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Raptors Continue Late Game Domination in Win Over Cavs

The Toronto Raptors win their fourth game in five attempts thanks to last night's 98 to 91 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

All this winning is giving me a headache.

Last year it took Toronto 78 games to win 30 matches and this year, a mere 55.

Ok, maybe that's not the cause of the migraine that caused me to forego last night's live blog, apologies folks, but Toronto has indeed been rolling along post-All-Star break as we expected.  Loss to the Bulls aside, the Dinos have beaten the clubs they needed to beat including last night's 98 to 91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Toronto will see the same foe again next Tuesday and with Orlando up next tomorrow evening, and Washington coming to town on Thursday to cap off the month, the Dinos have a great shot at finishing February with eight wins in 12 games.

Not too shabby.

The team could still use better starts (they found themselves down 22 to 16 vs the Cavs last night) but there's no question they've been one of the best in the league in the fourth quarter, yes, even if that's meant falling just short during comeback attempts.  Toronto leads the league in average fourth quarter margin, scoring on average, 2.6 points more than their opponents in that time frame.  The next three clubs include the Miami Heat (+2.4), the Indiana Pacers (+2.2) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (+2.0) so this puts them in pretty selective company.

I'd argue this is a sign of a good basketball team as they come fourth quarter, it's "winning time."  We've seen this too, the defense tightens up, the offense starts humming along, and even in cases where Toronto has let leads elapse late (such as last night vs the Cavs and Tuesday vs the Wizards), they've still managed to close things out.

Even in the loss to the Bulls on Wednesday, Toronto used an exceptional fourth quarter to nearly steal one back and one could argue that better execution from Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan with 10 seconds left might have meant another W via fourth quarter excellence.

That's not something you could say about Raptors' teams of past could you?  In fact it was more often that the inverse was true where Toronto would start strong but let things slip away come fourth quarter.  (Aka, most of last season.)

This ability to excel late in games bodes well for this team's playoff hopes as well.  In the postseason, it's teams like Miami and Oklahoma City that close out games consistently that thrive so I'm hoping to see this trend continue for Toronto over the final stretch of the season.

Part of this as noted comes on the defensive end and last night versus the Cavs, we saw the club lock down their opponents in the second half.  On the season, the Raptors now sit seventh in the league in defensive rating and have been particularly impressive in the mid-range.  Toronto is holding opponents to 37 per cent shooting from 15 to 19 feet, the second-best mark in the league.  You saw this first-hand last night as many of Kyrie Irving's shot attempts were in that area and the Cavs' All-Star hit only 3 of 16 shots on the night.

Toronto's offensive rating hasn't been quite as good but sits in the league's top 10 (9th overall) producing 101 points per 100 possessions.  One area on the court though that could stand some improvement is in the 5 to 9 foot range.  The Raptors take the ninth most shots in the league from that area but are hitting on only 39.5 per cent of them.

Point being, from a number of angles, Toronto's looking pretty good heading into the month of March.  The club is healthy, getting production from a variety of sources (although in particular, it was great to see Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas step it up last night) and has the league's second easiest schedule the rest of the way.

Here's to hoping last night's win over the Cavs wasn't just win number 30 on the 15th anniversary of the Air Canada Centre, but the template for the club to follow (bad start aside) for the remaining 27 games.