TORONTO – The rebuilt Toronto Raptors opened the NBA playoffs like so many editions before them — with a loss.
But the message in the post-game locker room was: It’s only one game.
In a loss that conjured memories of so many Raptors opening-game losses, D.J. Augustin scored a dagger three-pointer with 4.2 seconds to play as part of a 25-point night, and the upstart Orlando Magic beat the Raptors 104-101 on Saturday to take Game 1 of thee seven-game opening-round playoff series.
The Raptors are 2-14 in Game 1s all-time, including an eyebrow-raising 1-8 at home, and when they beat Washington in Game 1 last season, it snapped a streak — finally — of 10 consecutive Game 1 losses.
“(It’s) first one to win four games,” Marc Gasol said. “You go back, watch film, see what worked, see what didnt work, see what you’ve got to better and play the next game.
“Win or lose, we’ll come back and do the job again.”
Kawhi Leonard had 25 points but air-balled a three-point attempt on the last play. Pascal Siakam had 24 points, Fred VanVleet had 14, and Gasol and Danny Green scored 13 apiece for the for the Raptors, who went 58-24 in the regular-season for the No. 2 seed in the East, and are making their sixth consecutive playoff appearance.
Kyle Lowry, who took a hard knee to the groin from former Raptor Terrence Ross early in the game, had a horrible offensive night, scoring zero points on 0-for-7 shooting.
“I think (Lowry) had some really good looks that he’s gonna normally knock down,” said coach Nick Nurse. “We need to get him involved a little bit offensively and we need some points from him. . . (But) I look down and I see he was a plus-12 in the plus-minus and he had zero points, so he was still impacting the game greatly. I’m sure he’ll bounce back and play a little bit better next game.”
Nikola Vucevic and Jonathan Isaac had 11 points apiece, while Aaron Gordon added 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Magic, who were 42-40 in the regular season, and are making their first playoff appearance since 2012.
Playoff expectations are sky-high this season. After the Raptors had been sent packing from the playoffs by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third consecutive season, team president Masai Ujiri rebuilt with an eye at a championship appearance, acquiring Leonard and Green, and then adding Gasol at the trade deadline.
The Raptors are by far the more experienced team, their 320 playoff games by the starters before Saturday numbering almost 10 times that of Orlando’s.
But the Magic, who’ve been one of league’s hottest teams since the all-star break, matching Toronto’s conference-best 22-9 record over the final 31 games of the season, clearly didn’t get the memo.
“Our goal was to make the playoffs but not just make it,” Augustin said. “We want to make noise and win a series or two. We feel like we can, we believe in ourselves.”
A 15-0 Orlando run in the second quarter put the visitors up by 16 points, leaving the Scotiabank Arena crowd in stunned silence.
“It’s the playoffs, you’re going to go up and down,” Leonard said. “Everybody wants to win the game. That dry spell in the first and then second quarter hurt us a little bit, but we were able to keep coming back, and push in that third quarter.”
The Raptors roared back with a 20-2 run that straddled the second and third quarters. They took a narrow 76-65 lead into the fourth.
In a game with 13 lead changes, seven of them came in the final 12 minutes.
The Raptors led by as many as six points midway through the fourth, but the Magic clawed back with a 10-2 run that had them leading with two minutes to play. Leonard’s fadeaway jumper from in front of Orlando’s bench had the Raptors up by two with 1:02 to play, but Augustin answered with a jump shot to tie the game. Gasol had a three-point shot bounce off the rim.
Then, a defensive miscue by Leonard and Gasol left Augustin alone at the perimeter and he knocked down the three-pointer to seal the victory.
“They made some tough shots, but (our) communication could be a little bit better,” Lowry said. “We’ve got to play a lot harder. . . But you learn your lesson and continue to get better. It’s a long series. Unfortunately we have an uphill to climb but we are made for it.”
That uphill climb continues with Game 2 on Tuesday in Toronto, then the series shifts to Orlando for Games 3 and 4 next Friday and Sunday.
The Raptors shot 45 per cent on the night, but just 33 per cent from three-point range. Orlando shot 40 per cent and 48 per cent from the three-point line.
Michael Carter-Williams took an accidental whack to the face by Lowry midway through the third that had blood gushing from his face, and required a quick mop of the court.
The Scotiabank Arena crowd of 19,937 was a sea of red, and erupted in a spontaneous ovation moments before tip-off when former Raptor Jonas Valanciunas was spotted taking a seat courtside. Valanciunas, who was traded to Memphis for Gasol in February, said in a TV interview during a timeout that he “wanted to come and support my guys.”
Blue Jays star Marcus Stroman was also at the game.
The Raptors were missing key reserve OG Anunoby, who had an emergency appendectomy on Thursday. There’s no timeline for his return.
Leonard got off to a strong start with 11 points in the first quarter. The Raptors took an eight-point lead late in the frame, but a running layup by Ross sliced it to 30-25 heading into the second.
The figurative wheels fell off in the second. Leonard missed all five of his shots, the Raptors shot a combined 30 per cent, and a running dunk by Nicola Vucevic put Orlando up by 16. Green’s three-pointer with a second left on the clock capped an 8-0 Raptors run to cut Orlando’s lead to 57-49 at halftime.
© 2019 The Canadian Press