When he turned the corner, Vasquez fell to the floor, his instincts causing him to throw the ball to basically no one as time ultimately expired. “I thought I went too fast,’’ he said in a sombre locker room. “It’s a great experience for me. It shouldn’t have come down to that.” It shouldn’t have boiled down to one play and there’s no reason why the Raptors should have started a game so disinterested in competing. As much as the Cavs would give the Raptors a chance at redemption, Toronto did itself no favours as a well-rested Boston team now awaits on Wednesday.
“That’s not the game-decider,” the Raptors’ coach said. “The game was decided the way we approached the first quarter.” “It’s easy to get up for OKC, it’s easy to get up for Miami, it’s easy to get up for Indiana but the teams that are not in the playoff picture, they are playing for something, too,” he continued. “They’re playing for pride, which is probably a little bit more dangerous than guys trying to save minutes and save themselves for the playoffs.” There’s a lesson to be learned from this loss and it shouldn’t take long to figure out whether or not it’s been absorbed. The Raptors – now the East’s fourth seed, leapfrogged by the Bulls with Tuesday’s defeat – will travel to Boston in the second night of a back-to-back and first game of a home-and-home set with the Celtics, another scrappy team looking to play spoiler. “We’ve got to get the mindset of being the hunter instead of the hunted because,” Casey added.
“Tomorrow’s a must-win,” he said. “No matter what. No excuses.” Vasquez, so central to Tuesday loss since it was his slip and turnover in the final four seconds that doomed Toronto’s final chance to steal a win, basically challenged his teammates and himself to play with a greater sense of urgency against the Celtics. “We’ve just got to understand what we’re playing for. It’s a must-win because we’re actually playing for something, if you don’t get up for that . . . ’ ” he said. “We’ve just got to be motivated, man. This is crunch time. This is important for us. We’re playing for something. We’re playing for the third seed and to win our division. We’ve just got to get it (Wednesday).” The Raptors certainly didn’t treat the game with the Cavaliers with any measureable amount of urgency. They were horrible in the first half, and were behind by 21 points about four minutes into the third quarter before deciding to turn up the intensity. It is a dangerous game they play.
We’ll start with the good as there was some here. Kyle Lowry, despite being bothered all night by stomach issues of some variety, showed again why he should have been an NBA All-Star, willing his club back into this one and finishing with 22 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds. Lowry didn’t get the birthday win, but he took over the game midway through the third and his teammates followed suit, taking a 21 point deficit with eight minutes left in the quarter, to an eventual Raptors lead midway through the fourth.
Someone needs to take DVR-ed footage of the final 40 seconds, apply one of those sepia film filters, and mix in some Benny Hill. Lowry, despite how much SWAg he oozes, blew an open layup (fortunately Amir “RAPM Phenom” Johnson was there for the putback). Then, Jarrett decided to just dribble dribble dribble JACK a brick, effectively trading clock time for a possession. Alonzo Gee sent DeMar Derozan to the line where missed the first free throw. And then it got funny. The Cavs were unable to inbound the basketball, electing to use a timeout to try again. (Unbeknownst to them, Cavs Twitter was nervously praying for anything but an epic fail on the inbound). On the second attempt, Varejao just threw the ball 6 feet past Luol Deng out bounds under the hoop. It had literally no chance of being caught and was puzzling because the Cavs just needed to catch the ball (anywhere), crouch into the fetal position, and get fouled.
It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. And at this point, that is incredibly important. All season, we have seen the Cavs chuck far too many close games. At least 8 off the top of my head. Shrinking in vital moments and making bonehead mistakes. They did it tonight too, but they won. Wins and losses are easily measured when looking at lottery balls and dreaming of college stars, but it becomes a bit more ambiguous when measuring them against confidence and will. Basketball, in my opinion, is primarily a confidence sport. Trusting the process and believing in the outcome are paramount to execution, and the team that does that usually wins. Again, that is my opinion, I’m sure some disagree, but that is the beautiful thing about this game, there are seemingly infinite ways to do everything, and no set “right way”. So, I will choose to like this way. The winning way. The way that builds confidence in a young roster and it’s embattled coach.
The Cavs were phenomenal early, leading by as many as 18 before settling for a 59-45 lead at intermission. They went up 21 with 8:11 left in the third period and were still up 18 with 4½ minutes left in the quarter, but the Raptors went on a 15-2 run. That spurt extended to 32-13 on a Vasquez three with 6:45 left, putting Toronto up 95-94, but the Cavs regrouped and pulled out a win despite the fact Waiters had two points, went 0-for-4 from the field and didn’t have an assist while playing 11:52 of the fourth quarter. The key for Cleveland was not going into panic mode once it lost the big lead. “That was the biggest thing — keeping the composure,” Waiters said.
‘We gotta get back to who we are,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in disgust. ”It’s easy to get up for OKC, Miami and Indiana, but the other teams are playing for something too, which is pride. That can be even more dangerous.” Despite playing without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed his fifth straight game with a strained biceps tendon, the Cavs were able to hold on and snap a five-game losing streak at home. ”It was a good win by our guys,” coach Mike Brown said. ”That’s a playoff team. They were playing good basketball. In a game like that, maybe earlier in the season we might have lost, especially coming down the stretch when a team makes a run against us. Our guys found a way to win.
“We felt like we could come in and not give the same intensity, the same effort,” Casey said. “You spot a team 21 points and you are not going to win that way in this league.” Toronto turned it on over the final 20 minutes to outscore the Cavaliers 47-28 and even briefly took a 1 point lead late in the game, forced a turnover with just seconds left and had a potential game-tying drive to the basket in the dying seconds, but they didn’t deserve a victory. Coasting for the first 28 minutes cost Toronto a very winnable game.
Without Patterson, Toronto’s bench has been exposed, but more importantly his absence deprives the roster of a stretch four who is very adept at defending pick and rolls, among Patterson’s other strengths. “If we can get him going quickly as possible that’s the key,” head coach Dwane Casey said. Patterson is wearing a protective brace, a device he’ll wear once he’s cleared to play. “If he gets hit the wrong way, it could be trouble for a lot longer,” Casey cautioned.
“We’re not good enough to scoreboard watch,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve got to take care of our business at hand. If we don’t do that, we’re not going to out-talent anybody by just showing up and showing our press clippings. We’ve got to come out and do all the dirty work, be a desperate team, play that way or we struggle.”