Cavaliers 91, Raptors 98 – Box
The aftertaste of the Bulls loss has been gargled and washed away using the Listerine that are the Cavaliers. The shorthanded Cleveland (no C.J Miles or Dion Waiters) had won six straight coming in and started off posing the same problems as the Bulls: 1) a physical frontcourt controlling the boards, thus the game, and 2) pressuring the guards into quick, often sub-par decision-making choking the offense to a grinding, incoherent form.
Amir Johnson was back as a starter against the active Tristan Thompson, and Jonas Valanciunas faced the newly acquired Spencer Hawes. In the first quarter the Raptors pair went 0-2 FG with 2 rebounds, compared to the Cavaliers duo who were 4-5 FG and 6 rebounds. The Cavs were dominant in the frontcourt and I was having flashbacks to the Bulls game with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, even more so when the backcourt was misfiring (Lowry and DeRozan combined to go 0-8 FG in the first). To put it in perspective, Terrence Ross (20 points, 9-18 FG, 3 steals) was the only starter who had a bucket in the first quarter, and only one other player joined him in putting a ball through a basket: Tyler Hansbrough. The Raptors shot 23% in the first. The six-point deficit at the end of the quarter was a blessing because it easily could’ve been much worse hadn’t it been for Ross’s hot start which included two threes. If you’ve followed any of Ross’s patterns this year, you know that if he’s able to get out of the blocks well, he continues that throughout the game and last night was no different.
[aside header=”Casey on Defense”]
I thought the lid in the first half was on the basket, especially for Amir who had point-blank layups that he normally makes. I like how we gave ourselves a chance to win with our defense. We’ve been given 45% shooting for the first couple games after the break. We got them down to 39%. We did it with out defense. There are going to be nights where the ball won’t fall. That’s when the defense has to carry you and it’ll travel well.
– Dwane Casey
The Raptors were letting Kyrie Irving (3-16 FG) split the high screen very easily and Luol Deng was barrelling in off the dribble against a surprised Raptors frontline. The Raptors defense didn’t anticipate Cleveland’s quick passing in two-man situations which yielded a few hi-lo scoring opportunities for their bigs, flummoxing the Raptors defense. I’ll have to give Tyler Hansbrough some serious credit for countering Cleveland’s physicality which energized the whole unit. With Patterson struggling to find his range and Amir Johnson getting pushed around, Hansbrough delivered a nice dose of Hansbrough to lift the Raptors by finishing in close quarters and clearing Thompson and Hawes off their preferred positions on both ends.
[aside header=”Ross on JV”]
“It was big. He made himself known. He made himself a force inside. He helped out a lot.”
– Terrence Ross
Starting in the second, Jonas Valanciunas did much better at presenting himself, catching the ball, and maneuvering to get cleaner looks around the rim. He was 8-12 for 18 points and 8 rebounds, which is impressive given his very slow start. Starting in the second is when Dwane Casey gave Ross a bigger role in guarding Irving, and also had him handle the ball as a point-forward. The latter resulted in a turnover, but the former strategy slowed down Irving’s passing and he wasn’t able to pick out his big men as easily with Ross wrapped around him. “His length really was a key asset against [Irving]”, said Casey. If it weren’t for a four-point swing where Ross missed a dunk on the break and Deng scored, the Raptors’s halftime deficit of five would’ve been even lower.
[aside header=”Casey on JV’s slow start”]
I had to um…we had to give him..um..our bigs a wake-up call in the second half [grins]. You’re going to have nights like that, it wasn’t from a lack of trying or lack of effort…We reminded him that there’s more to the game than the offensive end. I thought in the second half Amir and JV got it done.
– Dwane Casey
A few things changed in the third quarter. First, Ross defended Irving right from the start which meant Cleveland wasn’t able to trigger their offense as easily as they had in the first half. This especially comes into play when Jarrett Jack is handling the ball and passes it to Irving, who has great handles, on the live dribble. Ross played that very well and closed a whole avenue of offense for the Cavs. Second, the Raptors were far quicker to initiate their offense. For example, instead of relying and waiting for DeMar DeRozan to probe and navigate on the wings until an opening presented itself, Kyle Lowry turned on the screens to bring the Cleveland bigs into the play, and did well to distribute to the corners to stretch the Cavalier defense. Third, the defensive pressure increased considerably. The Raptors were affording way too much respect to Deng, Irving, and even Matthew Dellavedova in the first half, and as soon as they started pressuring, Cleveland’s offense became much more manageable.
The Raptors outscored Cleveland by 16 in the third and shot 70%. They outrebounded the Cavs 13-9 and doubled them 16-8 in points in the paint. It was as defensively dominant a quarter as I’ve seen the Raptors play. Fittingly, it was this Ross defensive play on Irving that symbolized it:
The Raptors headed into the fourth with an 11 point lead, which went up to as much as 15 before the token away-team run was made, and that too came far too late to be of any threat. The ship is righted after a stumble against the Bulls. Cleveland has been a tough opponent of late but they have been playing minnows in Orlando, Philadelphia, Sacramento and Detroit. Last night we saw them take an approach similar to the Bulls but this time the Raptors were able to counter sooner than later. Specifically, the run against the Bulls came in the fourth whereas adjustments against Cleveland were made and executed right at halftime. [aside header=”Bennett vs Novak”] This marked 2013 #1 pick Anthony Bennett’s first visit back to Toronto and he found himself guarded by Steve Novak, which must’ve felt odd. Bennett finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, on 4-6 FG in 15 minutes. [/aside] This was supposed to be a routine win and ended up being just that. Jonas Valanciunas looked fantastic, as he does when he’s being fed the ball after a guard draws the big man out just a couple feet, or is being sought on the rolls. Vasquez hit key perimeter shots in the two-guard lineup that seems to always get the job done, and Ross turned the clock back to three weeks ago with a timely 3-and-D performance which, to me, was a the game-winner.
DeMar DeRozan’s shot-chart isn’t pretty and on this night we’re fortunate not to have needed him, which is probably true for this Sunday against the Magic as well. It’s the long-term, though, where DeRozan has to find how to be productive when facing good defensive players such as Deng and Butler two nights previous. Trying to blow by them using the dribble isn’t going to cut it because he shows his drive in advance, and doesn’t have the dribble/quicks combination to pull moves like James Harden. The Raptors play Cleveland again on Tuesday and I’m very interested to see what adjustments DeRozan and Casey make for that one.
This is a win that good teams don’t celebrate much, so we’ll leave it at that. It’s just good to see the Raptors bounce right back after an excruciating loss. I’ll leave you with Nando De Colo and his luggage in the Raptors locker room: