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Five thoughts on last night: Raptors 115, Cavaliers 109

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The Raptors played down to the competition yet again — but still managed to walk away with the win.

Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 115, Cleveland Cavaliers 109, Serge Ibaka David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, making them 3-0 against the Cavs this year, giving them their ninth straight win, solidifying their second-place standing (1.5 games up on Miami), and moving them to just one game off the pace of last year’s championship team.

So why didn’t that win feel very good?

Playing down to the Competition

I know the Raptors were missing a starter and a key reserve, but there’s no way the Raptors should have needed to cling to a late lead and need

During this nine game winning streak, the Raptors have played seven sub.-500 teams. They’ve let five of them hang around:

  • The Timberwolves were within two early in the fourth, before the Raptors ran away with it
  • The Hawks were within two with less than a minute to go (after being down by as many as 17)
  • The Knicks were within one with 1:22 to go
  • The Spurs tied the game with 1:00 to go
  • The Cavs were within one with 1:18 to go

I know it’s the dog days of the season, but I do worry about the bad habits the Raptors are developing here. Good teams won’t squander the above opportunities if the Raptors provide them.

Missing Marc

Marc Gasol only averages 6.5 rebounds per game, so you wouldn’t think his presence would make that much of a difference on the glass, right? But you can’t ignore all the little things Marc does that help his teammates get boards (using his body to move opposing players away from the rim) and even his defensive efforts, forcing opposing players to take shots farther away from the rim than they’d like.

His absence was certainly a big factor in Cleveland’s gathering 15 offensive rebounds and scoring 19 second-chance points — which in turn were a big part of helping the Cavs keep this game close.

Starring Starter Serge

On the other hand, I don’t think we can deny that Serge Ibaka relishes his starting role; he had 26 on 10-of-14 shooting last night, although he only grabbed four rebounds.

Serge gets more minutes as a starter, so you’d think, well, of course it makes sense that his raw numbers go up (+5 points, +2 boards). But his usage actually declines as a starter, from 25% as a reserve to 23% as a starter! Meanwhile his shooting improves significantly (.551 TS% as a reserve, .620 as a starter).

Given those numbers, I actually wonder if it isn’t so much starting, it’s playing more minutes with Kyle Lowry, that boosts Ibaka’s numbers. Lowry knows how to get Ibaka the ball in the right spots better than anyone, and that would certainly account for the improved shooting and scoring in the reduced usage.

So: Should Serge be starting in place of Gasol? Or should the Raptors start the double-big unit regularly?

Closing Norm

It was great to see Norman Powell break out of his funk last night, with 16 points and five rebounds. I found it most interesting that he closed the game with the starters, in place of OG Anunoby.

Anunoby had one of his better games in a while; he was 4-for-9 from the field, which while not a great percentage, at least showcased more activity on his part, after several games of passivity.

But I wonder if Nick Nurse wasn’t a bit disappointed with OG’s effort on the defensive end. He looked to be out of position on a couple of rotations, that got Kevin Love open looks and allowed Collin Sexton and Darius Garland to penetrate. Those three were a combined 24-for-36, and while that’s certainly not all on Anunoby, I think the defensive effort is what the team needs the most from OG right now.

It’s also possible Nurse just wanted Norm’s shot-making out there, which the Raptors sure needed!

Welcome to All-Star Snub Season!

Our guy Kyle Lowry was selected to his well-deserved sixth straight All-Star game yesterday, so we, as fans and bloggers, don’t have to get all up-in-arms about it. But as with every year, several player with deserving cases got left off the rosters... which means we get to see the internet, and those players’ teams and teammates, blow up in their defense.

I get it. Of course you want to defend your guy, and if Kyle didn’t make it, this probably would have been a “Five Thoughts on How All-Star Selection is Broken” column or something. But, objectively... only 12 guys make it in each conference! And I think everyone who did make it is deserving, except for Russell Westbrook. It’s inevitable that some guys will be left off — it doesn’t mean they’re not deserving, or worthy, or great players. Not everyone can make it! Being the 13th or 14th best guy in the conference (by this metric, which is already flawed) is still incredibly good!

So I feel for Bradley Beal and Devin Booker and their fans, but guys? You’re still among the best basketball players in the world. You don’t need an All-Star selection to tell you that.

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The Raptors are right back at it tonight, against another sub-.500 team. Will they let the Pistons hang around... or put them away early?