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.
“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.”
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:
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:
- 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.