June 24th, 2024

Dennis Schroder leads new-look Raptors to season-opening 97-94 win over Timberwolves

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press on October 25, 2023.

Toronto Raptors' O.G. Anunoby (3) drives as Minnesota Timberwolves' Nickeil Alexander-Walker (9) and Rudy Gobert (left) defend during first half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO – Dennis Schroder had 22 points and seven assists as the Toronto Raptors fended off the Minnesota Timberwolves 97-94 Wednesday in the season opener for both teams.

Schroder is the first player to score over 20 points in his Raptors debut since Kawhi Leonard had 24 to kick off the 2018-19 season.

Pascal Siakam scored 15, including six in the fourth quarter, as Toronto (1-0) gave Darko Rajakovic his first-ever win as a head coach in the NBA.

O.G. Anunoby added 20 and had six rebounds for the Raptors, while Scottie Barnes scored 17 with eight rebounds, five assists and five blocks.

Schroder signed a two-year, US$26 million contract with Toronto on July 12, effectively replacing beloved veteran Fred VanVleet as the Raptors starting point guard.

Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns each had a double-double for Minnesota (0-1). Edwards led with 26 points and 14 rebounds, Towns scored 19 with 10 boards, and Gobert had 15 points and 13 rebounds.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is from Toronto, had two points but four rebounds and two assists for the Timberwolves.

The victory marked the beginning of a new era for the Raptors.

Toronto fired head coach Nick Nurse on April 21 after a disappointing 41-41 regular season and a 109-105 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the play-in tournament. VanVleet, the Raptors longtime leader on the court and in the locker-room, also left after signing a lucrative free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets on July 7.

Nurse and VanVleet had been key figures in Toronto’s championship run in 2019 and had been the faces of the franchise for the past two seasons.

Rajakovic was hired on June 13 and the differences between his and Nurse’s coaching philosophies were apparent by the end of Wednesday’s first quarter.

Nurse relied heavily on his starters last season with Siakam leading the NBA with 37.4 minutes per game and VanVleet’s 36.7 fifth. Rajakovic spread out the playing time more, however, with Toronto’s bench players subbing in midway through the first quarter.

“I believe that we have a deep roster,” said Rajakovic before the game. “Because I believe that we need to keep the energy of all of our guys playing every single night in high intensity.”

That strategy paid off in the dying seconds of the quarter when Barnes fed backup centre Precious Achiuwa for an alley-oop dunk that tied the game 25-25.

Toronto first-round draft pick Gradey Dick made his NBA debut with 9:05 left to play in the first half. He received a warm ovation from Raptors fans.

At 19 years 339 days old, Dick became the fourth youngest Raptor to play in a regular-season game. Only Tracy McGrady (18 years 160 days), Bruno Caboclo (19 years 61 days) and Chris Bosh (19 years 219 days) were younger when making their debuts.

Toronto led by as much as seven points in the second quarter but a pair of Edwards jump shots before the intermission cut the Raptors lead to 53-51.

Although Toronto led by as much as 10 in the third, a Shake Milton three-pointer restored the Timberwolves’ lead as the quarter expired with the visitors up 74-73.

Anunoby went up for a two-handed jam with 9:35 left to play and an 81-76 lead with the sold-out crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena roaring as he took to the air.

Minnesota kept it close, however, with Naz Reid draining a pair of free throws three minutes later to tie it.

The Raptors poured it on after that, with the Timberwolves being stretched apart to open the floor up. Schroder and Siakam took advantage, quickly draining back-to-back three-pointers for a lead Toronto would not relinquish.

CAFFEINE FREE – A renowned coffee connoisseur, Rajakovic was asked how many espressos he had before his first-ever NBA regular season game running a team.

“Today’s not an average game, so I’m staying away from coffee today,” said Rajakovic, who estimates he has between five and seven espressos on game days. “I’m already pumped enough.”

INACTIVES – Toronto sophomore centre Christian Koloko remained inactive due to ongoing respiratory issues. Javon Freeman-Liberty, Ron Harper Jr., and Markquis Nowell were also listed as inactive by the Raptors before the game.

UP NEXT – The Raptors travel to Chicago on Friday in a rematch of last year’s play-in game when the Bulls halted Toronto’s chances of making it into the post-season.

Minnesota hosts the Miami Heat on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.

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