So much for the habit of good starts the Raptors had developed. After starting tough against top teams recently, the Raps came out noticeably flat in Cleveland, and it cost them early.
The Cavaliers opened up an 11-point lead on a ridiculous 10-of-12 shooting early in the first quarter. The lull continued throughout the opening quarter for Toronto, as Cleveland’s lead stretched to as many as 15 points on threes and fast breaks.
It looked like the Raptors would be run out of the gym for the second night in a row.
But the Raps responded with a great run, fuelled by defensive intensity, to close out the half. In fact, the second quarter was one of the best quarters of the season thus far, as Toronto outscored Cleveland 40-25 to take a three-point lead into halftime.
The third quarter was a bit of a continuaion of the second, as the Cavs chucked up some foolish shots that fell for them early but failed them late, and the Raptors responded by grabbing every rebound and running a pretty efficient offence.
Some early Toronto turnovers in the third kept the game closer than it should have been, but the Raps still managed a six-point lead after three.
The onslaught continued in the fourth, as the Raptors slowly stetched their lead and ensured this game would not come down to the final minutes. Thought it was troubling to watch the Raps fall so far behind against an inferior opponent, it was equally satisfying to watch them put that team away. After giving up 38 in the first quarter, the Raps gave up 67 the rest of the way, including just 42 in the second half.
On to some sidenotes from tonight. Leandro Barbosa has been pretty up and down all season, but one thing that has just been downright ugly is his late-clock management. If he has the ball with the clock winding down, his only move seems to be a step-back three at the buzzer. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch a guy whose so quick and can get to the rim with ease, settle for such a low-percentage play.
From an up and down player to one of the lone constants for the Raptors, Julian Wright continued to bring his usual husttle, defensive effort and much-needed energy. Any offence Wright brings is a nice bonus, so his 15 points tonight were nice to see.
On another positive, it was great to see DeMar DeRozan continue to attack the basket late in the game, despite suffering a nasty fall early in the fourth. As I wrote after the Celtics game, it really seems like something has clicked in DeMar’s head, and he now knows what he can do, and what he has to do.
If you weren’t sure how long it would take Andrea to get back into his groove, the answer is no time at all. One night after dropping 23 on a quality team in his return, Bargnani added 25 on the back end of a back-to-back. I’d say he’s ok.
You’ll remember that after the Raptors routed the Cavs at the ACC in October, Mo Williams said he had their next matchup circled (because the Raps threw down an unecessary late dunk). It’s too bad Mo Williams forgot that he’s not good enough to be the deciding factor in a ball game, let alone that his team is embarrassing when they’re not riding LeBron’s coat-tails.
Raptors Player of the Game: Jose Calderon – 38 Min, 20 Pts, 8-10 FG, 3-3 3Pt, 1-1 FT, 3 Reb, 17 Ast, 3 Stl (One night after I questioned why Jose doesn’t play through nagging injuries, Caleron returns with a marvelous shooting performance and passing display)
Cavaliers Player of the Game: Antawn Jamison – 38 Min, 32 Pts, 11-21 FG, 5-7 3Pt, 5-7 FT, 4 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk
Goat of the Game: Mo Williams – 35 Min, 11 Pts, 5-11 FG, 1-3 3Pt, 3 Reb, 9 Ast, 6 TO (We could tell this was a big game for you Mo, because you choked)