The veteran sharp-shooter had six three-pointers and 22 points, and led a Raptors’ young and energetic second unit that stole the show on opening night, in a 117-100 Raptors’ victory over the depleted Chicago Bulls on Thursday.
"I was really impressed with the young group," said coach Dwane Casey. "They came in and didn’t look like they were a deer in the headlights. They expanded the lead and didn’t lose it, and really impressed."
Jonas Valanciunas anchored the starting five with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Norm Powell finished with 15 points, Delon Wright chipped in with 13, and Kyle Lowry had 12.
DeMar DeRozan — who took centre-court to address the excited crowd before tipoff, saying "Thank you for all your support, let’s have a great season" — finished with 11 points.
The 30-year-old Miles was acquired in the off-season to boost Toronto’s three-point shooting, but has found another role as the veteran voice of the Raptors’ young second unit. They provided the turning point Thursday night. Clutching a 22-20 lead late in the first quarter, Casey subbed out his entire starting lineup.
Miles orchestrated a 20-2 run by the young guns — Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet and rookie OG Anunoby. And when they finally took a seat, to much applause from the starters, they’d given the Raptors a 20-point cushion.
"As a unit we need every single person on this roster to be ready," Miles said. "And for us to be able to go in there as a whole five and have success, for those guys, that’s big for them, early in the year and early in their careers to be able to gain confidence.
"That’s the biggest thing with the league. Everybody’s got talent, everybody’s got skill, that’s why they get here. It’s about opportunity and confidence. Them having the opportunity, now it’s about being confident and playing hard."
Robin Lopez led the Bulls with 18 points.
By the time the Raptors opened the fourth quarter up 84-64, Miles had firmly entrenched himself as a fan favourite with the 19,800 in attendance. But he drilled two more three-pointers for good measure to put Toronto up by 21 points with 5:25 to play. Lowry was fouled on a three-point shot the next time down the floor, and his three free throws put the Raptors ahead 105-81. Casey went deep into his bench to close out the victory.
"I want to be able to be that spark. Come in and communicate, bring energy," Miles said. "I was a little over-hyped in the first half. It kind of caught up to me in the second half with a little emotion, but for the most part it was just having fun. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be having fun."
Wright, the second-oldest on the second unit at 25, said "I love playing with him. He spaces the floor for us, and we’re able to drive and find him."
The Raptors are hoping to ramp up their offence this season, to keep pace with the trend toward a fast-paced, free-flowing style. They had 26 assists on 39 baskets, and shot a decent 13 for 29 from three-point range.
The rebuilding Bulls, meanwhile, were down two players after an ugly brawl left Nikola Mirotic with broken bones in his face that will likely require surgery, and a concussion. Teammate Bobby Portis was suspended eight games for the fight that occurred in Tuesday’s practice. Zach LaVine, who was acquired in the off-season trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, is still on the mend from a torn ACL.
Powell led the way with 10 points in the first quarter but the Raptors starters looked out of sorts, and led just 25-23 to start the second.
Toronto would stretch its lead to 27 points before heading into the halftime break up 58-37. A sloppy third quarter saw the Raptors’ lead shrink to 14 points.
The Raptors host Philadelphia on Saturday before heading west on a six-game road trip.
Notes: Chicago had a basket changed from a three-pointer to a two-point basket after an official scoring change post-game.