The Toronto Raptors (25-35) squared off against an Irving-less Cleveland Cavaliers (20-38) team last night (Feb.27), only to disappoint their fans by dropping an extremely important and winnable game by a final score of 103-92.
The newly formed Raptors should have had no problem taking control of a a Cleveland team playing on back-to-back nights without their best player, but that wasn't the case. After the Toronto starters did well in establishing the tone to build a 14-point first quarter lead, the bench came in to promptly give it all back and then some. They did nothing to maintain the momentum generated by the starting unit, as the defense was non existent and the offense was stagnant. They made Cavs' reserve forward Luke Walton look like Steve Nash, watching him shred their defense with ease. The 32-year old finished with a team high seven assists, and was a big reason why the Cavs bench made a huge run to take over the game. That's right people, Luke Walton was the X-factor.
The Raptors gave up a season high for points in a quarter in the second, allowing Cleveland to drop 37 on 71.4% shooting. How is that even possible? It wasn't all Alan Anderson's fault, but he was a minus 27 for the game. Let me repeat, a minus 27. He looked completely lost out there, both defensively and offensively. John Lucas couldn't get anything going either, as he resorted to dribbling the ball around for a while, only to pass the rock to a Raptor who was in no position to score. Oh yea, did I mention the 7 foot Italian? He scored zero points for the third time in the last four games, and added one measly rebound. Now that's impressive. No one expects the guy to come in and grab multiple rebounds while being a defensive stopper, but he's supposed to have some offensive kick, and at this point that has completely disappeared. You can call it a lack of confidence, or maybe he just eats to much Primo pasta and sauce. I don't know. But this leads me to question why in God's name Casey chose to roll with Bargnani late in the game? He wasn't rotating on defense, and allowed several easy layups because of it. Is it just me, or was Valanciunas not an intrical part in the Raptors early game success? The rookie finished with five points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and a steal in 24 minutes. Not to mention the fact that he finished a Raptors best +14. Now, plus-minus isn't the best stat in basketball, but Valanciunas' presence in the post with Amir Johnson caused all sorts of issues for the Cavaliers in the early going. Why not stick with that to end the game? It seems like no matter what this kid does, he can never get more than 25 minutes of playing time. There are many questions to be asked, and Dwane Casey didn't lose this game for the Raptors, but it would have been nice to see him make some different decisions. How he felt Bargnani deserved crunch time minutes, I wont understand, especially when he provided no defense to go along with his ZERO points.
On the bright side, DeMar DeRozan continued his recent tear, finishing with a 34 points on 10-19 shooting. He also converted a staggering 14 of 15 free throws. Unfortunately, his counterpart Dion Waiters finished with a team-high 23 points and six assists. I know Waiters has been on fire recently and is very talented, but DeRozan's inabilitiy to make it difficult for him to get in a groove was discouraging. Casey even decided to switch Lowry onto Waiters at points in the game, since DeRozan was having no success. As I mentioned in a previous post, this has to be an area of his game that DeRozan focuses on improving in order to become a more dynamic player, especially now that his offense has become more consistent (although he still cant hit a three pointer or dribble). Amir Johnson was solid as always, playing great help defense and contesting shots, while adding some buckets when he had the chance. He finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks.
The Raptors have successfully buried any chance they had at reaching the postseason with losses in their last two games, especially considering that the Milwaukee Bucks took full advantage of their woes by winning both of their games in the same time period. The Bucks are now a full six games ahead of the Raptors, and it will take a minor miracle for the Raptors to catch them.
- The Raptors are in desperate need of a three-point shooter who can space the floor. They were just 2 for 20 from beyond the arc in the loss. One can't help but question their decision making in the fourth quarter, when they inexplicably chucked up multiple threes even though they hadn't been dropping since the get-go. This speaks to the leadership on the team, something missing since Jose's departure.
- Rudy Gay can't shoot. He has a baseline fade away that seems to drop for him, but other than that there's nothing there. Moreover, he needs to learn how to pass the ball, especially out of a double team.
- The Raptors desperately need some depth in the front court, and one of either Valanciunas or Johnson should be on the court at all times for the time being.
- Please, no more Primo Pasta commercials, its getting impossible to stomach. I can't take it.
Be sure to check back soon for more Raptors news and analysis.
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