Raptors open preseason with a dominant win over Jazz in Edmonton

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The Toronto Raptors opened their show season Sunday by simply being dominant in their native Canada.

Preseason or not, holding an NBA team — even one in rebuild mode like the Utah Jazz — to just 33 points in the second half is remarkable. And that’s exactly what the Raptors did with a 114-82 blowout win at Rogers Place.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse said many of the players he dubbed the “middle squad” who saw most minutes in the game did some very good things to disrupt the Jazz.

“Lots of deflections, lots of edge challenges, changing shots, good rebounds, perimeter shot contests were pretty good,” he said. “I think I saw a lot of midfielders, which was good. It was helpful.”

The Toronto Raptors, leading by just a margin in the second half, started the third quarter with a 17-3 run in the preseason opener for both teams.

The Jazz, a team in the process of rebuilding after stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were sold off during the off-season, looked very much like a club starting from scratch, shooting 32.6 percent from the ground on the night and committed 23 turnovers.

“We did a lot in our first four practices to come together as a team,” said Jazz coach Will Hardy, who said it’s important to see how this new version of Jazz performs in a “competitive environment” was just the first Game of pre-season.

“We are looking for anyone who communicates as a group and solves problems. The young players, to earn a place in the rotation, have to do the dirty work, they have to get up to an NBA level of physicality.”

A sell-out crowd at Rogers Place watched the preseason opener. Tickets for the NBA Canada Series game sold out just minutes after it went on sale, and tickets to lower bowls cost more than $700 each on secondary sales sites.

“The crowd is excited, it’s the only chance to see us in their hometown or hometown,” Nurse said. “And they usually bring it with them. It’s cool because, listen, there are a lot of preseason games you go through that have no energy and almost tend to have negative energy. We don’t have to go through that, and that’s fun.”

“Rock Star Treatment” in Edmonton

Guard Fred Van Vleet said the Raptors have received “rock star treatment” since they landed in Edmonton on Saturday. “Hopefully we put on a good show,” he said. Van Vleet, who looks set to be one of the team’s stars again this season, played just 9:39 in Edmonton and scored three points.

“It was good practice, the boys were flying around,” said Van Vleet as dozens of fans pressed against the Hall of Fame room’s glass and chanted his name as he attempted to speak to the media.

“I’m not even going to try to rate it. There were a lot of glitches, a lot of mistakes, that’s to be expected. But I thought we played with great energy.”

Utah Jazz’s Jarred Vanderbilt (left) is blocked by the Toronto Raptors’ Pascal Siakam during NBA action in the first half of preseason Sunday in Edmonton, Alta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The Raptors were led with 11 points and 10 rebounds by Chris Boucher, one of five Canadian players to watch the floor in the game. Kelly Olynyk (no points, six rebounds) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (no points, five rebounds) took to the floor for the Jazz, while Dalano Banton (nine points) and Khem Birch (five points, five rebounds) also saw time for the raptors.

Of the 18 players on the Raptors roster, only Thaddeus Young didn’t score.

“It just shows the support we have when we play in Canada, the fans who support us everywhere we play,” Boucher said. “It definitely improved the environment, but it’s still a preseason game. There are still things we need to fix. But the fans definitely made it feel like a real game.”

The Jazz debuted a redesigned grid with the twin towers of seven-foot tall Lauri Markkanen and Olynyk, an inch under seven feet, in front spot. Markkanen became Jazz’s top scorer with 20 points.

Raptors’ six-foot-tall rookie Christian Koloko made the most of his time on the floor, rousing the crowd with a spectacular put-back dunk in the second quarter and later using his massive wingspan to attempt a dunk Plug. Koloko finished with seven points and three rebounds.

Edmonton native Matthew Kallio was one of the floor officials for the game. He was a non-staff referee for the NBA and also served at the Tokyo Olympics, but found out in August that he will become a staff official for the league. He moved to Calgary, but being part of that game in his hometown was special.

“There’s a lot of honor and pride,” he said. “It’s been a long journey and a lot of work to get here. But at the same time it’s a basketball game. I love this game. But I’ll cherish the moment after the game, after the work is done.”

The first game Kallio ever officiated was at the Rosslyn School in Edmonton. Kallio was a junior high student and was asked to officiate a junior game because no other umpire was available.

“I decided to throw a whistle around my neck and hop on the floor because my [physical education] The teacher asked me to.”

“Time for another team in Canada?”

And does the attention the Raptors are getting in the rest of the country suggest it’s time for another team in Canada, though the Vancouver Grizzlies have come and gone?

“Expansion isn’t an easy subject,” Nurse said, “but from what little I know, the growth of the game here has been pretty rapid lately. And that would help any city with a nice arena like this one.

“I think the overall growth of the game across the country would certainly make a team very viable.”

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