After being announced as an All-Star reserve earlier in the day on Thursday, for his sixth straight appearance in the game, Kyle Lowry delivered another fantastic performance to lead the Raptors to another victory in this stretch when they’ve pulled into second place in the Eastern Conference.
In this game, the Raptors missed Marc Gasol, with the center missing the game due to a lingering hamstring issue, as they let the struggling Cavaliers back into the game several times and failed to take control for most of the contest. In all likelihood, the preference for the Raptors would’ve been to put away an easy victory early on, and let the starters get some rest headed into Detroit for the second half of the back to back, and the Raptors entered the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead that gave them the opportunity to do just that, before giving up a 12-4 Cleveland run, forcing Nick Nurse to go back to his core players to secure the victory.
The Raptors gave up 15 offensive boards to Cleveland, something that has been an issue for them regularly this season, and that certainly played a role in the Cavs keeping the game close, and is something that Toronto will have to improve upon. Once Gasol is healthy that should help some, but the Raptors also just have to make a better team effort to keep opponents off the boards at their defensive end of the floor.
Lowry gave Toronto 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, to go with four steals, but the numbers don’t fully capture his impact and he was everywhere in this one, diving for loose balls, contesting rebounds, and generally being a pest for the young backcourt of Cleveland, causing disruptions all over the court. Serge Ibaka, starting in Gasol’s place, contributed 26 points on 10 for 14 shooting, and Pascal Siakam contribute 19, but it was Norman Powell coming through late in the game. After Darius Garland went 1-2 from the free throw line to narrow the lead to just 1, Powell went on a personal 8-2 run over a 47-second stretch to bring it back to 7, and help the team get the victory.
The Raptors were back to just an 8-man rotation for most of this one, with Terence Davis limited to just 7 minutes as Patrick McCaw made his return, and with players constantly coming and going from the lineup this season, it’s been hard for Nurse to get a consistent rotation from game-to-game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson still remains out with an ankle injury, and the team’s depth in the frontcourt is currently limited, but Chris Boucher contributed some solid minutes in this game, and hopefully Gasol can return soon to help solve that problem.
For Nick Nurse and his coaching staff to join Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry at All-Star Weekend, the Raptors will have to win both of their remaining games this weekend, in Detroit on Friday and with Chicago visiting on Sunday afternoon, or have the Orlando Magic beat the Miami Heat on Friday night, to keep them in the second seed in the Eastern Conference. After having to manage a lot of different lineups and a lot of adversity in the first half of this season, that would be a much-deserved reward for Nurse, who has done a fantastic job to keep this Raptors team competitive, and they’ve done their job beating the teams that they should beat, as they did on Thursday.