Raptors 104, Cavaliers 96 – Box

Much has been made of the difficult early schedule which sees the Raptors play 17 of the first 26 on the road, but what was forgotten was that the first opponent were the Cleveland Cavaliers who served the Raptors extremely well last night. Dwane Casey couldn’t have asked for a better overall effort from his team, and the result, albeit against a side of questionable quality, earmarked the ethos that he intends to make prevalent around these parts.

The excellent Roll Call has already covered the individual key points, so I’ll only serve to pepper the proceedings with a dash of what is likely treadmill commentary, and closely resembles the remnants of an earlier Amaretto.

Bargnani got the start at power forward, Rasual Butler edged James Johnson for the starting lineup, and Amir Johnson pulled a Willis Reed at the center. Right off the bat one noticed the total commitment to help defense, and I’m not referring to the nine blocks the Raptors ended up having in the half, I’m referring to the fact that every time a Cavalier got near the rim, there was gentleman in a Raptors uniform there asking for his rim-access credentials . Whether it be Amir Johnson redirecting the ball downwards, or James Johnson making up ground to contest on the break, or even Bargnani slipping over to make himself a presence, the rim protection was there and it came from all angles.

Andrea Bargnani’s quick 7-point start was thanks to some nifty playmaking by Jose Calderon, who was circa 2007 – 15 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds, and a post-game interview that’ll make you feel comfortable with him marrying your sister. Of course, the quality of the opponent has to be kept in mind when discussing any facet of this game and all you need to know is that Cleveland was running offensive plays for Anderson Varejao. That is all. Rookie Kyrie Irving might turn out to be a great player someday, but in his debut he looked like a cross between Jarrett Jack and a three-legged table.

The Raptors jumped out to an early advantage and could’ve had more but for Cleveland injecting Ramon Sessions who sparked their offense. Cleveland’s return into the game was also helped by Jerryd Bayless who, despite having redeemed himself with some very un-point guard like late jumpers, had an overall terrible game if one is to evaluate him as a point guard.

The defense was in high gear for the Raptors in the second quarter, and it was helped by some “blurry” plays from Leandro Barbosa, who got in for a few chuck-mode scores. The second quarter did set the stage for a night-long battle between Ed Davis and Tristan Thompson, the two were going at each other all evening, and the Canadian held his own early but faded late. Ed Davis showed why fans are excited about him; the man doesn’t take a play off on defense, takes high-percentage shots, and doesn’t smile like an idiot at any point in the game, no matter what the situation. I don’t like players who smile. Ed Davis doesn’t smile. I like Ed Davis. Did Thompson dunk on him (kinda) at one point, sure, but that’s what happens to players who play defense. His line at the end of the night: 17 minutes, 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 7-7 FG.

The Bargnani v Jamison matchup intrigued me at first, because on the surface Bargnani had a clear height advantage which he exploited well early. I simply expected Jamison to run around Bargnani on the other end. It didn’t happen. Jameson was 6-20 for the night, and I remember only two plays where he got the better of Bargnani. This is one of those matchups that can look really bad for Bargnani, and yet he came out of it looking unscathed. He was only 5-12 for 13 points, but did hit a couple late jumpers that served to ice the game. Again, I’m happy with his effort and in making me happy he didn’t have to score 30 points and hit 5 threes. Life is simple when you play defense, eh Andrea?

The Raptors went on a 12-0 run in the second quarter to establish themselves, and James Johnson’s work needs to be acknowledged. As soon as he came in he threw a careless pass which led to a turnover (one of his four), but that was the entire negative to his game. After that he was committed defensively, was chasing through screens like he on a string, and made the right pass every time he got the ball. The combination of Calderon, Johnson, and the bigs moving the ball was highly effective, and nothing speaks to that more than 35 assists on 45 field goals. Enough said. The halftime lead was 10 at 52-42, and was the result of a quarter where the Raptors held the Cavs to 19 points.

What was a bit of an anomaly, and was no doubt unexpected was the Raptors’ proficiency from long range: 9-21 3FG for 43%, with the point guards going 5-8. It was the three-point shooting that helped extend that second quarter lead to double digits, and the 54% halftime shooting was a nice touch given the preseason offensive showcase. I was not expecting this to continue.

Cleveland adjusted for pace by inserting Daniel Gibson in the third and it had the desired affect against Jerryd Bayless, who struggled mightily in running an offense. The hot three point shooting (four threes in the third) kept the Raptors ahead by 8 at the end of the third, but some careless turnovers by the Raptors served as warning that even a brief dip in play would bring Cleveland right back in it.

The three-point shooting which had propelled the Raptors got cold in the fourth, and Cleveland clawed back to within three. That’s when DeRozan, having a poor game and getting benched in the third, presented himself as a scoring threat, and was helped on by Bargnani who found two late field goals after being quiet for some time. And that was all she wrote, the Raptors are 1-0 after a road win.

You look at the box at the end of the night and you see a total team effort: 7 players in double figures, a ridiculous assist-FG ratio, plus 8 on the boards, 9 blocks, 53% shooting, and 41% opponent shooting. This was as a perfect game against an imperfect opponent.

Some notes:

  • The absence of uncontested layups by the Cavaliers was pleasing
  • Andrea Bargnani positioning himself on defense – he might not get the rebound, but he’s actually thinking about getting the rebound
  • DeMar DeRozan’s role on this team has changed, he’s not the primary initiator of offense, and neither is Andrea Bargnani. The initiator of offense was the floor spacing, the off-the-ball movement, and the requirement that you pass the ball when it makes sense to pass it. Here’s the Casey quote that backs this up:

    “This is not a democracy offensively,” Casey said. “We want to make sure we get the ball where we want it to go. This is not a my-turn game. It’s not a rec league game. We want to make sure our offensive players who are closers get the basketball.”

  • Leandro Barbosa is in terrific shape, and was the quickest guy on the floor by a distance. Every time I look at him, I can’t help but think of what we can get for him in a trade
  • Bayless is concerning me a little. I’m not sure what Casey wants his role to be, if it’s to be a proper point guard, he’s failing at it. If it’s to be a scoring punch in the same vein as Jarrett Jack, then he’s on his way
  • Who does Jose Calderon like passing the ball to? His assist distribution: A. Johnson 5, DeRozan 4, and Bargnani 2.