Game No. 6 – Raptors 92, Cavaliers 77
The Raptors picked up their first home win of the season, put together their first string of back-to-back wins and moved back to .500, at 3-3, with a dominating 15-point victory over the lowly Cavs.
Here are six thoughts on the game.
1- I tweeted after the game that over the last couple of contests, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan have been making it difficult to pick a clear cut Raptors Player of the Game for these recap posts. I’ll have a thought on each of them for this post. First, on Andrea. Bargnani has had good scoring stretches over his six-year NBA career, but never has he played at a level worthy of his “Il Mago” nickname like he is right now. The guy is playing absolutely lights out from an offensive standpoint. He’s hitting his open threes and being more selective with when he takes them. He’s dominating other big men on the elbows and the high post, and most encouraging, he’s blowing by guys and finishing strong in the low post. Right now, Andrea looks almost unguardable, and in addition to his improved defence and extra effort on the boards, he’s been showing off his impressive court vision with some dazzling passes. Am I convinced he can keep this up for four months and 66 games? Not yet, but if he’s still playing like this a month from now, we’ll be watching him on All Star weekend in Orlando.
2- The reason I had a hard time picking between Bargnani and Calderon for player of the game is because while Andrea was lighting it up from every spot on the floor, a lot of it had to do with getting some ridiculously open looks after great finds from Jose. Similar to what I wrote about Bargnani, this is one of the most impressive stretches of Calderon’s career. Another double-double in the books for Jose, and another night where you were looking up at the scoreboard thinking he had a legitimate chance at a triple-double. While Bargnani has surprised me with his passing ability through five games, Calderon has impressed me with his jump and effort on the boards. For an older, 6-3 guard who has never averaged more than three rebounds per game, Jose has an impressive 25 boards through six games (just over four per game). And I’m not just seeing the usual rebounds that simply fall to point guards sometimes, Jose is actually going up in crowds and coming out with the ball.
3- DeMar DeRozan continues to prove that his early three-point shooting success is no fluke. We had seen glimpses of an improved stroke from distance in DeMar’s first five games this season, but Wednesday night might have been his coming out party from behind the arc. After the worst three-point shooting display in NBA history last season, the 22-year-old claimed to have worked his tail off on extending his shooting range during the extended off-season. He started the new season going five-of-eight from downtown in five games, while never attempting more than two in any one of those games. Against the Cavs on Wednesday alone, DeRozan made as many threes as he had in the previous five games combined, and as many as he converted all of last season. Think about that for a second. I’m officially convinced DeMar has an added weapon in his offensive arsenal. As long as he doesn’t start camping out on the arc thinking he’s a three-point specialist, he’ll be fine. Though I don’t think we have to worry about that.
4- After the last game against the Knicks, I mentioned that Ed Davis was really struggling and wasn’t getting nearly the amount of minutes I assumed he would get coming into the season. Some commenters believed Davis simply needed to play better, others thought Dwane Casey simply needed to give the young big man more time. It’s really a “Chicken and egg” thing, but on Wednesday, I think we saw the beginning of the end of Davis’ early season slump. Ed started the game against the Cavs the same way he had started the last few games, hesitant and rusty looking on offence, not quite as sharp as usual on defence. But in the second half, you could see Davis get a little more comfortable with each possession. He was getting into great defensive positions and contesting shots, he was getting his hands on rebounds, and on the offensive end, he was setting some solid screens and rolling hard to the basket. The numbers weren’t there yet (at the time, I believe he had two points and one rebound), but Casey rewarded the effort by letting Davis play the majority of the fourth quarter. Ed responded with his best quarter of basketball since opening night, and finished the game with a very respectable eight points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
5- One thing I’ve noticed in two home games this season that I didn’t see much of in the last few seasons was intense, vocal coaching coming from the Raptors bench. And I’m not just talking about Dwane Casey himself. At various points in the games against the Pacers and Cavs, I could see four Raptors coaches either standing up and hollering something at their players or gesturing instructions. The only times I saw guys doing that last season, Reggie Evans or P.J. Carlesimo were doing it. Does it automatically mean that the coaching this year is better? No, but from a fan’s vantage point, it definitely looks like the entire coaching staff is more into the game.
6- In a recent conversation with RaptorBlog founder and editor Scott Carefoot, we discussed the somewhat easy stretch of the schedule the Raptors are in right now, and how if they could take advantage of it, we might have to start taking this team more seriously. After their win against Cleveland, the Raptors now continue a stretch of very winnable games against the Nets, 76ers, Timberwolves, Wizards and Kings, with three of those five games coming at home. The only team on that list I’m convinced is better than the Raptors is Philadelphia, who I predicted would take the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. I’m not going to debate whether winning those winnable games or finding a way to lose them is better for this franchise, and I’m not even going to predict how many the Raptors will win of the five, but I will say this, with the way this team is playing right now, they should be taken seriously. Not as a contender (don’t make me laugh) or even a playoff team yet, but as a scrappy young team that might be able to beat any team on any given night. To put it in perspective, in the last three games (a total of 144 minutes of basketball), the Raptors have trailed for a grand total of just 10-15 minutes, with two of those games coming against legitimate playoff teams in the East.
Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 34 Min, 31 Pts, 11-16 FG, 3-7 3Pt, 6-7 FT, 7 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Blk, 2 TO
Cavaliers Player of the Game: Antawn Jamison – 32 Min, 19 Pts, 8-19 FG, 1-5 3Pt, 2-4 FT, 6 Reb, 1 Blk, 2 TO