The Cleveland Cavaliers traveled home after defeating the Brooklyn Nets Thursday night only to find a bunch of angry Raptors. The Toronto Raptors were hungry for revenge and came out strong against the Cavs.
The Raps received strong performances early on from Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross as well as significant contributions from Landry Fields (somehow) and James Johnson. The Cavs provided the fuel for the Raptors fire with some horrible defense and apathetic offense.
The Cavs allowed the Raps to get out to a double digit lead and failed to consistently get the stops needed to regain control of the game. Miraculously, the Cavs were down only 7 points heading into the fourth quarter. In the fourth, the Cavs defense and some guy named LeBron took over and brutalized the Raps. They got Toronto into early foul trouble and forced them to settle for midrange jumpers and tough turnarounds. The Cavs pulled ahead for good when LeBron hit a massive three from the top of the arc. A five second call and a Terrence Ross steal/ dunk gave Toronto a brief glimmer of life, but Kyrie Irving iced the game at the free throw line.
The last time the Raptors were in Cleveland, LeBron called the team "fragile". A whole lot has changed since then, and the Cavs continue to their evolution into the team everybody thought they would be.
Thoughts from the game:
- The Cavs defense in the first half was abysmal. They failed to contain limited offensive players like Landry Fields and James Johnson and allowed far too many easy buckets in transition.
- LeBron James was spectacular tonight. He was clearly hungry for a win tonight, and unfortunately he appeared to be the only one that wasn't lethargic at times. His breakaway dunk in the second quarter was shades of vintage L-Train. He finished with 35 points on the night and was all-around great. LeBron is really good at basketball and there aren't many creative ways left to express that sentiment.
- Anderson Varejao and, to a lesser extent, Tristan Thompson did not have great defensive games. Jonas Valanciunas had a field day early on and the interior defense looked lackadaisical at times. The Cavs can't afford to have poor efforts out of them on defense with a roster full of mediocre defenders. But no matter how bad they were, Kevin Love was even worse. Tonight was probably the most disinterested that I've seen him on defense and it was incredibly evident. #CancelHighHedging
- That being said, Tristan Thompson did have a much better effort defensively in the fourth quarter and locked down Kyle Lowry in the closing minute of the game. He struggled with his positioning and the size of Valanciunas at times, but if there's one thing we can count on from Tristan, it's that he will never quit.
- The Cavs bench got a solid boost from Dion Waiters for the second game in a row. He finished with 18 points on 7-10 shooting. While David Blatt did not go to him in the second half (other than a weird substitution with 14 seconds left), he helped keep the Cavs within striking range.
- The Cavs, uncharacteristically, were outrebounded by the Raptors. Toronto is typically one of the poorer rebounding teams in the league, yet they allowed Jonas Valanciunas to collect 15 rebounds on the night. Weird night, but it was largely due to poor positioning for the majority of the game.
- It appears Kyrie Irving might be in a little bit of a shooting slump. He didn't shoot the ball particularly well in Brooklyn and went 5-12 for 13 points against Toronto. The nice thing is, he is no longer forcing it when things aren't going his way and only took shots within the flow of the offense. He still had a positive impact on the night and finished with 10 assists. It's a lot of fun watching him grow up.
- EDIT/LATE ADDITION: Matthew Dellavedova had a huge impact on this game. The Toronto broadcast crew made note of how great of a find Delly was for the Cavs and they were on the money. He brings a lot to the table despite his limitations. It's great to have him back.