What does 0-3 mean?
The Cavs, with this loss, are 0-3 on the season against Toronto. Opening night was a three point loss on the road and the game where Darius Garland was poked in the eye. Cleveland then lost in Toronto again on Nov. 28 in game where Donovan Mitchell was locked up OG Anunoby and the offense sputtered out.
Round three wasn’t like those other two. The Raptors were hot from three early and rode that energy to a lead. When Toronto came out shooting in the second half, J.B. Bickerstaff pulled his starters and went with a bench unit that made the game more competitive.
If there’s a throughline to the three losses, it’s that the Cavs had some trouble against the Raptors’ style of play. What Toronto does — play physical basketball, play fast, take a bunch of three-pointers, all while playing smaller lineups — has given Cleveland fits. There’s no way around it.
But is it a style the Cavs’ can’t overcome? No. But there are lessons to be learned from these losses as Cleveland moves forward. These two teams will play again in late February, so let’s see how round four looks. Adjustments need to be made for the Cavs to play well against this brand of basketball.
Pulling the plug
Credit to Bickerstaff for this: Pulling the plug on the starting lineup early in the second and doing a full line change was the right move. The Cavs at that point looked dead in the water. That was the only move that worked up until that point. It didn’t get Cleveland the win, but it seemed to send the right message.
- I find myself watching Cavs-Raptors games and wonder how Ricky Rubio would help Cleveland in this matchup. Another comfortable ball handler who can hold up defense — Rubio, in case you forgot, made a lot of his impact on defense last year pre ACL tear — feels like something that would help.
- Isaac Okoro again had a positive game on both ends. He had 7 points in the first quarter before exited due to foul trouble. He came back later and let his threes fly from the corner. Let’s see if this holds. But his last few games have been promising.
- Lamar Stevens has a use for Cleveland — he’s one of their few three/four combo types who can guard bigger combo forwards. He plays hard and has a knack for cutting into the lane and finding space. But his fit with the starters — which Bickerstaff turned to in the beginning of the fourth quarter — leaves the court cramped. It’s also a tight fit when he shares the floor with Isaac Okoro.
Up next: The Cavs host the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.