Archive for the ‘Cleveland Cavaliers’ Category

Game No. 42: Raptors 96, Cavaliers 88

The Raptors headed to Cleveland for their third matchup of the season with the improved Cavaliers, who the Raps had already beaten twice earlier in the year. Only this time, no Jose Calderon.

Toronto recovered from a slow start to take control of the game in the second quarter, and never really looked back, moving to 3-0 against the playoff contending Cavs. It took the Raptors just 21 road games this season to surpass their total of six road wins in 41 games last season. Progress is a slow process.

Now here are some thoughts on the game.

1- I mentioned the Raptors taking control in the second quarter. After falling behind early, the Raps were able to hold the deficit to just one point after the first quarter. Toronto then outscored Cleveland 33-24 in the second quarter on a ridiculously hot shooting spree, as the Raptors shot over 70 per cent in the second frame. While the Raps didn’t take a commanding lead, they certainly took a good crowd out of the game in the first half and swung momentum in their favour with that second quarter performance.

2- Andrea’s back. After a couple of slow games for Andrea Bargnani in his return from an extended absence, the Italian really rounded in to form on Tuesday night in Cleveland, scoring 19 points on over 50 per cent shooting in 28 minutes of action. Also encouraging was that Bargnani grabbed eight rebounds, looked to be getting his quickness back, and hasn’t lost the new found intensity he was playing with before his injury. Case in point, he clanked a jumper in the game’s final minute with the Raptors already up six, but ran down his own rebound and slammed it home. He still has a little bit to go before getting back to the All Star level he was playing at pre-injury, but he’s answered any questions we had about whether the same surprising effort would be there when he returned.

3- Jerryd Bayless was solid in place of Jose Calderon at the point, finishing with 20 points on just 13 shots to go along with seven assists. Even more impressive was that Bayless was able to have a good night offensively while leaving it all on the floor defensively. Did anyone notice how many times Jerryd ran his butt off to get back on D and attempt to take a charge? While he didn’t put up noticeable numbers, Gary Forbes gave the Raptors a stable 11 minutes off of the bench as well. In case you missed it, I wrote earlier on Tuesday about what Calderon’s presence in the lineup means, or doesn’t mean, for Bayless and Forbes.

4- Amir Johnson and Ed Davis provided great sparks for the Raptors, in addition to Bayless, but it wasn’t all good for Toronto’s youngsters, as DeMar DeRozan was barely noticeable on the court. DeRozan seemed to be replicating his January performances from before Bargnani got hurt, as he rarely moved off the ball on offence (finishing with four points on 1-of-6 shooting) and looked tentative on defence. DeMar has been pretty good for a consistent stretch of the season now, but we’ve seen the bad DeRozan too often this season to just sweep this performance under the rug. Hopefully he can put this behind him with a strong showing in New Jersey on Wednesday, before one bad game becomes another month long slump.

5- A few words on the Cavaliers. I don’t know whether to credit Byron Scott for the fact that his team is actually in playoff contention, or to fault teams like the Knicks for allowing awful teams like Cleveland to hang around. Aside from probable Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, the Cavs’ starting lineup in this one consisted of Anthony Parker, Alonzo Gee, Antawn Jamison and Ryan Hollins. On paper, this team is as bad as anyone in the East not named Charlotte, and I still feel that they’ll pay for their over-achieving season in the long term. Irving looks like he can be a stud in the NBA, and Tristan Thompson should be at worst serviceable, if not above average. But after that, the Cavs aren’t exactly busting at the seams with young talent. Cleveland needs to acquire more high potential youngsters, and the only likely way they can do that is through the draft. Finishing 10th, 9th or even dare I say eighth in the East with this roster would be a nice story for the city, but it would probably prove detrimental to the franchise in the long run. I’d be really interested in knowing how die-hard Cavs fans feel about the way their season is currently going.

6- It was nice to see the Raptors’ defence recover in this game after a couple of 2009-2011 defensive performances against the Pistons and Bucks that saw those two teams score 105 points each on a combined 50 per cent shooting. The Cavs shot over 50 per cent in the first quarter on Wednesday, but were completely shut down by the Raptors’ suffocating D after that, finishing 29-for-76 from the field (38.2 %) and failing to score more than 24 points in any quarter.

***

The Raptors moving to 3-0 against Cleveland is a sign of a favourable matchup against the Cavaliers, but is also a sign of how weak the bottom half of the Eastern Conference is, especially when you consider that the Cavs came into this game just 0.5 games behind the Bucks and Knicks for the East’s final playoff spot. Eight of the 10 worst records in the NBA currently belong to Eastern Conference teams.

For as far away as Toronto is from legitimate contention right now, they actually aren’t that far or that many pieces away from playoff contention in the East. I do not want this team to make any sort of meaningless run for the eighth seed this season, and I’m pretty confident that they won’t. But I honestly believe that with the right draft pick in June and good health next season, the Raptors could find themselves fighting for one of the last playff spots in 2012-2013, without deviating from their long-term rebuild at all.

It’s easy to say that in March of this season, with seven months to go until 2012-2013, but if you look around the East and project futures, it’s really not that crazy of a thought.

Raptors Player of the Game: Jerryd Bayless – 37 Min, 20 Pts, 6-13 FG, 4-7 3Pt, 4-4 FT, 4 Reb, 7 Ast, 3 TO

Cavaliers Player of the Game: Kyrie Irving – 30 Min, 14 Pts, 5-17 FG, 1-4 3PT, 3-4 FT, 7 Reb, 7 Ast, 1 TO

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: TSN
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jerryd Bayless, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson
Cleveland: Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Alonzo Gee, Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins

Injury report

Toronto: Jose Calderon will probably sit out tonight.

Cleveland: Anderson Varejao is probably out for a couple of weeks, while Christian Eyenga is day-to-day.

It’s amazing what the addition of a star player can do. Kyrie Irving was somewhat of an unknown quantity when the Cavaliers drafted him first overall after playing just 11 NCAA games — but 35 games into his NBA career, it’s clear that the Cavs made the right call. Irving has led them on a three-game winning streak that has the Cavs positioned just a game-and-a-half out of the eighth seed.

Although he plays the point guard position, Irving is a pure scorer and even though he’s just turning 20 later this month, he’s already one of the most potent offensive forces in the league. He can kill you from outside (over 40 percent on treys) and he’s also deadly on the drive. Keep an eye on his propensity to drive left tonight — even when you know that’s where he’s going, he’s extremely difficult to stop.

The Raptors won easily the last time these teams met on Jan. 4, but Irving scored just 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting that night. We can assume he’ll probably play better tonight. This will be an interesting test for Jerryd Bayless, who is running out of chances to show that he can win and hold on to a starting position in this league.

I wouldn’t ordinarily post an ad down here, but this one featuring Charles Barkley is pretty great.

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

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Rasual Butler, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson
Cleveland: Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao

Injury report

Toronto: Jerryd Bayless is day-to-day with a sprained ankle.

Cleveland: Semih Erden is recovering from thumb surgery.

With a 3-2 record going into this game, it appears the Cleveland Cavaliers might not be totally crappy. Mind you, those wins were over Detroit, New Jersey and Charlotte, but those wins still count. The big story with this team is that it appears they made the right draft picks with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, who are clearly their two best players and appear to be improving with each game. Thompson isn’t in the starting lineup yet because Cavs coach Byron Scott apparently wants Jamison’s offense in the starting lineup, but Thompson’s a significant reason why the Cavs have the 10th-best Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) at this point.

At 2-3 and coming off an impressive win over the Knicks on Monday, the Raptors haven’t exactly been pushovers themselves, thus far. Frighteningly, the Raptors threaten to detread their tank right at the beginning if its journey with a shockingly easy schedule over the next six games: vs. Cavs, vs. Nets, at Sixers, vs. T-Wolves, at Wizards, vs. Kings. Couldn’t the Raptors win four or even five of those games?

No, I’m not predicting a playoff run for this team. But Dwane Casey has them playing real defense while Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani have been extremely effective overall in the first five games. Shockingly, the two highest-paid players on the team are playing like they’re worth the money. I won’t comment on what it says about Raptors fans that so many of us are hoping this boosts their trade value, especially since I’m one of those fans.

Random thoughts…

  • The Raptors assigned Solomon Alabi to the D-League today. Are we ever going to see this guy play? He can’t be that much worse than Jamaal Magloire, can he?
  • Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman are still catching feelings about being traded to the Hornets. They’re mad that Clippers management told them they wouldn’t be traded… and then traded them anyway in the Chris Paul deal. Why do so many players fail to understand how the real world works? If you admit to players that they might be traded, it screws with their head and messes up their performance. By the very nature of their job responsibilities, General Managers are required to be professional liars in their dealings with players, media and other GMs. It’s not personal, it’s business. Get over it, chaps.

I couldn’t think of a good comedy video for today, but this clip of Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard scoring on Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan in the Premiership today is pretty funny. Note Howard’s response — he doesn’t rub it in because he knows how humiliating this is.

Game No. 1 – Raptors 104, Cavaliers 96

I thought of titling these recap posts¬† “Four Quarters,” and simply listing four observations and points from the game that I wanted to discuss. But if you know me or have read enough of my posts, you probably know that I’d have trouble only talking about four things after a game.

So, after coming up with six points for my first recap of the season, then coming up with six points after tonight’s game, and figuring maybe it’s a good omen in a season of 66 games, I thought, why not go with six?

With that, here’s the first of many of my post-game reaction posts this season:

“Fouling Out: Six Personal Thoughts on the Game.”

1- Dwane Casey threw us a couple of surprises in the starting lineup, giving Rasual Butler and Amir Johnson starting nods instead of James Johnson and Jamaal Magloire. I was pleased to see Amir get the start (and he more than showed he earned it with a workmanlike performance of 13 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks) after advocating for it last week. As for Butler in for James Johnson, I didn’t really mind it. Rasual seems like a pretty seasoned vet who knows his role (he only took four shots), and James’ energy makes him a natural off of the bench anyway. Plus, it’s not like Johnson’s minutes took a hit as a result of not starting, as he was rewarded with a heavy 36.

2- Aaron Gray didn’t play after he was found to have an elevated heart rate. Hopefully Aaron is alright and can get back on the floor to give the Raps some added depth in the middle, but obviously, when it comes to your heart and overall health, basketball takes a back seat. For Gray’s sake, here’s hoping this is just a one-time thing and doesn’t turn out to be anything like the heart problem that caused Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson to undergo a couple of procedures or the condition that sidelined Celtics forward Jeff Green for the season.

3- I don’t know whether to call it the “Casey Effect,” a culture change, a one-game aberration, or a product of playing the hapless Cavaliers, but whatever that was on the defensive end on opening night, I’m in love with it. Yes, it was just the Cavs, who I predict will be battling with the Raps near or at the bottom of the East all season, but still, give Casey and Toronto some credit when it is clearly due. The Raptors set a franchise record for opening night blocks with nine, and they did it at the end of the first half. Other than a couple of lapses here and there, which even elite defensive teams experience from time to time, the Raptors’ defence was simply lights out. Toronto held the Cavs to 41.2 per cent shooting (35-of-85), 30 per cent from behind the arc (six-of-20) and 44 points in the paint.

The veteran additions Bryan Colangelo brought in can all play defence and the young guys (DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless) are all either naturally good defenders at their position or are athletic enough to become good defenders. If the weak links in the defensive chain (Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon) can even give the Raptors average defence on a consistent basis, this team has the ability to be a good defensive team right away. Not great, but good.

4- Wow, Jose Calderon, that’s all I can say. Most of you know I’m not exactly the biggest Calderon fan, but a lot of the problems I had with him over the last few years (lack of defence, lack of consistency) can be attributed to nagging injuries. What I saw from Jose on Monday night might have been one of his best performances as a Toronto Raptor. He had a burst I haven’t seen from him in years, he knocked down his jumper when asked, he fought hard to keep his man in front of him on the defensive end and made some passes that left me with my jaw dropped. I’ve always thought Calderon’s impressive assist-to-turnover ratio was a product of usually opting for the very safe play and pass, but Jose threw some beautiful lobs and passes in traffic in Cleveland, and still ended up with just one turnover to go along with 11 assists.

While Jose’s ability to maintain an energy level even close to what he showed on Monday night for 66 games is unlikely, I have nothing negative to say about “Numero Ocho” after a magical performance.

5- Speaking of Jose, how about the Raptors’ ball-sharing? The Raps piled up 35 assists on 42 made field goals, an outstanding 83 per cent of their shots made. An offence that looked slow, confused and downright ugly in two pre-season games against the stingy Celtics, moved the ball around, made the extra pass, found the open man and flowed nicely overall in Cleveland. Scoring 104 points in Cleveland and beating the Cavs is nothing to brag about, but sharing the ball the way the Raptors did on opening night is impressive, no matter who the opponent is.

6- The sixth point I wanted to make, about balanced scoring, is a direct result of that beautiful ball movement. To get to 104 points, the Raptors had every one of the 10 players who played record an assist, make a field goal and score at least two points. In addition, seven of those 10 players got to double digits in scoring, with no player scoring more than 15 points.¬†Again, I don’t care who the opponent is, when you score 100-plus points in the NBA without having a single guy score more than 15, that’s just impressive offensive balance. Perhaps most impressive is that out of the 79 shots the Raptors took, no one player attempted more than 14 of them. For a team that often frustrated me for having at least one guy trying to do too much or playing outside of his role, Dwane Casey seems to have gotten this bunch of guys to buy in to a team-first philosophy.

At the end of the day, the Raptors won a game I expected them to win in a season where I expect them to win just 18-to-20 out of 66 games, so don’t interpret my pleasure in this performance as new found optimism for this season.

But if this team brings the defensive approach they brought to Cleveland to most games this season and shares the ball the way they did against the Cavs, they will find themselves in a lot of competitive games, and that will be both encouraging and exciting to watch.

So, what do I take from this game?

Well I still think this team will lose a lot of games, I just think they’re going to entertain us while doing it.

Raptors Player of the Game: Jose Calderon -30 Min, 15 Pts, 5-9 FG, 3-5 3Pt, 2-2 FT, 6 Reb, 11 Ast, 1 TO (Amir could be here too)

Cavaliers Player of the Game: Ramon Sessions – 22 Min, 18 Pts, 6-12 FG, 2-4 3Pt, 4-5 FT, 4 Reb, 6 Ast, 1 Stl (Varejao, like Amir Johnson, could have easily been the choice for Cleveland)