The Toronto Raptors got the preseason underway on Tuesday morning as they earned a 134-129 win over the Houston Rockets.
While it was the opener for the Raptors, it was the third preseason tune-up for the Rockets, who appeared to have a bit more rhythm on the offensive end of the floor throughout the first half.
Also working in Houston's favour was that it was closer to full strength than Toronto, who was without projected starters Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol. Still, the Raptors found ways to keep things close, making it a game in the second half before eventually taking the lead for good late in the fourth quarter.
With that in mind, here are a few takeaways from the Raptors opening win.
James Harden in midseason form?
James Harden seems to always remind us just why he is the league's back-to-back scoring champion.
Fresh off of a 37-point performance in the Rockets preseason win over the LA Clippers, Harden again imposed his will on the offensive end, scoring an efficient 34 points (on 11-14 shooting) to go along with a game-high seven assists in just 27 minutes of action.
The Beard was on 🔥 today!- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) October 8, 2019
⤵️ Highlights pic.twitter.com/nH65C14APN
After the game, Harden denied the notion that he's fully in midseason form, telling reporters that he's "still working on my conditioning. We've been doing an unbelievable job in practice of pushing ourselves… These games and practices are for us to build up to that."
Given that he's averaging over 35 points in the last two games, Harden's ability to tap into another gear is a scary prospect moving forward into the regular season.
Pascal Siakam as the No. 1 option
Kawhi Leonard is now an LA Clipper. Veterans Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol did not play. Naturally, all eyes were on how Pascal Siakam would look as the guy for the Raptors as they embark upon a new season.
He didn't disappoint.
The fourth-year forward scored a team-high 24 points (on 7-16 shooting) and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with four assists. The most encouraging aspect of Siakam's performance was the aggression that led to him going 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
In the 2018-19 regular season, Siakam shot eight or more free throws just eight times.
Siakam, who said he worked on his ball-handling and shooting this offseason, looked comfortable pushing the pace in transition and knocked down two of his six 3-point attempts, neither of which were made from his typical hot spot of the corner.
While he did commit five turnovers, there were plenty of positives to take away from Siakam's performance, an encouraging aspect considering two of the players that will be most beneficial to him this season did not suit up.
Raptors reserves show promise
In the lead up to this game, it was noted that the Raptors newcomers would be worth keeping an eye on in the preseason opener. Toronto's second unit, a group that includes some of these newcomers, had a big role in the team coming back from 17 down in the second half.
Among the reserves were:
- Chris Boucher, who scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in under 18 minutes
- Malcolm Miller, who scored 9 timely points in under 10 minutes
- Terence Davis Jr., who filled the stat sheet with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals and had the dunk of the night
BODY, CAUGHT.@TerenceDavisJr | #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/4GwFcRIhCC- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 8, 2019
- Matt Thomas, who showcased his shooting stroke with 8 points
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who finished with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks and
- Oshae Brissett, whose energy resulted in 6 points and 4 rebounds in 12 minutes
With eight players vying for three roster spots and two two-way spots, the reserves with non-guaranteed contracts will continue to look to make things hard for Nick Nurse and the front office. While some of these players would likely see limited time in a regular season setting, they've shown potential to develop moving forward and can serve as reliable options if and when rotational players are forced to miss time.
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