Let the good times roll! The Raptors have won three straight games in rather convincing fashion while using an undermanned rotation. The group that has played these last four games in no way resembles the team that played the first 22 games. This group plays like a team – they move the ball quickly on offence, they pass up good shots for great shots, they hustle back on defence, and they communicate and trust each other to make the proper rotations. It’s very cliched, but everyone who stepped on the floor tonight for Toronto was playing “team” basketball.
Here are some thoughts on the game:
-When Jose Calderon is the starting point guard, it’s crucial that he makes one or two screen-and-roll jump shots in the first quarter. If the defence is constantly going under the screen and Jose can’t make them pay, he becomes very ineffective and the offence stalls. Late in the second quarter, Calderon recorded his 5,000th career point (5th most in team history). He continued to give Cleveland fits all night off the screen-and-roll, finishing the game with 23 pts on 10-of-15 shooting, and that shooting opened up everything else for his teammates.
-There is no question Calderon is bringing a higher level of intensity as the starter than he did as a reserve, especially on the defensive end. Against Houston, he did a fantastic job defending Jeremy Lin and tonight he gave a complete effort defending Kyrie Irving. Calderon still doesn’t have the foot speed to defend most point guards, so giving 100 per cent effort is a must. When he returns to his bench role, it will be his defence that determines how much playing time Dwane Casey can give the two-point-guard lineup.
- Calderon’s deficiencies on offence can be summed up in one play. With the shot clock winding down in the middle of the third quarter, he fired a jump pass to DeRozan with six seconds left. Calderon can’t create his own shot without a screen and that means he often has to dish off to DeRozan or another player with little time on the shot clock. This puts said player in a very low percentage situation.
We are all witnesses to the Alan Anderson era. The Raptors are 3-1 when he plays 20+ minutes. He has played 14 at the half in Cleveland.
— The Score (@theScore) December 19, 2012
-Yes, the Alan Anderson era is officially upon us! In the fourth quarter, when John Lucas was struggling to defend Kyrie Irving, Coach Casey decided to put Anderson on Irving. This kind of versatility on defence is extremely valuable. Anderson had a fantastic all around game, leading bench scorers with 18 poits. There is no major flaw in his game and the
3-1 4-1 record when he plays 20+ minutes is no coincidence.
- There isn’t a lot of logic in keeping Mickael Pietrus in the starting lineup at this point when Anderson is proving to be a far superior talent. Ideally, I would like to see a three-man wing rotation of DeRozan, Anderson and Terrence Ross.
— Chris Black (@A_Chris_Black) December 19, 2012
-This makes sense, considering Anderson and Amir are two of the most well-rounded players on the team. Both guys make quick rotations on defence and both guys have the ability to score in a variety of ways.
- Amir Johnson woke up in the fourth quarter for the second game in a row. He made two fantastic decisions to drive the ball as opposed to settling for a mid-range jump shot. Both decisions resulted in three-point plays at the rim. Now that teams are respecting Amir’s mid-range, he should be putting the ball on the floor more frequently.
- Anderson Varejao made several hard drives to the basket in the first quarter and I LOVED how Toronto responded with two hard fouls in the second quarter. When the opposition is going to the basket at will, the fastest and easiest way to stop that from happening is to put someone on their ass. Even though the second foul on Amir was a flagrant, it was worth while. Varejao finished the game with a career-high 16 free throw attempts, but most of those came in the first half.
- DeMar DeRozan had two very aggressive drives in the first quarter. His handle is finally tight enough to beat a lot of 2-guards off the dribble. If/when he moves to the small forward spot to accommodate Terrence Ross in the starting lineup, DeMar will have an even easier time getting to the hoop.
-Terrence Ross has incredible foot speed. He is three or four inches taller than Dion Waiters – who has a very good handle – and yet Waiters had no chance to beat him off the dribble.
- Jonas Valanciunas played very well in limited action, finishing with eight points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes. Casey has used a very small lineup down the stretch in the last two games, which has left JV on the bench. The small lineup has worked well and it’s by no means an indictment of JV’s play.
- The Cavs beat up Toronto on the offensive glass in the first half, but this really didn’t concern me once I thought about how much worse it would be if Andrea Bargnani was playing.
- The ball movement in the last two games has been something of a revelation. Interior passing between the big man and “hockey assists” have been a regular occurrence. It’s hard to believe that Bargnani’s ball-stopping tendencies are not responsible for the lack of ball movement when he’s in the lineup.
- Interesting debate as to whether Toronto is a better team when Andrea Bargnani doesn’t see the floor. Although I absolutely believe they are better with Ed Davis in the starting lineup, I can’t say they are a better team with Bargs not playing until I see him in a bench role. I don’t necessarily believe he will be inspired by a bench role, but there is no way to tell for sure until he’s placed in that position.
Raptors Player Of the Game: Alan Anderson – 18 Pts, 6/12 FG, 5/7 3PT, 1/2 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl in 32 mins
Cavaliers Player Of the Game: Luke Walton…kidding! Anderson Varejao – 22 Pts, 5/12 FG, 12/16 FT, 10 Reb, 2 Ast in 39 mins
No time to enjoy this victory, as the Raptors host Detroit on Wednesday night at the ACC. Given their current form, the Pistons game is absolutely one Toronto should win. Brandon Knight might give Jose Calderon some problems at the point of attack, but the Raptors – despite their injuries – have a much deeper team. A Friday night date with Orlando is giving Raptors fans visions of a five-game winning streak. Finally, there is reason for optimism.