TORONTO — Life after Chris Bosh began for the Toronto Raptors with the type of game that may very well colour their season, one filled with moments of optimism, pessimism, satisfactions and disappointments.
There were lots of things to both like and dislike in a 98-93 loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday night in the NBA curtain-raiser for both teams.
A day after their attention-seeking former star told reporters in Boston his decision to bolt for the Miami Heat was "all about being on TV, at the end of the day," the lunch-bucket Raptors played a determined, gritty 48 minutes before a jacked home crowd of 18,722.
Sure, they missed assignments, made some bad decisions with the ball and shot only 38.3 per cent from the field. But a work ethic that had them running for the ball rather than the spotlight may be one redeeming quality that carries them through what is expected to be a very tough campaign.
"We're a very resilient bunch," said point guard Jarrett Jack, who had 16 points and six assists. "I thought we showed some fight and some grit out there, there was a point where we got down early and if we didn't make a stand the game could have gotten away from us, and we battled back.
"You're never satisfied with the loss, but I like the effort that we played with."
Forward Reggie Evans symbolized that by banging bodies with Amare Stoudemire, altering shots and collecting a game-high 16 rebounds, but as head coach Jay Triano said, "there are no moral victories here.
The Raptors struggled early, worked their way back from a 16-point deficit, and then pulled within three with 11 seconds left. But Leandro Barbosa air-balled a desperation three-point attempt, the Knicks rebounded it, and then sealed the deal from the foul-line.
"We've got a lot of work to do but we had some good moments," said forward Linas Kleiza, who had 13 points and five rebounds in his Raptors debut." We just couldn't make some shots at the end, we made some bad decisions on the offensive end and we've got to play more together.
"I think that's going to come."
The Raptors were forced into rebuild mode over the summer when, after a 40-42 season left them out of the playoffs, Bosh bolted and the disgruntled Hedo Tukoglu was jettisoned, sent to Phoenix for Barbosa. That led Triano to reinvent his approach around defence and hard work.
"I think it's going to be a balanced team," he said before the game. "Our margin for error is very slim and because of that we have to play together to overcome some of the things against us, and we have to be as efficient as possible at both ends of the floor.
"We can't have mess-ups."
There were just enough of those to cost them in the opener.
Andrea Bargnani scored 22 points but only four came in the second half, when he shot 1-for-8 from the field.
Still, Barbosa's three at 10:43 of the fourth quarter gave the Raptors their first lead since first quarter at 77-76 and the teams traded baskets from there until there was about five minutes left, when Stoudemire ran off a free throw and three jumpers to put the Knicks up 94-87.
The lead stretched to seven before a Jack steal from Stoudemire at 1:45 led to a pair of free throws that made it 96-91. A Jack layup with a minute left pulled Toronto within three but after a stop, Keliza missed a three that would have tied things up.
A Wilson Chandler miss with 11 seconds left gave the Raptors their last-chance try.
"We had a play drawn up that we had a couple looks," said Triano. "Linus had a three, Leandro had a three, and I thought they defended Leandro really well."
Chandler led the Knicks with 22 points while US$100-million free-agent addition Stoudemire added 19 more to go along with 10 rebounds and nine turnovers for the Knicks.
The Raptors went into the fourth quarter down 74-72. David Anderson's three-pointer with 33 seconds left in the third made it a one-point game. After a Chandler foul shot made it a two point-spread, Jose Calderon missed a chance to tie it with the final shot of the period.
The Raptors were down 51-47 at halftime and were fortunate things were that close after falling behind by 16 early in the period as the New York bench clobbered their second unit. An 11-0 Raptors run capped by a Kleiza layup and free throw made it 44-43 with about four minutes to go, but could Toronto was unable to get any closer.
The Knicks led 29-22 after the first quarter, taking a 17-13 lead on consecutive threes by Chandler and Danilo Gallinari midway through the period after the Raptors opened strong. Bargnani led the way on that front with 10 points, while none of his teammates had more than two.
Notes: Canadian guard Andy Rautins didn't see any action for the Knicks. ... Raptors F-C Joey Dorsey served a one-game suspension for swinging at Brian Scalabrine of the Bulls during the pre-season. ... Barbosa played with his right wrist heavily wrapped. He jammed it during a pre-season game against the Knicks last week and the problem could linger. ... Andersen was called for a fragrant foul early in the second quarter for knocking down Knicks forward Ronny Turiaf. ... Calderon was given a technical early in the second quarter for questioning a non-call by official Leroy Richardson. The NBA wants to eliminate such barking at the refs this season.