TORONTO - Until Wednesday night, Raptors rookie Lucas Nogueira was known more for his crazy hair than any heroics on the hardcourt in Toronto.
The 22-year-old Brazilian known as "Bebe" finally made his Raptors debut in Toronto's 92-85 win over Israel's Maccabi Haifa, scoring eight points in 11 minutes and showing signs of the athletic forward that first caught the team's eye.
"I was nervous because it was my first game," said Nogueira, who recently took scissors to his long unruly afro — his mom had told him she didn't like how it looked on TV.
"The people were so excited to see me because nobody knew about me. . . I came to the game a little bit nervous, but my mind said 'Lucas, do what you do in Spain (where he played professionally for three seasons). Try and show it here in the NBA.' I'm so glad to help my team win the game tonight."
Greivis Vasquez topped Toronto (6-1) with 15 points, while Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry chipped in with 11 apiece. James Johnson finished with 10.
Jeff Allen had 24 points for Maccabi Haifi, while Demontez Stitt finished with 19.
Nogueira came on midway through the second quarter, and had two blocks on back-to-back defensive possessions. His first, which he followed up with a rebound, led to a Vasquez driving layup and free throw for the Raptors' biggest lead of the game to that point — 15 points. It also brought his new teammates on the bench to their feet.
"I spoke to my mom in Brazil, and my friends, they said they saw the game," Nogueira said. "I spoke about that situation, the veteran guys. I think it's very important they give their support because a lot of rookies in the NBA, they don't have the same support because sometimes the veteran guys have the mentality like 'Oh the rookie has come to get my job.'
"But here, the veterans they give you support, so you can be a very good NBA player. So I'm so glad and happy to be here with the franchise."
The newcomers were the story of the night. With just one game left in the pre-season — Toronto faces the New York Knicks on Friday in Montreal — coach Dwane Casey went deep into his bench to get a good look at them.
"That was our main focus, seeing the young guys, and I thought they came in and represented well," Casey said. "Lucas came in and he deterred some shots, and that's what he should do. I was really impressed with the way he came in and played."
Brazilian rookie Bruno Caboclo, plus the three players who are battling for the 15th spot on the roster — Will Cherry, Greg Stiemsma and Jordan Hamilton — all saw the floor. Stiemsma had six points in 22 minutes, while Hamilton had five points and a team-high six boards in 21 minutes.
Caboclo displayed his incredible wing span with a nice dunk in the fourth quarter. Cherry drained a clutch three-pointer with just under three minutes to play that put Toronto in the lead for good.
The box score reflected the inexperience on the floor, however, as the Raptors committed 26 turnovers on the night for 33 points.
The 22-year-old Nogueira was out six weeks with a hamstring injury, and said it was tough to watch his teammates through the pre-season.
"Not only the games, but the practices, too," Nogueira said. "All of the staff here watched the guys playing. It's tough for me because I'm on the outside. I see that if I'm there, I can pass it or make the extra pass. When you're outside, you can see the whole game."
The Brazilian played three seasons with Club Baloncesto Estudiantes in Madrid, and then was drafted 16th overall by Boston in 2013 — pictures from that night show Nogueira with his Celtics baseball cap perched high atop his wild mop of hair. The Raptors eventually acquired the Brazilian this past off-season.
"I think the most important thing for the rookie guys is that they know their role on the team," Nogueira said. "I know my role on the team. If I have to stay on the bench for 82 games, I’ll stay happy, because I know the most important thing in the first year is to learn from the veterans and develop your game.
"If I have a chance to play, I'll try to show the skills I learned in Spain: protect the rim, rebound, I can score sometimes. I think right now I don't have to score because we have amazing scoring guys on our team."
Nogueira is clearly a newcomer — the pale pink faux fur rabbit hat, with long flaps, that hangs in his locker, is proof. He laughed as he showed it to reporters.
"K-Lo (Lowry) gave it to me, Bruno and Will," he said. "I have a rabbit. Will has a wolf. Bruno has a rabbit, too, but white."
The game was played amid heightened security at Air Canada Centre just hours after a Canadian Forces soldier at the National War Memorial was killed by a masked gunman, who then moved up the street to launch an attack on nearby Parliament Hill.
Fans at the ACC stood in a moment of silence for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, before the playing of both O Canada and the national anthem of Israel.
Larry Tannenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., and Jeffrey Rosen, Maccabi's American owner, then met at centre court to exchange jerseys.
"It was a blessing just to be here to play these NBA games with these guys," said Lery Hickerson, who had 10 points. "It is always good to compete at the highest level with some of those guys. Those guys are tough, they are a playoff team and I am looking forward to watching them."
Maccabi Haifa plays in the Israeli Basketball Super League, winning the Super League championship in the 2012-13 season, its first Israeli title since the team was formed in 1953.
They had a rough go in their North American tour before arriving in Toronto, losing 121-74 to Portland, then driving 10 hours to Sacramento only to be beaten 91-59 by the Kings.
A pedestrian first quarter saw the teams tied 19-19, before the Raptors started to put some distance on their guests in the second. The Raptors took a 15-point lead on a driving layup and free throw by Vasquez and then went into the halftime break up 47-37.
Ross led the way with eight points in the third as the Raptors put 20 points on Maccabi Haifa midway through the quarter. They led 72-61 with a quarter left to play.
The Raptors host the Atlanta Hawks in their season opener next Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre.