The Raptors have recently been alternating between looking like a dominant team that has figured out how to play within their game and looking like a team struggling to find the motivation to play, and Monday night in Cleveland, that second group showed up for most of the night.
This should’ve, for all intents and purposes, been an easy win for the Raptors, with them coming in with the second best record in the league against a Cavaliers team that’s on their way to a high lottery pick. However, Cleveland brought the intensity from the opening tip off, looking to take advantage of a Raptors team on the second night of a back-to-back, and the Raptors never fully found their energy. Which isn’t to say that Nick Nurse didn’t try, from varied lineup combinations to find a spark, to an early stint of zone defense in the first quarter which briefly seemed to get the Raptors’ attention and spurred a run to close the gap.
For the most part though, the Raptors didn’t seem interested in being part of this game, just going through the motions on their way to the playoffs, and that came through very clearly with their defensive effort. With Marc Gasol getting the start, he looked once again like he didn’t quite fit with the gameplan, which had him posting up often, which isn’t his game, and handling in the early offense in the high post almost never. This has been an ongoing trend for the Raptors, and they’ll have to adjust to the fact that this simply isn’t Gasol’s game, he needs to be used as a playmaker more than as a post-up threat, and when they keep him involved in the right places it helps the team succeed.
There were a few bright spots, despite the ugly loss, for the Raptors though. Kawhi Leonard contributed an efficient scoring night and showcased his ability to get his own shot off frequently, looking spry in the process. As well, Kyle Lowry continued to look good, with 14 on just 8 field goal attempts, and OG Anunoby had another excellent game as well.
The high point of this game, as it was, was a scuffle between Marquese Chriss and Serge Ibaka towards the end of the third quarter, when Chriss appeared to take Ibaka down in transition, followed by Chriss seeming to say something to Ibaka that caused Serge to react violently, attacking Chriss and throwing a few punches in his direction. Both players ended up ejected, and it’s safe to assume there’ll be additional discipline headed Ibaka’s way from the league office.
As well, the Raptors had several late injuries in this game, with Kyle Lowry nursing a sore ankle, Pascal Siakam a sore neck/shoulder, and Danny Green also getting hit in a collision. This is probably more important to the Raptors than the outcome of the actual game, as their playoff seeding seems relatively safe at hand, and getting to the postseason healthy should be the team’s focus.
That’s the crux of this game, at the end of the day. It’s hard to watch the Raptors struggle like this with a team they should beat with ease, but ultimately meaningless because this game shouldn’t be taken as an indication of anything more than the team’s awareness of how little the game meant.