Despite a rare off-night shooting-wise from Kyle Lowry, the Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-93 last night. The Raps got 33 points from DeMar DeRozan (he had 16 points in the 4th quarter), 19 big points from Terrence Ross, and some huge defensive plays down the stretch in the win.
A back-and-forth game finally turned in the Raptors' favour when Ross made a big 3 (one of his five) to put the team up by 1 point with 3 minutes left. DeRozan extended the lead to 3 with a beautiful reverse dunk in the lane after blowing by some non-existant Cavaliers defense. And after Tyler Zeller and DeRozan exchange free-throws, Lowry drew a huge charge on Kyrie Irving under the basket.
DeMar then effectively sealed the game with a big, free safety-esque, steal off a Cavaliers entry pass, making up for a hideous air-balled jumper in the previous possession (the plays after timeouts are still a problem). In transition he drove at the basket, got to the line, and drained both free-throws putting the Raps up by 5. It was essentially just a matter of the Raps icing the game from the line after that, which they did without incident.
With the victory the Raptors win their 3rd straight game -- make that 6 wins in their last 7 -- and move 7 games above .500. The win also means that the Raps will finish the month of February with a winning record, making it 3 straight winning months for the team. That's something that the Raps haven't achieved since 2007. TWO THOUSAND AND SEVEN. That's before Barack Obama became President, before LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, and way before the majority of us wasted our time trying to sound profound and/or funny in 140 characters or less. These are heady days in Raptor-land, folks.
For the most part, since the Rudy trade, the Raptors have played a brand of fun, exciting, and efficient winning basketball. But the fact Raps didn't play well last night (none of those aforementioned adjectives could be applied to their performance), ultimately didn't matter. And in past seasons when the Raps haven't played well, it's absolutely mattered.
Good teams are good because they execute well and win basketball games -- banal observation of the month, right there. But good teams -- and teams moving in the right direction -- also win when they're not playing well, or at least when they're playing below their best. They find a way to grind out those precious victories when the shots aren't falling, when passes are going astray, and when star players are having off-nights.
Again, for large stretches of last night's game the Raptors didn't play well -- or least they didn't play up to their capabilities. They turned the ball over too many times (9 times in a sloppy first-half), they shot poorly - and too often -- from downtown (32 times at 31%), and endured a 3 of 15 shooting night from their best player. But the Raptors dug in during key stretches -- a 16-5 run to turn things around after a slow start, and a 12-4 run to end the game -- to pull out the victory.
Earlier in the season I made mention, more than once, that the Raps couldn't afford to take quarters off against any opponent -- that if they did, they'd likely lose. I'm starting to rethink that assertion, at least as it concerns the dregs of the Eastern Conference. The Raptors are good enough, at this stage, that they can survive some crappy stretches of basketball against a lot of teams -- a few lost minutes, even a lost quarter.
Winning that way isn't ideal, of course. Ideally you want your basketball team somewhere close to 5th gear at all times -- slow starts are hardly ideal, and sloppy stretches could kill the Raps come playoff time. But it's simply worth noting, without making a judgment one way or the other, that the 2013-14 Toronto Raptors have reached the stage where they can win playing fun, exciting basketball; and they can win playing large stretches of ugly, error-strewn basketball. That hasn't always been the case with this franchise.
Additional Game Notes
- Kyle Lowry, as mentioned, had a rough night shooting the ball. But he was able to be effective in other ways. He had 9 assists and, of course, that massive charge on Kyrie Irving.
- As well as having a good offensive game, Terrence Ross did a great job on Irving late in the game. Kyrie finished with 25 points, but had just 4 in the 4th quarter, despite the fact that the Cavs were in the bonus with 5 minutes left.
- DeRozan sees the floor so much better now, and can contribute whether his shot is falling or not.
- Unfortunately Jonas Valanciunas wasn't able to contribute last night. He struggled defensively in the first half, even though Casey had him guard Tristan Thompson so he wouldn't have to check Spencer Hawes. Jonas played just 17 minutes and didn't play at all in the 4th, as Casey went with an Amir Johnson-Patrick Patterson front-court. Jonas is going to have rough nights, but they're becoming a little too frequent this season.
- Greivis Vasquez had 15 points last night and picked up a lot of the offensive slack, when Lowry's was unable to contribute scoring-wise.
- Spencer Hawes is not worth two second-round picks and that slim chance that the Cavs will finish 8th and be pounded into mush by the Indiana Pacers. Sorry, Cavs fans.
- Like he's been for most of his rookie season, Anthony Bennett was horrible last night. Tough to watch.
- Apparently Jack Armstrong doesn't like the idea of the 4-point shot (sure,me neither) because the stat-nerds will annoy him with their 4-point stats (oh, okay. Ugh). As Arthur Koestler famously said: "You can't help people being right for the wrong reasons".