Cavaliers 93, Raptors 99 – Box
Two possible angles on this one: 1) The Raptors won despite not being at their best, 2) The Raptors let a poor Cavs team hang around way longer than they should’ve.  Both are right, one is glass half-full, the other half-empty.  The reality is that the Raptors overcame sub-par performances from Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, and had to rely heavily on DeMar DeRozan who had 16 points in the fourth quarter and 33 for the game.    Lowry, tasked with guarding Kyrie Irving, didn’t have a great shooting night (3-15 FG, 9 assists) and Casey’s decision not to put Terrence Ross on Irving until the fourth almost cost the Raptors.  Jonas Valanciunas was a void offensively and a step slow all night.   They shot 32 threes compared to only 24 FTs (of which 11 game in the fourth).  These conditions aren’t ideal for a win, yet somehow the Raptors escaped Cleveland and stand seven games above .500.

Cleveland came out as they did a week ago at the ACC, aggressive on the boards and attacking through Kyrie Irving both on and off the ball.   Their entire offense is either Irving splitting a screen or two to get into the paint, Irving stepping back to take a jumper, or Irving being handed the ball in a live-dribble situation off the screen.  The man commands attention from interior players when he’s in the key, which leaves defenses vulnerable.    Tristan Thompson and Cody Zeller both like to cut to the rim in those situations, and Spencer Hawes has enough range to bring out a Raptors big man to the wing, creating more space for Irving.  It’s how the Raptors react to these dynamics that determine whether the game will remain close or not.

Poor shooting to open the game was remedied by Terrence Ross’s realistic revival.  And I say realistic because this is more of what you expect from Ross: good three-point shooting, using the dribble to negotiate the initial close-out, being able to drop a pass when help comes at you, and rising and shooting the shot the defense concedes.   Not 51-point games. The matchup had Ross being checked by shorter Jarrett Jack (fun fact: he’s been traded for Jerryd Bayless twice in his career), meaning that Ross had plenty of room to rise for his jumpers.  He read Jack’s tendency to pressure on close-outs to create shots for himself, and got open in transition to receive the ball shot-ready.

Ross’s first half offense kept the Raptors buoyant and after a flash of the two-guard lineup with Lowry and Greivis Vasquez (two threes in the first half), the Raptors had a 14-point lead.  This was despite zero production from Valanciunas, Lowry missing everything, the entire unit being very perimeter-oriented,  and running some quite weird offensive sets including one in which Patrick Patterson initiated the offense from the elbow and tried to pass to a disinterested John Salmons in the block, failing to make the entry pass and cueing the Cavs break.  You would have expected them to gradually extend this lead and put the Cavs in their place.  Instead, they went scoreless for the last 3:10 of the half, committed unforced turnovers, and had the Cavaliers end on a 7-0 run, taking only a 6-point lead into the break.  The Raptors didn’t self-destruct nor was the ball-movement bad, in fact, they were moving the ball side-top-side quite well.  The problem was that they weren’t running anything going to the rim with Johnson, Valanciunas, or Patterson, and the two were reduced to being cover for the guards trying to find shots of their own.

Lowry on Closing Games

“We’re just getting better, slowly getting better, slowly growing as a team, and slowly gaining confidence in learning how to close out games. They missed some shots. Coach made some defensive adjustments, we doubled Kyrie and (challenged) the other guys to beat us and I think that’s how we finished the game off.”

Kyle Lowry


The Raptors interior defense anchored by Patterson and Johnson was a big factor in the Cavs not being ahead.  The two combined to contest drives by Irving and Luol Deng, and turned back close-range efforts that normally you’d expect the Cavs to score from.  The rebounding was also under control, and the Raptors had a 10-4 advantage in second-chance points at the break, which compensated for the poor shooting, turnovers, and generally ugly basketball.

The last two games the third quarter has been where the Raptors put away teams, not so much last night.  Casey continued to play a random mix of Lowry, DeRozan and Ross on Irving despite Ross having great success against him.  Irving had gotten into a groove in the first half and continued it by going 4-7 in the third.  The Raptors offensive responsive never came, as this is how they started the third:

shotdistro

Very perimeter-oriented, and this included an Amir Johnson three as well.  The six-point lead was gone and the Raptors were out-rebounded, out-second-chance-pointed, and out-points-in-the-painted in the third, which meant the margin heading into the fourth was a single point.

The fourth quarter is best summarized in bullets rather than prose:

  • Jonas Valanciunas was benched for his defensive negligence in favor of Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson, who were more able to track Thompson, Zeller and Hawes when they shifted around on Irving drives, and quicker to help
  • DeMar DeRozan was 5-8 shooting, hit 6-7 FTs, and had 2 assists in a 16-point fourth quarter.  He was the offense, more specifically, his jumper was the offense.  Every time he took one I got a little nervous because I have yet to convince myself that that is his go-to fourth quarter move.  Having said that, he did mix it up by going to the line a good amount of times.
  • Greivis Vasquez tried to play hero by taking six shots in the fourth (made 2), but I couldn’t look past his defense against guys like Dellavedova
  • Terrence Ross made two huge threes in the fourth quarter, off of great ball-movement.  One where he tied the game, the other where he gave the Raptors a one-point lead
  • Amir Johnson couldn’t resist another three that was on offer in a one-point game
  • Kyle Lowry picked up a very fortuitous charge when it appeared he was moving very late on. Have a look:
    Direct Link
  • DeMar DeRozan could’ve been called for a foul on Cody Zeller but the zebras looked the other way in a 3-point game with 3-seconds left
  • Irving was often doubled going went 2-7 in the fourth, and on 4 of the 5 misses, Ross was guarding him

It’s an ugly win, no doubt, but nobody should be complaining too much about road victories in the NBA.  There’s something to be said about beating opponents when your’e not at your best, and I find it comforting that the Raptors seem to find an extra gear when they need it the most.  Moving on.

  • picked name

    can you at least correct the spelling in the headline?

  • Bendit

    Look at it this way…fans/pundits for the top tier teams (Heat, OKC, Pacers eg.) would describe, as you have, games like this against the next echelon teams (eg Raptors). The Heat are supposed to beat the Raps handily but sometimes lollygog their way to a close win when all is said and done. Thats what happened here imo. The Raps handled a lower echelon team in much the same way the Pacers sometimes handle the Raps.

    • afrocarter

      Well said. The way I see it, the Raptors are good for 24 minutes of hard play per game (similar to how the Heat play). However, due to their level of talent, this will only ever make them a “good” team at best. Right now, to somewhat echo Lowry’s post-game comments, the Raptors have to get used to playing hard for 35-40 minutes per game to make the leap from “good” to “great”.

  • humza

    Uh.. zeller flopped clear strip by ddr

  • George Harken

    The Raptors are awful. They got lucky beating the CLEVELAND LOSERS !!! The east sucks these pretenders don’t hustle arnt tough inside and have a half wit at center. Putting up numbers against bad competition is not good ball no matter how the writers want to tell it .

    • mailman

      They’re not awful. The fact that they play more games against the East is not their fault. Nobody says the Pacers or the Heat’s win numbers are padded because they’re in the eastern conference, so I wouldn’t hold it against these guys either. Plus after the big roster change with the Gay trade, they have a 26-13 record. Not too shabby.

    • Paul

      If you wanna blow smoke go have a dart…

    • Rapchat

      They also beat a few of the wests best teams aka “good ball” so the numbers as you say, aren’t all against bad competition.

    • JonasBrotha

      Don’t feed the troll folks. Move along, nothing to see here.

    • Steverino

      A minute ago you were extolling the magnificent Nets, who also, coincidentally, reside in the sucky East. Methinks you’re confused. Or a troll. Maybe a confused troll.

  • jakdripr

    Yea I agree with your final paragraph. I think a lot of raptor fans are forgetting that we were 7-16 a few months ago, so peeps need to stop acting like we’re the spurs and have a long culture of winning or something. In other words, I appreciate people expecting better from the team, but at the same time enjoy your goddamn wins.

    Everyone plays bad every now and then, I mean didn’t the heat lose to the celtics twice this season(once at home for that matter?).

    • George Harken

      The Raptors are not the Heat or the pacers. Mid level talent that is going to be average for a long time , no matter how u homers want to spin it . Going to enjoy this Team being beaten by the Nets , a team with real talent rounding into shape.

      • jakdripr

        lol way to completely miss the point of my post. My point was exactly that, we aren’t an elite team so we should stop judging them like an elite team, lets just enjoy our W’s when they come.

        As for your second statement….. lol. Aight bro, w/e you say.

        • Rapchat

          The Raps are not the Heat or the Pacers thats for sure. If we were either of those teams we wouldn’t be the only eastern conference team that is top 10 in the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. That team would be the Raptors. The “average” Raptors. This team has been together for less than 3 months and is posting some of the best numbers in the league in that time frame. By your own standards the Heat, Pacers, and lol Nets, must all be below average teams.

          • jakdripr

            Once again I think you miss my point. I’m perfectly happy with where this team is, in fact they are exceeding my expectations. In October I was expecting a tank, yet here we are 3rd in the east with a young team, cap space and draft picks. With all that said, this is still a young team that isn’t accustomed to winning and my point was we shouldn’t criticize them for ugly wins when a few months ago we weren’t expecting wins period.

            • Rapchat

              No no I agreed with you completely, that post was for George Harkens comment accidentally replied to yours.

              • jakdripr

                lol oh okay. I was so confused because you sounded like you agreed with me.

      • beaverboi

        They are not the Pacers…I keep hearing this. two years ago were the Pacers the Pacers? Two years ago they were a 42 win team with a couple of promising youngsters, the year before that, 37 wins. Toronto is not going to become Indy overnight, just like Indy didn’t happen overnight. Toronto is on a similar path – young players with potential and character and willing to buy into a team first approach. Add the organic growth and THEN the addition of David West, and now you are at the point where people compare themselves to you. I am very excited at the thought of watching play-off basketball again, and just because we don’t have franchise-altering player right now, who’s to say that means we are a treadmill team?

        • afrocarter

          All of this.

      • Abused Raptors Fan

        I know another team that doesn’t compare to the East’s elite. THE NETS! A bunch of geriatric fools. Come back and talk shit after we win the division title

      • robertparish00

        The Nets are not the Heat or Pacers either. The Nets are a team with top tier talent playing below average. Signing corpses with untradeable long term deals means the Nets will stay below average for a long time.

        Lets face it the Nets are the last step to retirement for big name-past their prime stars.

      • Nathan

        if the .500 ball your Nets have been playing for the last 2 months is them ’rounding’ into shape, then enjoy 8th seed. Say hit to Bosh for us. Or I should say Goodbye.

      • Tanks-a-lot

        The geriatric Nets with zero future after this season

  • What the

    The Raptors are a .600 team this season with these guys and some fans want to blow the team up and get an Elite player .this from one of the sandbaggers name Sleepz “so we get to the playoffs then what?” holeee guy! I’m glad he’s not the GM… like KG says “any thing can happen” what? you guys don’t like a .600 team that is on it’s way up and will never return to under .500 like the pasta years and a GM who has a easy job this summer,first thing sign Kyle,leave BC’s 5 and build a solid BENCH that can drop 40 points a night not everything BC did was bad, just the pasta. And to Sleepz and FLUXLAND maybe in the playoffs we find a TRANSCENDENT on the Raps. who knows maybe flight 31 can land in Area 51 again

    • FLUXLAND

      Holleee guy! You realize the regular season means NOTHING in the playoffs?

      A team with zero legit playoff experience to lean on, and you think “anything can happen”? You do realize that can work both ways, right? Like they get bounced and win maybe one game.. and then what? Are you still going to be talking about .600 and how this team will never return to .500? Wait. Don’t answer that. I know – they will gain invaluable experience in the playoffs and reach the Finals next year, right? Just like the BC team that won the Titanic Division?

      Anyway, I am as eager as you are to see if we have this TRANSCENDENT talent on the Raps come the POs, but how you keep watching this and think that will transpire is beyond me. I don’t think you understand what a different ballgame the playoffs are, a very tiny percentage of players actually play better in the playoffs, most player’ numbers dip…so you can keep hanging on to hope and wishes, but I’m not holding my breath on some big revelation about the talent on this team. And I’ll be here for you to let me know how right you were, if in fact this talent is hiding on the Raptors, as you seem to think it is.

  • morgan c

    Good write-up. Man, I know I’m beating a dead horse but JV’s regression is really concerning to me. I don’t know if it’s just his confidence, or something more serious. Performances like this will make it impossible for us to reach our potential in the playoffs (a tight second round match-up, in my book).
    And ya, Casey’s decision to not just stick Ross on Irving the whole game after he shut him down last week is just inexcusable. Did any journalist ask him about that after the game? It’s things like that that make it hard for me to really get behind Casey as the coach going forward. He’s so blind at times.

    • Ghotte

      An argument can be made that the coaches wanted to give Irving different defensive looks to keep him off balance (since they played them just last week) and that when it mattered most they put Ross on him to close the game out.

      • morgan c

        Possibly. But I think that’s over-thinking. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, especially in the NBA. Maybe go back to the well, and if it doesn’t work out, then mix things up.

        • Ghotte

          Think it’s similar to the playoffs where you rarely see the exact game plan employed (even by the winning team) regardless of the familiarity of playing a team over and over. While your basic sets are the same there’s usually some new wrinkle that forces the other team to adjust. And, if they are forced to adjust, that’s an advantage more often than not.

  • MoPeteRules

    Here’s something that continually baffles me. The Raptors, as constructed, are the team we have. We can’t change it. Masai can’t change it. No one can change it. And we can be pretty certain that this team is going to make the post season. By God, the post-season! Do you remember what that feels like? I remember forgoing my exam cram sessions in second year to watch my beloved dinos get trounced by the Orlando Magic. But I didn’t care! It was the playoffs! I was already acclimated to years of abuse I endured as a life-long Raptor fan. Haunted by glimpses of Lamond Murray taking ill-advised fade aways, Rafael Araujo dribbling the ball off his leg, I was ready to make new memories in Toronto. And nothing is as memorable as the playoffs. Flashback to 2001, when we were one shot away from making the conference finals. Number 5 seed Toronto, against a number 1 seed Philadelphia.

    That’s why I love this sport. It’s unpredictable, it’s fast paced, and it’s exciting. The Raptors have shown that they’re willing to give it their all, and they won’t stop competing. If you can’t excited by that, I don’t know what else I could tell you. I don’t understand the worry people have about the future. Worry about filing your taxes, not about a future you can’t control. As the article stated, there are two angles: glass half full, and glass half empty. The same applies to the Raptors season. And one of them is clearly a lot more exciting than the other.

  • DryDry

    Hey hey hey come on use a shot from last night’s game! We were wearing red!

  • truuth

    first off it’s tyler zeller, not his brother cody.

  • doncity

    We need to think about adding Artest for the stretch run – it’s low risk and potentially very high reward if he can catch a second wind at the ACC. Remember the art show downtown in his honor a couple years back? Who knows what might motivate a guy to play – especially a strange bird like Metta World Peace. All I know is some extra toughness and shotmaking ability off the bench is always welcome for the playoff push.

    • Steverino

      Blech.

    • DC

      Artest is a toxicity hazard – not a low risk to this team at this time.

      • doncity

        I’ve never heard anyone ever say anything but good things about Artest as a teammate and competitor so I’m interested in where you’ve heard this. Remember, he played a key role on some Laker championship teams.

        • DC

          It’s a guess, based on his unpredictability, aggressiveness, and short fuse.

          • doncity

            I don’t want to get salty with you, but I really think you need to base any negative opinions you choose to post on facts or at least incidents that have been publicly reported. Not saying he’s a perfect angel, but I’m quite sure you’ll find if you bother to read up on Artest you’ll find that he’s described by most as the type to go through a wall for his team.

            He’s in top physical condition, there’s never been any reports of serious disciplinary problems and he’s been a leader on championship teams. He was a volume scorer in college and in his early years as a pro and thus brings a complete game to the floor every night. He’s completely unselfish on the ball while being a defensive stopper.

            As far as being unpredictably aggressive, from where I stand, unpredictable aggressiveness on the court is what wins playoff games. If he even contributed to one playoff win, his acquisition would have been worth it.

            • doncity

              *Not saying he’s a perfect angel, but if you bother to read up on Artest you’ll find that he’s described by most as the type to go through a wall for his team.

            • DC

              The Malice at the Palace was publicly reported. It did a LOT of harm to Artest’s teammates and to his team. Beyond that, I’m really not interested in reading up further on him. Just stating my opinion, that’s all.

              • doncity

                Considering he won a championship with LA long after the incident in Detroit and won the NBA’s citizenship award in 2011, it seems like your precious opinion isn’t backed up by actual facts, that’s all.

                I stand by my thoughts that Artest could be a key veteran contributor off the bench down the stretch at very low risk. If he really is out of gas or brings a weird vibe to the locker room, we can always cut him, it happens all the time.

    • Louvens Remy

      I’m down for that. The raps need a bit of toughness inside. There are some guys he can guard away from the basket. Having him and Psycho T on the floor would be hilarious, to say the least.

  • AnthonyF

    The charge call on Irving looks 50/50 to me, and how many times has the call gone against us. Heck the refs were hoping to see Lowry’s heal on the line so they could change the call.

    We’ve hit the point where we are questioning actually getting a call!!!!!

    • Will

      Yeah, I’ve never seen a review to see if a player was in the circle or not. Was it just because it was in the last two minutes?

      • AnthonyF

        I think so. The point however is I doubt Miami has ever questioned a call they got in their favor…… But Raptor fans beat themselves up getting a call going their way…..

  • Steverino

    There’s no way Vasquez played hero-ball. I don’t care how many shots he took (not many, in the grand scheme of things) without passing. Hero-ball implies an intent on the shooter to not look at any other options. Vasquez is always looking. Sometimes it’s not there so he has to take it himself. Fault him for putting up bad shots, but I’m pretty sure his intentions were good, i.e. finding the best shot for the team not just himself.

  • GetLicks

    Am I the only one that thinks that steal by DD at the end was a complete flop by Zeller. Looking at the replay, it looks like he barely got touched and then went down like a heap of bricks trying to get a call. SOFT…that’s why Zellers is outta business.

  • asifyouknow

    SN590 has Vasquez on air in a few minutes..

  • jakdripr

    Just as an addition to my previous point about just enjoying our wins. To all the people upset that the raptros didn’t blow out the cavs, well the cavs just beat the thunder in OKC, so anything can happen on any given night and lets just enjoy the W’s that we get.