This game was close. The Cavs were struggling to defend, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were getting where they wanted on the floor and hitting jump shots, and the Cavs suffered several communication lapses in the first half and through the third quarter.
And then Kyrie Irving happened.
Really, he happened for the entire game. But in a crucial stretch to start the fourth quarter with LeBron James waiting on the bench to enter the game and make his mark, Kyrie Irving took over. A three pointer here. An impossible drive and finish there. A dish to Timofey Mozgov there. An offensive rebound and free throws that he, of course, converted. Iman Shumpert spotting up for three while Irving pushed in transition. Whether it was Tristan Thompson or Kevin Love setting the screens, Irving navigated them and made the Toronto Raptors pay.
By the time he left the game, LeBron James had only left his seat to celebrate Cavs baskets and welcome Irving to the bench while the fans at Quicken Loans Arena signaled their appreciation. 25 points on 16 shots, eight assists, six rebounds, one turnover. A plus-22 during his 29 minutes. Not bad.
Your Cleveland Cavaliers 122, the Toronto Raptors 100.
The Cavs withstood solid offensive performances from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. It seemed as though J.R. Smith and Kevin Love struggled defensively at various points of the game, but both provided more than enough in other areas to make themselves valuable. Smith hit eight three-pointers, which equals the 24 points he finished with. Kevin Love filled up the stat sheet with three blocks, two assists, and two steals to go with his 14 points and nine rebounds. Pretty good. The Cavs will take their performances every time.
For Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, it was a tale of two halves. Thompson played extremely well in the first half, ultimately finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds. Thompson subbed out for Mozgov with 10 minutes in the 4th quarter, and I'm sure David Blatt felt that Thompson would need to return at some point. Not so. Mozgov helped defensively, and Thompson spent the quarter cheering with James and the rest of the Cavs.
Dellavedova was ... not good at all in the first half and for stretches of the third quarter. He found his way to making a positive impact though, scoring a ton of points late and being a part of the Cavs big run to put the game away. It wasn't his best game overall, but it's the sign of an improving player to be a positive performer even when you're not at your best.
LeBron James played in this basketball game, and he was incredibly efficient. 20 points on 11 shots, seven assists to two turnovers, and three steals. The Cavs going on their run and relying on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with James in a secondary role or on the bench is key to how long this team will be able to contend. If they can't do that, extending James' prime becomes paramount. If Irving and Love can carry the team and James fades to support role over the next half decade, the Cavs will be contenders for a long time.
Regardless, the trend of James' usage going down next to Kyrie Irving is positive, and continued tonight. We'll see you Wednesday night for the Wizards.