Ha! Take that, Cleveland! You might be having a non-shit season, but you are NOT good enough to look past the Raptors. No, sir. Maybe last year’s Raptors under Triano would’ve obliged by surrendering early, not so much this year. Last night was all about the Cavaliers thinking they might have it easy against this wounded Raptors team, only to find that the visitors had come with the intent of delivering a professional effort. That they did, in spades. Other than DeRozan’s plague-ridden performance which had him neutralized, nay, castrated by Anthony Parker, Raptors fan saw positives everywhere.
The early act had the guile of Antawn Jamison exploring and exploiting Amir Johnson, who you can’t say didn’t do his best to defend the crafty veteran, while adding a few points on the “roll” end of the PnR shifts. The first quarter was an ugly affair, with both sides missing jumpers, turning the ball over (Raptors had 5), and justifying ESPN’s decision not to make this a nationally televised affair. Cleveland pushed out to a five point lead in the second on the strength of some great play by Ramon Sessions, who was proving too quick to handle off the bounce. With Kyrie Irving struggling early and Bayless convalescing on the bench, reflecting on his very un-PG like first quarter, it was Sessions who stole the show early in the second, and it looked like Cleveland was on its way to extending the lead. Soon after, though, little-known Gary Forbes turned up with a hop in his step and decided that he’d just run down the Cleveland lane and slam one down.
Forbes’ play in the second had to have given Bayless pause, at one point I saw him muttering to himself probably saying, “Wait, Calderon is injured, I’m guaranteed starting minutes, and here I am getting outplayed by Gareth Fawn…err Gary Ford..um..Gary..whatever that guy’s name is”. To sum up, Forbes led a great attack and was helped by 12 points from Leandro Barbosa, and 8 from Andrea Bargnani in the second. Cleveland’s rebounding, which was great early on, took a hit as Ed Davis’ out-JYD’d Tristan Thompson. The Raptors, in general, gave more quantities of shit than the Cavs.
Remember the season when Voshon Lenard singlehandedly won us, like, 10 games and it kinda, sorta, but not really, cost us LeBron James? Well, this year’s incarnation of Voshon Lenard is Leandro Barbosa. This guy’s confidence does not take a hit no matter how bad he missed a shot. This guy could be in bed with with the girl of his dreams, things start getting a little heavy, and next thing you know he pops before it even starts. Would he be embarrassed? Would his confidence suffer? Ha. You’re kidding me. He’d go down to the fridge, have himself a beer, some cold pizza, watch half an episode of Family Guy, and be back upstairs and say, “Let’s try that again”.
What I’m trying to get at is that Barbosa is a gunner. He had 17 points in 25 minutes in typical style, and along with Bargnani, was the offensive reason why we edged to an eight point halftime lead. The late second quarter performance and killed the crowd, shifted the momentum completely to the visitors, and had me feeling very good until I saw “Rod and Leo” rear their collectively useless heads to talk about some inane stuff nobody cares about. Honestly, skipping halftime is why I PVR games. The Raptors were shooting 58% at halftime to Cleveland’s 41%, the Cavs doing themselves no favors by shooting 3-15 from three for the game.
The third started and Jerryd Bayless, after having a careful think-about on the bench, came back into the game in a big way – 20 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds. He hit a couple threes, step-back variety, not the greatest shots but hey, they went in. It extended the lead up to double-digits, and also woke up Kyrie Irving, and the two had a one-on-one affair going for a bit. For my money, that was the best part of the game. I don’t understand why Bayless didn’t see any pressure in the second half when he had clearly struggled under it in the first, but whatever, I guess Byron Scott being a dumbass explains that.
The Raptors went to DeRozan in the post against Parker, and honestly, DeRozan in the post doesn’t buy the team anything. If he hits his turnaround (a low-percentage shot in my books), great, if not, then all it does is waste shot-clock because it rarely results in an assist (albeit, he had one to James Johnson today but Johnson did 90% of the work on that one). Aaron Gray had a very busy game, threw his body around, went after loose balls, and other than having a brain cramp to concede a rebound off a missed FT in the first half, had a Rashoesque performance. He reminds me of Hodor from Game of Thrones. Bayless had a few Baylessy moments late in the third when he missed two really suspect threes, but Kleiza’s trey and a great Ed Davis roll had the Raptors up 10 entering the fourth.
Tight guard play from Barbosa and Bayless supplied the knockout punch in the fourth. You know how we always saw that we need a guy you can go to in the fourth who can just flat out score, well, sometimes it’s offensive-minded players like Barbosa and Bayless that come up trumps in these situations. Not consistently, but sometimes. Cleveland’s best chance to put pressure came when they cut it to six and the Raptors turned the ball over on a Bayless charge. Jamison took a really quick three which airballed, and on the ensuing possession, Bargnani made a clever back-cut which was found by Bayless. I thought Bargnani should’ve continued his drive to the rim, but he pulled up and sank it. Brilliant, job done.
Bargnani. He’s been the most talented Raptor for some time now, and now he’s putting it together. He had 19 points and 8 rebounds, and they weren’t the type that fall in your lap, either. He wasn’t hesitant as against Detroit and Milwaukee, and showcased all aspects of his game. He faked and drove, posted up, hit the step-back jumper, drew a foul on the perimeter, hit a fadeaway, the whole package. Good to see the man regain his form so quickly after coming back. He clocked 29 minutes (had 30 against Milwaukee on a back-to-back) so I expect him to get the same burn tonight as well.
The moment of the game for me was Barbosa diving on the ball with under two minutes left to call timeout. I thought he was going to break his ribs because he landed right ON the ball. Great hustle and something you absolutely love to see from a veteran who might not even be here come Thursday. If he is traded, I can honestly say that he’s been a joy to watch in Toronto. Yes, he’s frustrating at times but that’s his game, that’s what makes him good, and it’s something he does consistently. Very good player, unfortunately though, the Raptors and their near-term direction doesn’t suit his career path.
Raptors win in Cleveland, taking them to 3-0 against the Cavs this season, and to think they had the nerve to think this was going to be a cakewalk. Suck on that.