Well, that was a fun start, but once lactic acid kicked in, the Toronto Raptors could not sustain the semi-controlled chaos that they generated in their favour in the first quarter. Instead, the Cleveland Cavaliers leaned on their experience, talent, and execution to put this game away early, handing the Raptors a 144-99 beating.
Kevin Love led the Cavaliers with his season-high 22 points and nine rebounds. Darius Garland added 22 points and eight assists, while Denzel Valentine came off the bench to hit five three-pointers en route to 17 points and nine rebounds. The Cavs made 22 shots behind the arc, while the Raptors shot 9-for-36.
Two scoops @wacchi1013 pic.twitter.com/BB2LlLREU8— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 27, 2021
Yuta Watanabe led the Raptors with his career-high 26 points and 11 rebounds. Chris Boucher added 21 points, and newbie DJ Wilson chipped in 15 points in his first game back in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Raptors struggled to keep up with the Cavs. Their lack of talent and familiarity reared its ugly head early and often whenever they were forced to “execute” a half-court offense.
The Raptors came out of the gate with a game plan in mind: turn this evening into 48 minutes of chaos. They pushed the ball early and often, to a point where they looked out of control at times. The Raptors got the Cavs to play at their pace, with Watanabe, Boucher, and Mykhailiuk combining for 21 of the team’s 34 points in the first quarter. The Raptors held a 34-29 lead late in the quarter, but the Cavs finished with a 6-0 run behind Canadian Kevin Pangos’ playmaking and Garland’s finishing. The quarter ended with the Cavs ahead, 35-34.
The Cavs extended their run into the second quarter, with Lauri Markannen scoring 11 during a 13-4 Cavs run to put them ahead, 48-39. Tremont Waters had some moderate success getting into the paint and collapsing the Cavs’ defense. He dropped three dimes to keep the Cavs within arms reach, including one to Wilson that cut the lead to 55-49. Unfortunately, the Raptors started to look fatigued playing at their break-neck pace. The Cavs took advantage by going on a 17-6 run to close the half, pulling away with a 72-55 lead.
It wasn’t the Cavs doing all the damage, as we had Mykhailiuk literally stepping on a rake and hitting his face like this:
DENZEL VALENTINE.@denzelvalentine | #LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/es5sG22F2q— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) December 27, 2021
The Cavs started the second half turning back the clock for Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio — except this time, Rubio wasn’t scared to shoot three-pointers. The former Timberwolves duo combined for 11 points, forcing coach Nick Nurse to call a timeout facing a 14-3 run and an early 28 point deficit. Saidly, there’s no trick that Nurse can pull from under his sleeve to bridge the talent and experience disparity between these two teams.
The Cavs out-executed and just plainly kicked the Raptors’ behind as they dropped 46 points in the quarter, including six three-pointers. Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff called the game by putting in Tacko Fall with three minutes left in the third quarter. The Raptors didn’t even have the luxury to field a garbage-time lineup.
No one was expecting the Raptors to win this game — with the back-end of their rotation forced to start while adding four new faces to the rotation with no practice time at all. We all know that Boucher can get really wild. His inefficient 20 points (on 6-for-19 shooting) and five turnovers were par for the course given his increased usage and minutes.
Mykhailiuk had another disappointing night, and he continued his trend of not meeting the bare minimum expectations. 12 shots to get 10 points just won’t cut it, and Mykhailiuk can’t even hit more than one three-pointer per game. Dalano Banton had a disappointing night — it looks like he got pulled early a couple of times as he struggled to get things going for the Raptors. It doesn’t look good when Nick Nurse would play a point guard with no practice-time more minutes than Banton in the first half.
On the bright side, the Raptors got a good look at how Yuta Watanabe would look with more usage, and he was able to showcase that he’s just not a spot-up shooter on the offensive end. Watanabe displayed the offensive game that he’s got when he played for the Memphis Hustle a few years ago. A lot of the skills are transferrable even when the starters come back.
What a sequence ✨ pic.twitter.com/4xKqjwmxDh— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 26, 2021
The Raptors may be getting the short end of the stick with the league electing to push forward with these COVID-ravaged lineups. Still, it allowed the Raptors to take a look at several fringe NBA players at the same time. Jawun Morgan and DJ Wilson fit the Raptors’ profile based on their size and length. Both players made their presence felt early, with Morgan crashing the boards a few times. Wilson’s length caused deflections and steals throughout the game. He also showcased a decent offensive game as he got comfortable as the game went on. Could these three (and potentially four if Nik Stauskas gets cleared) steal any roster spot?
With 10 Raptors still in protocols, we’ll likely get at least one more look at these players this week; the Raptors host the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.