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