The Toronto Raptors got the Darko Rajakovic era started off with a bang, pulling off a 97-94 home victory against Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The numbers may not show it, but the offense looked much freer and more complex.
Rajakovic had to take a very unusual path to even get to the NBA, much less become the head coach of a team with expectations of a postseason run. The release of emotion when he finally realized what he had just accomplished was over the top, and it was well worth it.
Rajakovic exploded into the locker room with a hearty scream before being doused with water by the rest of his Raptors players. The emotion these players showed could be evidence that Rajakovic has complete control of the locker room after what was a very unusual 2023 season.
Rajakovic came up with a fairly inspiring line in his first victory speech, saying that no player on the Raptors played their best game of the season tonight. After some questioned the hire of a relatively unknown assistant, Rajakovic had this team believing in him, even if it was for one game.
Darko Rajakovic celebrates first victory as Toronto Raptors coach.
Rajakovic’s offense may not have lit up the scoreboard, and the half-court sets are still very much a work in progress, but one could hardly expect everything to switch overnight. Toronto still looked much more difficult to defend on offense, particularly in transition.
That ability to be flexible and adapt his offensive scheme to his personnel, as shown by the tweaks Rajakovic helped make to Taylor Jenkins’ offense in Memphis, were some of the main reasons Toronto decided to bring him on despite his lack of prior head coaching experience.
Toronto was given a brutal schedule to begin the season, as six of their first 12 games against the 76ers, Bucks, and Celtics. If Rajakovic can withstand this broadside and keep up his winning ways, that could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the fact Toronto has something interesting here.
For someone who has spent the better part of his life coaching all around the world in the hope of someday getting one of the 30 best jobs in the world, Rajakovic deserved to go as insane as he wanted following that victory. The locker room reaction goes to show positive vibes are emanating from Toronto.