Lewenberg: Raptors spoil Olynyk's Toronto homecoming

Josh Lewenberg
10/17/2013 2:12:45 AM
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TORONTO - Kelly Olynyk was calm, cool and collected in his first NBA game at the Air Canada Centre.

He let his game do the talking.

Standing in front of a Celtics backdrop with his trademark locks and quiet confidence less than an hour before Wednesday's preseason game, Olynyk downplayed a night he had been dreaming about for some time.

"It's something you dream about when you're a kid," said Boston's 22-year-old rookie, "especially growing up in Toronto, being born and raised in Toronto here."

The Toronto native, who relocated to Kamloops, B.C. as a teenager, played well beyond his years just six exhibition games into his promising NBA career.

"It was special," he admitted after scoring 13 points and adding nine boards in a 99-97 preseason loss to the Raptors. "It felt good to get out on the court I grew up watching and grew up idolizing. I got into the game pretty quick."

Son of a former coach - his mother also immersed in the game as an official scorer with the Raptors for nine years - Olynyk proved to be ahead of the curve as a rookie and justified the praise he's been getting for his high basketball IQ.

"He's got a lot of ability," Celtics rookie head coach Brad Stevens said of Olynyk. "His mind allows him to play the game at a really high level and then his physical skill is very good."

Trailing by as many as 13 points in the first quarter, Olynyk helped Boston fight back in the second, getting the best of fellow Gonzaga alum Austin Daye with a devastating combination of size, strength and pristine footwork around the basket. The Celtics' rookie fuelled a 13-1 Boston run with nine points and four rebounds during that stretch, giving his team a four-point lead and chasing Daye, who would go on to foul out in 10 minutes, from the game.

Selected by the Mavericks with the 13th-pick and immediately traded to Boston in this summer's draft, Olynyk impressed in the Orlando Summer League and continues to surprise people, providing a rebuilding Celtics team with hope for the future.

"I probably had a better feel for Kelly than most NBA coaches because I coached against him [in college]," said Stevens, the former Butler head coach. "But he's better than I thought he was when we played against him."

"I love him," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of Olynyk, admitting the former Bulldog may have been overlooked prior to the draft. "I think his basketball IQ is off the charts. He's [an] inside-outside player, probably just as much outside now as he is inside."

"I like his hairdo," Casey joked. "His future is going to be really, really bright in the NBA."

An opportunity for the Raptors reserves to prove themselves

Once again the Raptors' starters were effective out of the gate, getting Toronto off to a quick 20-9 lead. Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay both enjoyed their best and most efficient quarter of the preseason on both ends of the floor.

Lowry led the team with 11 points in the period, three of them coming from the line, and his four field goals (on five attempts) were all layups, most coming in transition. Gay added 10 points and also attacked the basket and created fast-break opportunities with good defence.

Gay and Lowry, along with Amir Johnson, played the entire first quarter before getting the rest of the night off. DeMar DeRozan played the opening period and the first 1:17 of the second before joining them.

"We wanted to make sure we got younger guys some run," Casey said of his decision to give second-unit players and sophomore Jonas Valanciunas the bulk of the minutes Wednesday.

"I have a good feel for what they can do," he said of his first unit. "Believe me, we're nowhere near where we need to be as a whole entire team. It wasn't any disrespect to Boston but we need to find out what our second unit can do. We need to find out what they can do and the only way we can do that is [giving] them minutes on the court. Whether we win, lose or draw, that wasn't important."

After the second-quarter collapse, Toronto's reserves, led by Terrence Ross and Landry Fields, created some breathing space with a strong third-quarter performance. The Raptors' third-stringers held on in the fourth despite a missed, uncontested dunk by Julyan Stone that could have sealed the victory in the dying seconds.

Ross shines

Ross was quiet, verging on unnoticeable for the first six minutes he was in the game, as Boston went on its second-quarter run, but caught fire in a hurry. The second-year guard raked in 11 points in the final 4:46 of the first half and continued his strong play in the third quarter.

"He was engaged, he was bouncy," Casey said of Ross, who finished with 19 points and three rebounds. "I'm not just looking for points from Terrence I'm looking for him to make [good] decisions with the ball and definitely [work] on the defensive end. The points are gravy."

Ross, like Lowry and Gay in the first quarter, benefited from opportunistic defence as he was able to get out on the break and dazzle the home crowd with his usual brand of aerial acrobatics.

"I'm just focused on defensive," he said after the game. "Offence will come, they always tell me that. That's not what I'm really worried about I'm just trying to go out there and try to make an impression on defence."

"The way I'm looking at it is defence leads to offence."

Fields excels as point forward

Without consistent production from the point guard position coming off Toronto's bench, Fields has proven to be a valuable member of the second unit with his ability to handle the ball and initiate the offence in transition.

"He did a heck of job running the show," Casey said of Fields, who added 14 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench. "He made some shots which we really don't need from him but it helped us in that situation until we get a grove, a rhythm with that second unit offensively."

Casey is still searching for consistency from his bench, hence the increased playing time, and until he finds it we should expect to see much of the same in terms of the rotation over Toronto's final three preseason games.

"Nobody's really differentiating [themselves]," he said of his second unit. "We're looking for cohesiveness [and for] who can possibly step in with the first unit if something happened. So nobody's really emerged."

"With that said we still have to develop an offensive identity, whether it's multiple pick and rolls, set plays, how we want to live with that second group. We kind of know what we want to do with the first group."

Up Next

The Raptors will hit the gym for some much-needed practice time this weekend before hosting Andrea Bargnani and the New York Knicks in a rematch of last week's victory on Monday evening.

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