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Canada’s Jamal Murray among returning NBA stars in preseason

The Toronto Raptors opened their exhibition season on Sunday simply being dominant in their Canadian home away from home.

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

Raptors coach Nick Nurse said a lot of what he called the ‘middle roster’ player who saw the majority of the game’s minutes did some really good things to disrupt the Jazz .

“Lots of deflections, lots of rim challenges, shifting shots, good rebounds, peripheral shot contests were pretty good,” he said. “I think I got to see a ton of the middle of the roster, which was good. It was helpful. »

Leading by just one early in the second half, the Toronto Raptors entered the third quarter going 17-3 in the first preseason game for both teams.

The Jazz, a team that is being rebuilt after stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were traded in the offseason, looked a lot like a club starting from scratch, shooting 32.6% from the floor on the night and committing 23 sales figures.

“We did a lot in our first four practices to build a team,” said Jazz coach Will Hardy, who said it was important to see how this new version of the Jazz performed in an “environment competitive”, even if it was only the first game of the pre-season.

“We are looking for everyone to communicate and solve problems as a group. Young players, to earn a spot in the rotation, they’re going to have to do the dirty work, they’re going to have to step up to an NBA physical level. »

A large crowd at Rogers Place watched the preseason curtain raiser. Tickets for the NBA Canada Series game sold out just minutes after they went on sale, and lower bowl tickets cost more than $700 each at secondary ticket sites.

“The crowd is in, it’s the only chance they have to see us in their hometown or area,” Nurse said. “And, they usually bring it. It’s cool because, look, there’s a lot of pre-season games that you go through where there’s zero energy and almost negative energy. We don’t have to go through that, and it’s fun. »

“Rock star treatment” in Edmonton

Guard Fred Van Vleet said the Raptors have received “rock star treatment” since touching down in Edmonton on Saturday. “I hope we put on a good show,” he said. Van Vleet, who is expected to be one of the team’s stars again this season, played just 9:39 in Edmonton, scoring three points.

“It was a good practice, the guys were flying everywhere,” Van Vleet said, as dozens of fans crowded against the glass of the Hall of Fame room chanting his name as he tried to speak to the media. .

“I’m not even going to try to write it down. There were a lot of breakdowns, a lot of mistakes, that’s to be expected. But I think we played with a lot of energy. »

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

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

Of the 18 players on the Raptors roster, only Thaddeus Young hasn’t scored.

“It just shows the support we have, playing in Canada, the fans supporting us wherever we play,” Boucher said. “It definitely improved the environment, but it’s still a pre-season game. There are still things to settle. But the fans definitely helped make it feel like a real game. »

The Jazz launched a new starting lineup with seven-foot twin towers Lauri Markkanen and Olynyk, an inch from seven feet, in the front court. Markkanen finished as the Jazz’s top scorer with 20 points.

Seven-foot Raptors rookie Christian Koloko made the most of his time on the floor, getting the crowd to their feet with a dunk highlighted in the second quarter, and later using his massive wingspan to make an attempt to dunk. Koloko finished with seven points and three rebounds.

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

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

Kallio’s first game officiated was at Rosslyn School in Edmonton. Kallio was a junior high school student and was asked to referee a junior game because no other referee was available.

“I decided to throw a whistle around my neck and jump down because my [physical education] the teacher asked me. »

‘Time for another team in Canada?’

And, does the attention the Raptors are getting in the rest of the country suggest that, even if the Vancouver Grizzlies come and go, is it time for another team in Canada?

“Expansion is not an easy subject,” Nurse said, “But from what I know, the game’s growth has been pretty rapid here recently. And that would help any city with a nice arena like this.

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

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