October 14, 2016 - 7:28 PM
TORONTO - If Friday night was a test for the Toronto Raptors' backups and newcomers, coach Dwane Casey gave them a failing grade.
Fred VanVleet scored 31 points to lead the Raptors in a 122-105 pre-season win over San Lorenzo de Almagro, taking another step closer to clinching his spot on the Raptors' roster.
On the second night of back-to-back games, Casey decided to rest his big guns. But the young players got no slack from the coach, who lamented a defensive effort that he called "non-existent."
"Our rotations, our tags, our defensive disposition," said Casey. "We had no defensive focus tonight whatsoever. And that's what I was looking for. So tonight I didn't see a lot, so still everything is in flux."
Norman Powell added 17 points, including a couple of big dunks, while Pascal Siakam had 16, and Jakob Poeltl finished with 12 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Jerome Meyinsee scored 20 points, while Gustavo Nicolas Aguirre scored 17 to top San Lorenzo, who won Argentina's top pro league last season.
A night after their 119-94 win at Cleveland, Casey sat Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, and Jared Sullinger. The absentees spent the early part of the game in the locker-room getting treatment, but appeared later on to cheer on their young teammates.
The game wasn't pretty, but at least allowed Casey a good look at the newcomers before the Raptors have to set their 15-man roster on Oct. 24.
"Us core guys, we don't have room for error, trying to make an impression," VanVleet said.
VanVleet, who led the Wichita State Shockers to four trips to the NCAA's championship tournament, was the one bright spot on the night. He's looked impressive throughout camp and could well join the Raptors' solid trio — Lowry, Joseph and Powell — of guards.
"He's aggressive," Powell said of VanVleet. "He kind of reminds me of myself, never backing down to whoever's on the court. He can finish either hand, he's crafty with the ball, using his body to finish over bigger guys, and just an overall playmaker, finding guys, pushing the tempo, playing defence."
Friday's defence though, Powell said, was "unacceptable."
"Whether it's guys playing for roster spots, camp invites, whoever the five on the court is, we've got to play to our identity as an organization," he said. "We all went through training camp, we all went through summer league, so we know what it is we have to do, we know the defensive schemes. . . the breakdowns on defence came from a lack of talking and not anticipating."
The night marked the Raptors' first appearance at the Air Canada Centre since last season's thrilling and historic playoff run that saw them reach the Eastern Conference final.
The arena was only about half full on Friday though — presumably the Toronto Blue Jays' opening game of the ALCS in Cleveland on Friday night had something to do with that.
With a starting lineup of VanVleet, Powell, Drew Crawford, Siakam and Lucas Nogueira, the Raptors raced out to a 32-22 lead to the end the first.
The Azulgrana — "blue and scarlet" in English — had pulled to within 55-53 heading into the halftime break.
Toronto took an 87-82 lead into the fourth, then pulled away down the final 12 minutes.
The game was the Raptors' only pre-season appearance at the ACC. They play the Pistons in Detroit on Wednesday, then cap the exhibition season next Friday in Washington.
Toronto opens the regular-season at home on Oct. 26 against the Detroit Pistons.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016