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Cavaliers’ backcourt too much for Raptors to handle as they lose 118-93

The Cavs snapped the Raptors’ four-game winning streak as Toronto just didn’t have an answer for Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official. The Toronto Raptors are no longer undefeated during the Second Poeltl Era. While Poeltl has been excellent at filling the Raptors’ big-man-sized hole, the Raptors’ other glaring roster deficiency — shot creation — was on full display today.

Entering tonight’s game, the Raptors were 3-0 against the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. The Raptors were on the second leg of a road back-to-back, while the fourth-place Cavs had a day to rest before responding to their three-game losing streak. It would’ve been nice to see a more competitive finish, but considering the Raptors were without Fred VanVleet, there was nothing too surprising about this loss.

One key ingredient in the Raptors’ wins versus the Cavaliers this season was their ability to contain Donovan Mitchell. Thanks in large part to O.G. Anunoby’s stifling defense, the Raptors held Mitchell to 8 and 12 points in their last two meetings. Tonight was a completely different story as Mitchell torched the Raptors for 35 points on 13/21 shooting, including eight three-pointers. The Raptors’ entire team made nine threes.

Anunoby still doesn’t quite look himself since returning from his wrist injury, which showed up big time on both ends of the court. Mitchell managed to both blow by Anunoby and create space against him for jumpers. On one possession in the first half, Jarrett Allen set a screen for Mitchell. Anunoby fought over the screen — but Mitchell lost him by going the opposite direction and knocked down the wide open three. On another possession, Anunoby bit on an Isaac Okoro pump-fake from three-point range (Boucher made the same mistake against Evan Mobley), leading to easy points. Of course, the Raptors’ defensive issues tonight ran deeper than just Anunoby, as most of the team played below what they’re capable of. Anunoby did have a nice possession early on where he pressured Mitchell and funnelled his drive into Poeltl’s help defense, with Poeltl closing in for the block.

But Mitchell was far and away the best player on the court, and he picked apart the Raptors’ defense to consistently score at all three levels. Without VanVleet, Pascal Siakam was the Raptors’ only reliable source of creation. He scored 10 of the team’s first 12 points, and finished with 25 points, eight boards, five assists, and four three-pointers. On top of his usual diet of paint scoring and some tough mid-range shots, Siakam also comfortably knocked down catch-and-shoot threes. But the team just didn’t do enough to support him: only Jakob Poeltl and Scottie Barnes reached double-digit points, with Anunoby and Trent scoring seven apiece. Barnes was quiet for stretches, though he came on at the end of the first half with some nice assertive takes, including a post-up on Evan Mobley.

Despite the Raptors’ rough offense, it looked like a real ball game when Siakam hit a step-back three to make it 68-64 during the third quarter. But Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell turned on the jets, gashing the Raptors’ defense and creating lobs, floaters, catch-and-shoot opportunities, and a flurry of Mitchell threes. The deathblow came when Mitchell, feeling himself, launched a quick three that banked in and put the Cavs up 20. That was that. The Raptors were unable to contain Garland and Mitchell, but they also lacked the firepower to make the game a shootout.

The team’s offense has looked a bit lost these past couple games without VanVleet (we are all craving more of the Fred-Yak pick and roll combo). With Trent ice cold (2/13 shooting) and Anunoby fading into the background (seven FG attempts), anything less than stellar play from Siakam and Barnes just wasn’t going to cut it. Nick Nurse threw Joe Wieskamp onto the court to get some shooting, but Wieskamp missed his attempts, and the team’s dearth of shooting was not solved. (A fun side note: more good Jeff Dowtin minutes!)

The Cavs took a commanding 30-point lead just a few minutes into the fourth quarter, prompting Nurse to sub Malachi Flynn and Thad Young into the game — before inexplicably putting the starters-minus-Trent back in for another five minutes. I guess the players need to meet their (minutes) averages?

On the heels of the team’s first four-game winning streak of the season, and with the fanbase still basking in the post-Poeltl trade vibes, this was a disappointing result. The Raptors looked helpless at times trying to set up their offense, and were short on outside shooting threats to open up the floor. The positive takeaway? Fred VanVleet will help with that when he returns.