In the wake of perhaps Toronto’s most entertaining basketball game of the young season, the Raptors travelled to an old house-of-horrors to clash with a familiar foe. Unfortunately, this iteration of Raptors/Cavaliers lacked the spark (LeBron James) that made previous iterations so compelling. Entertainment value aside, Toronto did what was necessary to improve to 20-4 on the season, including an impressive 10-2 on the road.
It was the sort of game you don’t mind stepping away from for a few minutes because you ordered-in Chinese food for dinner (theoretically, of course).
After an inefficient first quarter for Kawhi Leonard, the superstar forward settled into a groove before halftime, going into the break with 17 points. Leonard would continue to score from all three levels in the second half, leading Toronto with 34 points. It’s the second consecutive game in which the former Finals MVP has managed to hit the 30-point plateau. While Leonard has had his moments of dominance, it still appears at times he is lacking the instinctive decision-making that helps maximize his unique blend of quickness, strength, and shooting. Perhaps the past two games are an indication of what’s in store on the Kawhi Leonard front.
Kyle Lowry was ruled out prior to tip due to weak-opponent-induced back soreness. Fred VanVleet did an adequate job filling in for the veteran floor general, despite being held to a modest stat line of 15 points, four assists, three rebounds. Delon Wright had perhaps his worst game of the season, quarterbacking a struggling bench unit that continued to look lethargic and disinterested. His -17 plus/minus was a team worst, as he failed to make a positive impact on either end of the floor. Nick Nurse opted to tighten the rotation as opposed to dispersing Lowry’s minutes to candidates such as Lorenzo Brown and Malachi Richardson, which paid off down the stretch courtesy of another productive fourth quarter from Fred VanVleet.
Perhaps the most underwhelming performance of the night goes to Jonas Valanciunas. After a solid start to the year, Air Lithuania has been flying through turbulence as of late. A quiet outing against Golden State turned into a full-blown slump with a game full of missed bunnies, turnovers, and failed boxouts tonight. Valanciunas finished just 2/5 with 5 points in 18 minutes, a stark contrast to the blistering efficiency that the Raptors have come to expect when JV comes off the bench.
Toronto let Clevelend back in the game with a sloppy late-third, early-fourth quarter stretch. Newly acquired Cavalier Alec Burks was a bright spot for the home team, scoring 13 points. Jordan Clarkson and Tristan Thompson led the way with 18 a piece, while the latter dominated the glass with 19 boards, seven of the offensive variety.
The Raptors once again showed a susceptibility against the midrange jump shot, an understandable byproduct of a defensive scheme aimed at limiting quality three-point attempts. While they’ve managed to hold opponents to the sixth-lowest field goal percentage from behind the arc, (Cavaliers shot just 22.7% from deep tonight) they rank below-average at defending two-point field goals from beyond 15 feet. While the lowly Cavaliers might not be able to make the Raptors pay from the midrange in the same way other teams might, a team like Golden State who leads the league in both attempts and makes from this range is more likely to force Toronto to alter their scheme. More switching on screens might be Toronto’s easiest counter in their upcoming rematch against the champs.
Things do get much harder for the best team in the East, as they are set to face Denver and Philadelphia at Scotiabank Arena in the looming days. The worst team in the East travels to Brooklyn to take on the feisty Nets on Monday.