began their season on Saturday night.
Playing the defending champion Golden State Warriors, a team riding a 20-game win streak, the Raptors showed they have the mettle to get nose-to-nose with the very best in the NBA. Playing on a rare Saturday afternoon at home, the Raptors also provided their most entertaining game of the season.
They didn't win. It ended 112-109. There were small dips at the end – a couple of free throws missed, a ball dribbled out of bounds under pressure – but it could have gone either way.
Afterward, Golden State's Draymond Green would say it was "the closest" his team has come to pooching the streak.
The Warriors arrived limping, missing Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. Since they still have Stephen Curry, it hardly mattered.
In the prelims, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was assessing the Golden State Warriors and their Swiss Army knife of an offence. They do many things well to stop them all.
"Would you ever let [Curry] get his?" someone asked.
Casey thought about it for a second: "It's a lot."
By consensus, Curry is the best player in the league right now. He arrived determined to show what separates himself from the others – that he can not only make shots no one else can make, but that he tries shots no one else would consider.
He was the difference at the beginning – making four three-pointers in four minutes – and at the end – sinking crucial free throws and forcing the final turnover.
Curry finished with 44 points. That's sort of an average night for him.
On the other side, Kyle Lowry had one of his pouty outbursts.
Some players thrive under pressure. Lowry thrives under apathy. The moment he feels no one is looking at him (or looking at him with sufficient deference), he has a tendency to go off.
As Casey put it, just a wee bit backhandedly, "When Kyle has the energy, he gets up for everything."
Lowry was a force throughout the encounter. Golden State looked like they might put it away in the first quarter. Lowry dragged them back into it.
On a night when the team's other star, DeMar DeRozan, was shooting a miserable 5-for-19, Lowry scored a career-high 41.
If he'd played with anything close to this sort of intensity during last year's playoffs, they would've turned out very differently. If the Raptors want to do anything in April, they're going to need the Lowry we're seeing in December.
Another bright spot was key minutes provided by team emoticon Lucas Nogueira (a.k.a. Will You Be My Bebe?). Lately, the Brazilian seven-footer has seemed to be in a state of existential angst off the floor, but he looks pretty good on it.
Paired as Mutt to Lowry's Jeff, Nogueira posted career highs in points (14) and minutes (25) off the bench. He may not have the greatest tactical sense on the floor, but Nogueira has remarkably soft hands and a knack for showing up when it matters. If he's beginning to stake his claim as an NBA regular, that would be the night's most hopeful development.
They aren't anywhere close to the best. Not yet. But the Raptors did prove Saturday that they can roll with them.