Toronto Raptors v Cleveland Cavaliers

The Raptors’ starters jumped out to a big lead in Cleveland, watched the second unit piss it away, then failed to recover the lead the rest of they way, as Toronto’s season may very well have come to an end with a disappointing loss on Wednesday night.

Cavaliers 103, Raptors 92

- I mentioned in the Game Thread that with the Cavs on the second night of a back-to-back without Kyrie Irving, the Raptors should look to put the game away early. Well they jumped out to a 23-9 lead and had held Cleveland to 1-of-14 shooting to start the game, but they were far from putting the game away.

- While there is plenty of blame to go around, the bulk of it should fall squarely on the shoulders of Toronto’s second unit. After quickly blowing that aforementioned 14-point lead in the latter stages of the first quarter and early stages of the second, the Raptors’ bench did absolutely nothing to atone for that lapse later in the game. Six different Raptors came off the bench in Cleveland to play between 4 and 16 minutes and all of them finished with a rating of at least -7, with Alan Anderson actually finishing a ridiculous -27 in less than 14 minutes of action. Just let that sink in for a bit. Overall, the Raptors’ bench was outscored 39-8 by a cast of Cavs reserves that included Luke Walton, CJ Miles, Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights.

I did like that Sebastian Telfair took John Lucas‘ minutes in the second half, however, as Lucas proved once again that when his shot isn’t falling, he’s a major liability on the floor because he doesn’t move the ball enough and isn’t big enough to defend in the NBA. How many times in the last two games have we seen other guards easily shoot over Lucas even with JL3′s arms extended? Telfair isn’t a game changer by any stretch and didn’t contribute to this game statistically outside of taking four fouls in seven minutes, but again, it’s hard to be worse than Lucas when John’s not shooting well.

- Blame the bench for digging the Raptors a hole, but the starters weren’t exactly great either after building that early lead. Much like Monday’s loss to the Wizards, the Raptors quickly and easily cut into their deficit with just a couple of minutes of good play from time to time, which speaks to the low level of competition their last two opponents should have provided. Unfortunately, the Raps weren’t able to play with desperation for much longer than a couple of minutes at a time, and that’s pretty pathetic considering the stakes for Toronto in these last two games.

- If you thought Andrea Bargnani logging fourth quarter minutes when he didn’t deserve it was a thing of the past, think again. Despite playing with no spark or energy off of the bench in the first half and not touching the floor in the third quarter, Bargnani played the final 10:11 of this game and finished scoreless, with a rebound, an assist and a block to his name in nearly 16 total minutes of action. Meanwhile, Jonas Valanciunas, who was once again a noticeable presence inside (on both ends of the floor) to start the game was left to ride the pine for the entire fourth quarter. Valanciunas finished with five points, eight rebounds and three blocks and was a +14 in 24 minutes, but Dwane Casey obviously thought Bargnani was the better choice down the stretch.

And I know some will point to the fact that the Cavs went small in the fourth quarter, but you’re playing a severely inferior team in terms of talent. You’re not supposed to try to match up with them, especially when that means playing your own inferior talent (Bargnani). You should be trying to force them to match up with you. In addition, the small frontcourt of Bargnani and Rudy Gay was a defensive disaster in the second quarter, so the fact that Casey was willing to roll the dice again with that combination in the fourth quarter, even for just a few minutes, was mind-numbing to say the least.

- The Raptors were ice cold from behind the arc tonight, going 2-of-20 from three-point range. Gay and Kyle Lowry, especially, struggled from deep, as the pair combined to shoot 2-of-11. The timing of a few of Lowry’s threes was certainly questionable, but overall, I can live with a 40% three-point shooter hoisting six long range shots in a game where his team needed a spark. I can’t live with a 26% three-point shooter (Rudy) chucking five. Gay was actually pretty good overall tonight, but his decision to take those threes made little sense.

- The one positive in this game for the Raptors was DeMar DeRozan, who followed up his 25-point performance on Monday with 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting on Wednesday in Cleveland, which included an impressive 14-of-15 from the free throw line. Over his last two games, DeRozan has scored 59 points on nearly 53 per cent shooting while going to the line 24 times. That aggressive approach isn’t something that’s just popped up this week, either, as DeRozan has actually averaged more than 7.4 trips to the line over his last 14 games, including seven straight games with at least six free throw attempts.

DeMar has been sensational in these last two contests, it’s just a shame that very few other Raptors are playing with the same sense of urgency.

- That lack of urgency looks to have cost the Raptors any outside chance they had left for themselves to get back into the playoff picture, as while they were laying eggs and losing to the Wizards and Cavs, the eighth place Bucks were beating Dallas and Houston on the road to extend their cushion over the now 10th placed Raptors to a very comfortable six games. Even if the Raptors beat the Pacers at home on Friday (which I don’t expect) and then beat the Bucks in Milwaukee on Saturday, they’ll still go into next week 4.5 games out of a playoff spot with just 22 games remaining. The lackadaisical effort over these last two games has certainly taken much of the excitement out of Saturday’s matchup with the Bucks, that’s for sure.

If you recall during Monday’s podcast, I mentioned that this was by far the biggest week of the season for Toronto and also mentioned that the Raptors of old would drop one of the winnable games early in the week, whereas an actual playoff contender would go 3-1 this week to make another statement and inch closer to that eighth spot. I guess we now know which side of that dividing line these Raptors fall on, huh?

Raptors Player Of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 34 Pts, 10/19 FG, 0/2 3PT, 14/15 FT, 5 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 TO in 43:42

Cavaliers Player Of the Game: Dion Waiters – 23 Pts, 7/16 FG, 2/3 3PT, 7/8 FT, 1 Reb, 6 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 3 TO in 35:19