Box – Raptors 113, Cavaliers 99

Three wins in a row, and it appears the corner may have been turned. Whether it was the player’s only meeting, the return of Alan Anderson, a lack of Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry, or whatever your theory, the Raptors have looked like a different team over the last three contests (and they’re eight-man roster played spirited ball the game before in a loss to the Nets).

It appears the road trip, while resulting in an 0-5 record, did wonders in terms of galvanizing the active players and getting the team to re-commit to what made them such a surprise last year – working their tails off on defense.

No, 99 points to the Cavaliers isn’t great. However, consider that this is now five straight games the Raptors have held opponents under the rather arbitrary 100 point “Pizza” marker. Without adjusting for pace, look at the comparison below:

First 21 games: 103.5 points allowed per game
Last five games: 91.0 points allowed per game
Average PPG of last five opponents: 98.2

These aren’t pace adjusted, of course, but if you’ve watched the game the eye test has certainly backed up the narrative of a more spirited, more engaged team defensive effort.

Last night, the Cavs shot 51.4% and got 11 offensive rebounds on just 34 missed field goals, which sure doesn’t sound good. But the Raptors’ Achilles heel has been the long-ball and the freebies, and last night they managed to limit the three-point damage (7-of-16) and force 16 turnovers. The Cavs got to the line plenty (20-of-30) but more than half of that was Varejao, who has become a nightmare to defend.

They also rotated well and forced the Cavs to take shots late in the clock, some of which still fell, but you evaluate the process more than the results in situations like that. The “help like crazy and leave guys wide open for threes” defense of earlier this season appears to have fallen by the wayside, at least for now.

Offensively, the team was lights out, hitting 52% from the floor, going 23-of-27 from the stripe and adding 12 triples. It was a really great, balanced, team-oriented attack on offense. When Jose Calderon takes over the scoring load, John Lucas gets half a dozen assists, DeMar DeRozan does all his damage at the line and Alan Anderson does his Kobe impression successfully, you know it was a good night at that end.

Allow me to once again illustrate the difference between the team’s recent play and the team’s previous play:

First 22 games: Assists on 57.9% of team FG made
Last four games: Assists on 65.1% of team FG made

That’s a stark contrast, and is likely a key reason why the Raptors have been both more balanced and more successful. I don’t have the numbers handy, but I would bet that assisted shots fall at a greater clip than unassisted ones, especially for non-elite players such as, you know, every Raptor.

Last night’s Quick Reaction can shed light on the player-by-player breakdown. I’m keeping this brief since there’s another game tonight.

As the Raptors head back home to take on the Pistons, I’ll direct you to A Dub’s pre-game post for the details there. Trap game? Or a potential fourth win in a row? I’m really hoping for the latter, and the keys appear to be sharing the ball and the renewed defensive effort.

Follow Blake on Twitter.

  • PBJake

    My only worry is that the defense being not as sharp in CLE yesterday does not bode well for the second night, especially giving up 44% 3FG. Hopefully, this being a home game and DET being not too efficient offensively does enough to offset that. I see JLIII and Fields getting some burn today as the others guys will run out of gas pretty quickly.

    • BlakeMurphy

      From what I understand, statistically opponent 3FG% doesn’t mean that much when evaluating a team’s defence in a single game. What’s more important is the number of 3FG attempts a team allows, since the % a team hits will be somewhat random game to game. (Unless, of course, you watch and all the threes are open.)

      Cle normally shoots 23/gm, so making them shoot just 16 is a positive, unless they were passing them up for layups, etc.

      Anyway, just a note not to stress over single-game 3FG% unless what you see backs up a bad sign (I don’t think it did last night).

      • Theswirsky

        “opponent 3FG% doesn’t mean that much when evaluating a team’s defence in a single game. What’s more important is the number of 3FG attempts a team allows, since the % a team hits will be somewhat random game to game”

        While I agree to some degree, that could then be argued for each and every statistic, as there is always a level of randomness associated with all of them.

        I thought last nights D was fine.  The 2nd half of the first quarter they choked a bit defensively, and Irving on 3 occasions (and Miles atleast once) came down and jacked up (and hit) a contensted 3 early in the shot clock.  You live with those no matter who the shooter is.  Thats atleast 12 points and 4  3pters you willingly accept by the simple nature of the offense taking and making tough shots.

  • Sreaberac

    The feel is different watching. Earlier in the season you always had the feeling they would blow the lead. But yesterday even when behind you just felt like they would pull away. Maybe it’s effort or them not hoisting wild shots early in the shot clock but I’m glad we no longer are leAving things late for the refs to mess up anymore and the ball movement is great.

    • Brain Colangelo

      Maybe it’s playing against mediocre and banged up teams and not being on a tough road trip?  Maybe it’s the absence of the 7-foot non-defender, low percentage shooter? 

      • Daniel

        Stop with the stupid rationalisations for why a team without Lowry performs so well. I say Lowry only because you intentionally miss his name from the absences list. We lost to the same mediocre and banged up teams before the last 4 games, remember? I actually thought we were lucky in our scheduling because almost any team we played missed either 1 or 2 of their star players. We lost to Charlotte, Detroit, Portland, Sacramento, for God sake. Maybe you should start accepting the reality?

    • BCBargnaniJoseGots2Go!!!

      Casey’s not blindly catering to the lethargical, enigmatic, lazy ass mofo’n pound the pasta King Bargs aka The Pope aka No Star come hell or highwater because he’s injured that’s what is different.

      Seemingly every time the Raptors were doing something good on the court minus AB, Casey would interject AB into said situation like the Raptors weren’t suppose to play good w/o AB or something to that effect.

      Casey isn’t a coach but a freakin’ living human puppet for BC to pull his strings as he sees fit, heck, even Stevie Wonder could tell that Casey hasn’t been coaching by feel of the game but by some preconceived allotted playing time rotations no matter how good a player is playing- right Ed Davis (who was pulled by Casey for AB- floor spacing right, despite having a few big games early on in the season while AB was playing meek & weak)…

      Enjoy these Ws while you can because 7-19 is still 7-19……and all NBA teams have good moments but it’s 82 games not 3……time will tell.

      “We are the worst team in the NBA” “I’m the best player on the team”  (Bargnani voice) 

  • KJ-B

    Team Ball is an emerging theme across the L–just look at Golden State for instance…whew!  They’re playing “the right way” with more talent, it should be noted but they’re destroying the Western Conference right now!

    Any time a team is coached to allow the ball to move faster than legs, then this is kinda what happens…Folk make it to the League because they can play but the NBA is a confidence game of top dogs…It just makes sense if players know they’re gonna play, get shots + if they hustle and get stops that they relax HAVE FUN and play like the best version of themselves in a particular role as part of a … #POUNDtheROCK

    All the players keep using the same word, the Game is now “Fun” — as in “Fun-Da-Mental”…

  • vino

    “Raptors Win Third Straight, But What’s Changed?”
    The schedule.

    • Marz

       Exactly. People seem to think we’ve turned a corner. Every year we have a rough road schedule to start, and it’s how we do during that road schedule that determines whether or not we make the playoffs. We did not do well this year. And while we’re winning games now, it’s not really an indication that we’ve turned some metaphorical corner.

  • 2damkule

    not to piss in the cornflakes, but how much longer does derozan’s deplorable D go uncriticized?  i guess the next loss…that’s how it generally works, right?

    anyway…for someone as gifted as he is athletically, i’m kinda/sorta shocked at just how willing he is to give up uncontested layups.  at least 3 times early in last night’s game, he was the only guy back on D, but in decent enough position to at least make an attempt at defending…and each time, he just stepped aside, and let the cav player in for a totally uncontested layup/dunk.  i mainly thought it was just…sad.  i guess he didn’t want to pick up a foul, or something?  or look silly if he got dunked on?  i dunno, but when i think of guys with + athleticism, and/or guys who are + defenders (usually, they’re both), i just have a hard time imagining that any of them would just give up so easily, so often.

    that being said, i thought he stepped it up at least a bit as the game wore on.  but as someone who’s been labelled a VL hater primarily because i’m unable to ignore his near total ambivalence to D (& rebounding), it’s only fair i call derozan to the carpet for the same offense (nice rebounding, though!  at least there’s that!  SUCK IT BARGS!).

    • sleepz

      I don’t understand it myself.

      Joe Johnson abusing him is one thing (that was embarrasing for Demar) but when Gee and company are also flying by, you need to improve or at least realize this is an issue.

    • tweed8

      Funny thing is wasn’t it in the preseason where for a few games he would stand his ground and actually draw some charges?  Does he have to be reminded of that? I think it’s time coach spoke up. “Hey, Demar the extra ten to fifteen pounds of muscle you put on!? Use it kid! Let them know you are there!” 
      I’ve cringed in pain a couple times now when I see Ross step in the way of a bigger man and goes flying, but the point is he’s there.

    • Dan

       I think it’s similar to when Bosh was a Raptor. They see themselves as to important on the other end to risk having to be taken out of the game. Bosh became better on D once he had Lebron and Wade to carry the offense. It could also just be because if you foul a guy hard enough to miss it seems to be a flagrant now and if you don’t he gets the and 1. Either way his perimeter D needs to improve. Gee could get by any time he wanted.

    • Jamshid

      Nicely Said. DD’s defence was something that I was keen to look at this season. He has no excuse to be such a poor defender !!! None what so ever. Everyone in this league can score. Everyone loves to play street ball and … It takes dedication and hard work to be a good defender in this league.
      I am very disappointed for far in DD’s defence. 

  • ibleedpurple

    The ACC will be jumping tonight. If you look at the minute distribution from last nights game no player played more than 30 odd minutes. That in itself bodes well for the second game of a back to back. We should have a fresh group on the floor tonite and Derozan should thrive against Detroit’s small back court.

    In my opinion Mr. Anderson aka Neo has been the key to this recent Raptor revival. His ability to shoot a decent percentage from beyond the arc coupled with his drive and dish capacity have made him a key reason to the Raptor’s Christmas time miracle. Also with pastasauce sidelined the Raps are playing better on the D end of the floor. Lowry needs to trust his teammates and play system basketball. However, with the way Jose has been playing, I wouldn’t rock the boat. Casey seems to thrive when he has a short bench.

    I’m going to buy some nosebleed seats and cheer the dino’s on in person tonite.

    • tweed8

      My buddy won tickets in the 100 levels for Friday, so four of us will be heading out to cheer for the team and yell at the “I’m sick but, heading to the bar; TURKEYGLUE”.

      I still don’t think Kyle Lowry is the PG we need and Jose is showing just the kind this team requires, especially with his turned up confidence.  I may be wrong about KL and maybe he just needs more time to adjust to the system and play better team ball.
      I have never been a Jose hater or fanboy but, I’ve always respected his attitude and court vision. Now he’s showing us more. Defense issues aside when guys like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Chancey Billups give him props it does mean something.

      Alan Anderson has played great, there’s no denying it. But I don’t think he’s the singular reason for the teams winning.  Wasn’t there a “players only” meeting last week? …who called it?  …Or was there just the team meeting after the Jazz loss?  Either way, everyone just seemed to snap together at the same time right around the time they lost to the Nets. I think that is usually a good sign that a deficiency has been removed -ain’t naming names-. Also Casey added that around the same time, he took them back to fundamental defensive drills during practice and stopped worrying about everything else.  

      Really at the end of the day, I think there are a number of reasons why these guys are playing good ball now. And when they were losing you could see that they were playing hard -if not all too well-.  They deserve it -as hard work should be rewarded- and I hope this season, I will be able to hold up a pint and yell. “FIVE HUNDRED!”

      Let’s go, Raptors!

  • John

    1) Good Luck to Casey for when Lowry is back !!! I am curious to know if he will start or not.
    2) I think AB’s struggle are related to Lowry as well. I am so curious to see AB play along side of Calderon and see if he can be as good as last year.
    3) Ed Davis need to capture these moments and be the man. He is losing his chance as time goes by.
    4) AB needs to come off the bench the first few games when he is back. That may finally answer the questions regarding AB and Bench

    • BCBargnaniJoseGots2Go!!!

      AB’s lazy ass needs to be traded away ASAP once he’s healthy…point blank…he’s a cancer on the team ie The Italian Cancer, the team meeting proved that true as most of the complaints were directed at him by his teammates not us fans…..

  • 77er

    What’s changed? Focus.

    • what the

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