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Rookie Flynn impresses in NBA debut as Raptors beat Charlotte to open pre-season

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, center, drives between Toronto Raptors guards Terence Davis II, left, and Malachi Flynn during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

If Malachi Flynn was feeling any nerves in his NBA debut, they were gone by the time the Raptors rookie guard knocked down back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter on Saturday.

Matt Thomas had 16 points, Terence Davis had 13, and Flynn had three three-pointers and four assists in a promising debut as the Raptors opened the pre-season with a 111-100 victory at Charlotte.

OG Anunoby had 11 points, while Pascal Siakam had nine points – all on three-pointers – in only about 20 minutes of action apiece.

Miles Bridges had 12 points to lead all Charlotte players in scoring.

Kyle Lowry didn’t make the trip to Charlotte and Fred VanVleet sat the second half, so coach Nick Nurse got a good look at Flynn. No doubt Nurse was impressed.

The 22-year-old out of San Diego State missed a layup and his first two free throws, but the guard drafted No. 29 overall last month played with confidence the rest of the way, including on the defensive end where he held his own against some key Hornets players.

Lowry, meanwhile, stayed back at the team’s temporary home in Tampa, Fla., for “load management,” Nurse said.

Lowry would have barely played anyways. This shortened three-game pre-season is Nurse’s chance to gauge where the newcomers are before Toronto tips off the real season on Dec. 23.

The game was held in front of no fans, and the empty blue seats of Spectrum Center painted an eerie backdrop. Missing also was the giant video board of virtual fans from the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World.

Empty arenas are part of the new reality that also sees players tested twice a day for COVID-19. Almost nine per cent of the league’s players tested positive in preliminary testing ahead of training camp. There were three positive tests among the Raptors organization, but the team didn’t release names or say whether any of the three were players.

The Hornets raced out to a 19-point lead Saturday, but the Raptors had shaved the difference to 32-23 to end the first quarter.

Toronto outscored Charlotte 35-19 in the second, and took its first lead on a Siakam three-pointer with 5:50 left in the half. The Raptors took a 58-51 advantage into the halftime break.

The starters didn’t play again as Nurse got a look at all the newcomers.

Thomas led the way in the third quarter with eight points, and the Raptors led 87-76 heading into the fourth.

The Raptors play in Charlotte again Monday then host Miami at Amalie Arena on Friday.