Raps lose. Cavs Win. But what's up with James Johnson?
The Cavs might a triumphant fourth-quarter comeback to win 84 to 80, halting Toronto's brief three-game winning streak, as fans were treated to what was essentially a D League All-Star game.
Sitting out of the action last night were regular starters Jose Calderon and James Johnson (more on Johnson in a minute), while of course others like Jerryd Bayless and Gary Forbes have been sitting on Toronto's IR for a while. For the Cavs, they sat Daniel Gibson for seemingly legit reasons (torn tendon left ankle), but Anthony Parker, coming off a season-best 27 point, 7 rebound performance, got the DNP-CD and others like Kyrie Irving were no-go's.
This left a pretty gruesome talent level by NBA standards for both teams to work with so the Cavs shooting 34 per cent and getting a win shouldn't be that surprising I guess. This was a marquee "tank" game by all standards and one that in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't suffer through live.
Hell, even the coaches didn't want to be associated with it as Byron Scott got tossed right before half.
The long and short of it though is a key Toronto loss in terms of draft positioning as the Dinos move half a game back of the New Jersey Nets, Sacramento Kings and yes, these same Cavs in terms of win percentage. With upcoming games against Oklahoma City, Indiana, Philly, Boston and Atlanta, hopefully this loss gets the team back in the hunt for Anthony Davis, something that seemed further and further from a realistic scenario as of Thursday morning.
A few things that stood out though from this loss.
For starters, what's going on with James Johnson? It would be easy to assume his recent string of DNP-CD's was due to the fact that the team is indeed trying not to be too competitive for the rest of the season but it sounds like there's something else going on here.
From Eric Koreen's recap of last night's action for the National Post:
Life is pretty decent for (Alan) Anderson right now. He is starting because James Johnson did something to rub coach Dwane Casey the wrong way just as Anderson was impressing the coach with - and this shall describe him in perpetuity, or at least until he is no longer with the Raptors - his maturity.
(As for Johnson, Casey said he was available to play after a one-game benching on Wednesday. Still, Johnson did not see the floor against Cleveland, even though Anderson went scoreless and Linas Kleiza scored eight points on 2-for-9 shooting. "I chose not to play him," Casey said. "Again, we're going to build the program the right way. We're going to do things the right way." Johnson responded: "I don't really need [an explanation.] It's an internal matter between the coach and me." Neither coach nor player would expand on that after the loss.)
Um...that's not good.
Johnson was one of the lone bright spots on this season so a rift between him and coach Casey is hardly a positive thing to end the season here. Going back to his last start, Tuesday's win over Charlotte, there's nothing that really stands out in my mind as to something he did or did not do to deserve this benching. His 4 of 10 shooting night and fairly empty box score wasn't spectacular, but that alone hardly seems worthy of this current silent treatment. Maybe there was some episode in practice, or some other violation of team rules (hence the internal matter) and hopefully one of the Raps' beat team can get to the bottom of this.
Also standing out? Mr. DeRozan and Mr. Bargnani.
DeRozan led the way with 28 points on 10 of 16 shooting all the while chipping in 4 rebounds and 4 assists. It might have come in a loss, but at least at face value it was another strong statistical performance for DeMar and again, going into next season, the hope is this type of outing becomes a regular feature in the Toronto attack.
Ugh. Forget the 8 of 22 shooting, how about not only scoring 16 of his 19 points in the first quarter, but also doing an abysmal job containing Antawn Jamsion in the game's final Q? Jamison was opposite Bargnani, scoring 16 of his 25 points in the game's final session, leading the Cavs to victory.
And to me, that's the bottom line from last night's affair. In a game that SB Nation's Cavs' blog, "Fear the Sword" aptly described as "Bring Your D-Leaguer to Work Day," the Dinos' needed their "best" players to indeed, play like NBA stars to get a win. Sure, no Jose meant a lack of a facilitator for DD and AB, but come on. The Cavs' starting back-court was Donald Sloan and Manny Harris!
It's a telling scenario as essentially Cleveland's two best, Jamison and D Leaguer Lester Hudson (who dropped in 23 points) out-dueled Toronto's two best and in many ways, that's what this one came down to. Neither team shot the ball that well but the Cavs were the aggressor in this one, getting to the line 40 times to Toronto's 24, and Jamison and Hudson accounted for over half those FT attempts.
I'm curious therefore to see what happens on Sunday.
This club desperately needs DeRozan and Bargnani to start putting forth consistent, solid efforts at the same time if many of us are to be optimistic about next season's chances. It would be one thing if both were indeed doing that on a nightly basis and the losses were still coming. Then you'd simply chalk this up to a lack of talent surrounding them, and a myriad of other minutiae that the coaching staff and management could address this off-season and going into the next.
But as of now, we're not even close to that point and until that time, fans will likely be treated to game after game of uneven play, and results like last night's.