Fred VanVleet and the Toronto Raptors had a nearly perfect start to the 2022-23 preseason, as they were able to get the Edmonton fans energized while Nick Nurse and Scottie Barnes helped lead a 32-point demolition of the Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, the Raptors were scheduled to run into a brick wall known as the rival Boston Celtics.
Even without Ime Udoka on the bench and Robert Williams on the court, Boston managed to effectively implement the same defensive scheme that confounded even the best NBA offenses last year. On a Raptors team without great shooting that was already missing Otto Porter Jr, that proved to be a solid combination.
Against all odds, the Raptors took a 19-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter and leaned on their backups to snag a one-point lead with one minute left. After forcing the game to overtime, the Raptors managed to pull out an improbable 125-119 win on the strength of their bench.
Toronto got their butt kicked early in this game and played from behind during most of the contest, but they responded with a gritty, passionate performance spearheaded by names like Josh Jackson. A handful of players stood out amid all the chaos that was on display in Boston on Wednesday night, even though some veterans looked very rusty.
Christian Koloko was excellent for the Toronto Raptors.
The preseason is the time for rookies and bench players to show Nick Nurse and the rest of the coaching staff they are worthy of a more expansive role with the team. While Toronto might not lean too heavily on Koloko this season, the goliath rookie showed that he is capable of holding down a limited diet of NBA minutes.
Koloko scored six points and recorded three rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes of work on the evening. He and Jackson helped key an excellent start to the fourth quarter that gave the Raptors some life. Koloko made a couple of post shots, showing that he could be an all-around scorer and not just a dunker.
Koloko looked more active on the defensive end, blocking a shot and showing more of the uncommon mobility for a player his size. While there will undoubtedly be things that he needs to clean up, his timeline might need to get sped up just a bit if he continues to impress like this.
Koloko beat out fellow bench hopefuls Dalano Banton, Jackson, and Jeff Dowtin.
Fred VanVleet wasn’t at his best for the Toronto Raptors.
VanVleet shouldn’t be judged too harshly for this game, as fans and coaches know that he will be in line for another fantastic season as the team’s starting point guard. Having said that, VanVleet didn’t look his sharpest tonight. On a night where most Raptors couldn’t hit a jumper to save their life, Fred was no exception.
VanVleet converted just three of his 12 shots from the field while going 1-6 from 3-point range. With a turnover, a few fouls, and a negative plus-minus rating, Fred didn’t have his best day at the office. If this is what it takes to shake off the rust, that might be best for the Raptors given their tough start to the season.
The Raptors need VanVleet to be a leader again this season, which starts by being more efficient. While scoring 20 points would’ve obviously made for a much better evening, the Raptors would rather VanVleet get these cold spells out of his system early so that he’s ready to rock when in the regular season.