TORONTO (NBA.com exclusive) -- There were nine new players, a new head coach and a handful of fresh faces on the assistant coaching roster, yet the game story appeared to be a familiar one for the Toronto Raptors. Start out strong and then fade away. Almost. After leading by 18 points at the half the Raptors -- and LeBron James' 25th career triple-double -- gave fans reason to hold their breath before pulling through in the clutch, claiming a 101-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and win number one of the 2009-2010 NBA season.
The sold-out Air Canada Centre atmosphere was electric, with an orchestra set up at center court as the Raptors player intros were announced. When Andrea Bargnani drove baseline for a dunk to start the game, the crowd erupted. By the time Chris Bosh left the floor with the victory secured his 21-point, 16-rebound double-double had the arena at fever pitch.
While the story surrounding the Raptors during the preseason was that those nine new faces need time to gel, everything that needed to fall into place seemed to before game's end. They managed to grit out a victory behind Bargnani's 28-point (11-for-15 field goals, 21 points in the first half) performance. Rookie DeMar DeRozan (eight points) was the right amount of aggressive in his debut and the Raptors managed to take advantage of a Cavs team that had played the night before in Boston, pouncing in the second quarter to take an 18-point halftime lead.
As was routine with Raptors teams of years past, after starting out strong, the energy fizzled to start the third quarter and Cleveland took advantage, using a 14-2 run to tie the game with 2:22 remaining in the third.
The difference for Toronto came in maintaining a lead. Where the Raptors usually crumbled they stood firm, refusing to allow the Cavaliers to take the lead. Going into the fourth with a 78-71 advantage, Toronto was able to build that lead as Cleveland coach Mike Brown elected to start the quarter with James on the bench.
When James checked into the game in the final period his team trailed by 13, thanks in part to shooting just 35% for the game. James finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, but it wasn't enough to overcome their defense giving up 45% shooting to the Raptors.
In their second game as members of the Cavaliers, Shaquille O'Neal and Anthony Parker scored 12 points apiece, with Daniel Gibson also adding 12 and Mo Williams contributing 16 points for a team that is still meshing and learning to deal with the absence of an inactive Delonte West.
Against Cleveland, Toronto had 23 assists on 34 made field goals.
"It was a great thing as the game was going down to have Andrea, Jose (Calderon) and Hedo (Turkoglu) all on the floor," said Raptors coach Jay Triano. "They can all make plays and share the basketball."
Turkoglu had 12 points and seven rebounds in his Raptors debut while Calderon dished 11 assists. Reserve Marco Belinelli came off of the bench to provide a spark with his 10 points as well.
Bosh highlighted the strong offensive performance of Bargnani.
"It was funny, I was talking about this with my friend the other day. If Andrea gets going, if he's scoring the basketball a lot, we're going to be tough to beat," said Bosh. "We'll take whatever he gives us."
James said his triple-double didn't mean anything without a victory, but stressed patience with his team and new teammates.
"I'm at a point in my career now where I know that you can lose two but, at the same time, you don't look too far into it. You learn from the mistakes and you just try to get better."
Struggling early with their defense and late offensively, Brown broke down the reason for the loss.
"To struggle the way we did on both ends of the floor is going to result in a loss," said Brown. He went on to address the second quarter which has been the downfall for his team, "It's been two games now where in the second quarter we have gotten outscored 30-17. That's a 60-34 point differential. We have to do a better job."
Rookie DeRozan summed up his first night of NBA action simply, "Coming out here in front of thousands of people, with my parents out there, and just going out and playing and getting a win, I couldn't ask for more."
In the first half, DeRozan got a piece of an O'Neal layup attempt. When asked about that play in particular, the rookie's eyes got wide and a smile broke over his face.
"Oh yeah, I got a little of that, I'm going to be bragging about that for awhile!" He said.
When asked about his decision to sit James to start the fourth, Brown was quick to remind everyone that it's very early in the season.
"The bottom line is, this is the second game of the year and I've got to make sure I don't play him too many minutes. Ideally if I can keep him at 38 minutes for the year, then I've done my job. We can increase that come playoff time."
It's a nice early victory for the Raptors, but the Cavaliers are not worried about their slow start - yet.