Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

, ,

Post-game news & notes: Raptors ‘shot ourselves in the foot,’ squander Game 1 in OT

How many times can you do it and survive?

The Toronto Raptors were up by 10 early in the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That, roughly, is where they need to be to feel comfortable coming down the stretch. The singular dominance of LeBron James has dragged the Cavaliers to victories in clutch situations all season, to the tune of a 30-15 record in games that get there and the league’s second-best clutch net rating. James lives for that time, and while the Raptors were the league’s best fourth-quarter defense, they need a cushion. It’s paramount. And they had it.

Slowly, James and the Cavaliers whittled away at it. It shrunk to five, and two Raptors starters returned. It shrunk to two, and Jonas Valanciunas continued a mostly strong night with a bucket. It shrunk to one, and OG Anunoby, who had done the best job on James all night, returned. Eventually, James tied it, hitting a tough fadeaway at the end of a night of cold shooting.

And still, the Raptors were in decent shape. They’d expended the entire 10-point cushion, but they had the ball with 18 seconds left coming out of a timeout. They even made the right plays, with DeMar DeRozan drawing attention and kicking the ball out to a wide-open 40-percent 3-point shooter. Then, a sequence unfolded that may, in two weeks time, come to define the season. Hopefully it does not. If the Raptors break from here or end up losing in a tight six or seven, though, this graphic is going to be burned into their memories forever.

VanVleet missed the shot. DeRozan missed a second chance. C.J. Miles missed a third and fourth. Valanciunas a fifth.

“A lot of things we did to ourselves. It’s nothing special, nothing that we didn’t expect. Some uncharacteristic things that we missed, some shots we missed, I thought was the difference in the game,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “I think we’re a better team, we just didn’t make the shots down the stretch. I know it sounds simplistic but we had our open looks, had our opportunities that we didn’t cash in on.

“I don’t know if it was nerves or yips or what, just things that just shot ourselves in the foot.”

The game would go to overtime from there, and the Raptors would get down six before DeRozan and Kyle Lowry scored consecutive baskets to get them in another situation where they could win it. Again, it was Fred VanVleet with an open look. Again, he missed, and this time there were no tip-ins or put-backs or second chances. It was over.

“If I’m in the same situation again, I’m making the same exact pass,” DeRozan said of his message to VanVleet.

That is really good to hear considering how the Raptors have spoken after losses in the past. It’s paramount that DeRozan make those kind of reads and the team continue to trust its role players, even if it didn’t work out here. They know what the alternative looks like, and persisting through poor results despite solid process is a part of the proclaimed culture reset. Process is important, even as the margins get tighter and it gets tougher to trust in the results coming.

If the Raptors rebound in this series and end up winning it, maybe they’ll be able to laugh at that image above, at the missed opportunity they overcame.  There was a lot that they did well in this one and a lot of simple mistakes they could clean up. At the same time, this game was, on paper, their best chance to get a win on the board, and Game 2 now becomes incredibly important. This was Toronto’s opportunity to take a bit of control, and instead they’ve punted home-court advantage.

“We definitely stole one,” Ty Lue said. “They know that as well.”

And it’s going to sting until at least Thursday.

Cavaliers offensive balance

The Raptors largely stuck to their plan of sending little help to LeBron James and letting him go to work one-on-one, staying home on shooters around him. They tried, anyway. James responded by posting OG Anunoby up ad nauseam and looking to pick out shooters when help came, and while the Raptors did well to limit the amount they needed to double – Anunoby did a great job holding position, and the Raptors doubled much more when Kevin Love posted up – there were still mistakes off the ball. Cleveland shot 14-of-35 on threes, and four teammates – non of whom were Love – scored 14 points or more.

“They were phenomenal,” James said. “Kev kind of struggled in the first half and Jeff picked him up. Then Kyle had his second half and Kev came back in and had an unbelievable second half, just a monster on the glass. J.R. was consistent all game with his ability to shoot the ball. And Double-T once again he just picked up right where he left off in Game 7. Just being a monster that we have grown accustomed to on the glass the last few years and just making his free throws and giving us extra possessions. It was an all-around team win for us and everyone contributed tonight. We definitely needed them.”

Toronto will look to stick to that strategy even more ardently next time out. They can not expect the same results on James, though, as he’s incredibly unlikely to shoot 12-of-30 very often even if Anunoby and others are doing a solid job. James had 13 assists to go along with his 26 points, only committed one turnover, and didn’t even have the benefit of the whistle all that much (he shot six free throws, and the Raptors shot 10 more than Cleveland as a team).

“I thought OG, I said you’ve gotta live with some things, I thought he did as good a job as you can do with him,” Casey said. “The other areas are where we broke down, and lost Korver, we lost JR Smith in a few situations, some things we had talked about. Those things we can clean up, take those off the board.”

If James scores more effectively next time out, the Raptors are going to have to be even better sticking to their checks off the ball and not having stretches of inattention like they had in the second quarter.

Injury Updates

  • Fred VanVleet played 15 minutes, continues to get treatment on his right shoulder during timeouts, and shot 2-of-7 overall and 1-of-5 on threes. It’s pretty clear that he’s not close to all the way back yet, which is entirely understandable, and he took a hard fall at one point, too. The fact that he was out there in a few clutch situations suggests the tema is comfortable with his shooting, but it would be justified to question that decision despite him being a 41.4-percent 3-point shooter in the regular season.aaaaaaaaa
  • Pascal Siakam has been receiving treatment on his left wrist regularly but it was a non-issue here.
  • Serge Ibaka appeared to hurt his right leg twice, first when Jonas Valanciunas rolled into it and again later when he landed on LeBron James’ foot on a 3-point foul. He stayed in the game, but it’s worth monitoring moving forward.
  • George Hill played 28 minutes and no longer appears to be bound by the minutes restriction he was on in Game 7 against Indiana.

Lineup Notes

  • The Raptors starters were +7 in 24 minutes. They continue to be quite good, and they made sizable runs in the first and third quarters. They also got the close-out nod for the first time – OG Anunoby hadn’t even played a fourth-quarter minute in the postseason prior to this – but had less success against a larger Cleveland front than they had early on against a smaller front. The Raptors pointed to a shift in aggression as a reason, as well.
  • The all-bench group was -1 in nine minutes, which is mostly fine as some of those minutes came opposite LeBron James.
    • Something worth monitoring: The Cavs changed James’ regular substitution pattern to sit him late in the first and third instead of early in the second and fourth, perhaps as a means of combating the bench mob’s success. The Raptors’ transitional lineups between the starters and the bench haven’t been nearly as dangerous, and Cleveland may be trying to line James’ breaks up with Toronto’s weakest stretches. That could necessitate a change in timing for the all-bench group, and Dwane Casey went to them early in the third perhaps for that reason.
    • To wit on the “transitional lineups struggle” front – the Raptors were -5 in 20 minutes with any combination that wasn’t one full unit. There’s noise there – Fred VanVleet with the starters is normally solid and was -4, DeMar DeRozan and the bench was actually a +2 in three minutes – but Casey will have to be careful to maximize every possession James isn’t on the floor. And if that DeRozan-and-bench group plays those minutes, they need to be with VanVleet where possible, as that look has been much better.
  • The Cavaliers starters were -11 in 13 minutes, and they went away from that group for good after the start of each half.
    • There’s a solid case to be made that the Cavaliers should stick to this lineup – Ty Lue mentioned liking Tristan Thompson’s energy off the bench, and Kevin Love probably can’t be this bad again – but Toronto is probably hoping at least a little that Cleveland changes things up. Yes, even though Thompson was a +2 in 26 minutes.
  • It was actually a super-small lineup that did the most damage, with James as the de facto center. That group was +8 in nine minutes.
  • The Raptors won the six minutes without James by four points. As unfair as it sounds, that number has to be even bigger.

Assorted

  • LeBron James said this was “probably” one of his worst games of the season. He had 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists and was a +5 in a one-point win.
  • What’s it like covering James, per OG Anunoby? “It’s cool.”
  • Drake and Kendrick Perkins got into it late in the game and again after the game on the court. As Drake was leaving the ACC afterward, he was still quite steamed, yelling that nobody should speak to him that way.
    • Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, here’s a text explanation from Perkins: “What happened was I was talking to my old teammate Serge (Ibaka) walking into halftime telling him ‘We about to win this game,’ and Drake butted in talking shit to me. So I said something back to him.”
    • Drake’s response, via Instagram comment? “I just said I liked the hem on his capris.”