Title: Raptors turn tables on Cavs, fans turn The Q into home court
Date: November 23, 2014
Original Source: Raptors Republic
Synopsis: This post-game broke down the Raptors’ Nov. 22 victory over the Cavaliers.
A game in Cleveland that began with the Cavaliers up 24-6 ended with a “Let’s Go Raptors” chant.
That’s more or less the story from Saturday night, which saw the Raptors make a pretty enormous statement to the rest of the league. Yes, the Cavaliers have been struggling a great deal and this will be looked at by some as a “quality win with an asterisk” like the Memphis victory on Wednesday. No, that shouldn’t matter much to the fanbase or the team after the gutsy performance Toronto put forth at The Q, aided by an incredible contingent of Raptors fans doing the rest of us proud on the road.
The Raptors trailed 24-6 a little over seven minutes into the game. They couldn’t find the Cavaliers anywhere on the defensive end, they were taking rushed shots with defenders draped on them, and they were getting pounded on the glass. No matter how early, an 18-point deficit is a daunting one to make up.
But, uhh, and I don’t know if you know this, the Raptors don’t really have any quit in them. Not only were they fourth-quarter beasts a season ago, and not only are they blowout proof (only the Clippers have lost fewer games by more than eight points between this year and last), but they’ve already tallied four double-digit comebacks on the season.
Sorry, make that five. Five double-digit comebacks on the season. Because from the point of 24-6 onward, the Raptors went on a 104-69 “run” that had the Cavs looking every bit as bad as they’ve been made out to have looked, and the Raptors looking every bit as good as their 11-2 record. 11-2!
It’s cliché to focus on intangible things like effort and commitment and drive and fortitude, but consistently coming back from deficits shows a great deal of each of those things. Stress for the long-run that the Raptors are finding themselves in such holes, especially those that have come against bad teams, but respect that this team is basically a living, breathing, cheesy John Cena promo.
It’s not hard to find examples of the Raptors fighting through their tough start, whereas the Cavaliers couldn’t muster a defense or a counterpunch when they got put against the ropes.
Problem: Down 11-2 on the glass, 2-0 on own window.
Resolution: Jonas Valanciunas woke up, and the team employed gang rebounding on the defensive end the rest of the way. The Raptors still lost the rebounding battle overall, but they neutralized what was a major early edge, and they did it by committee, with multiple bodies crashing from the wing on every miss. It can be a risky strategy, but it paid off for the most part.
Problem: DeMar DeRozan’s shot wasn’t falling, and he opened the game 0-of-4 and looking timid.
Resolution: DeRozan opted to take on more of a facilitator role, and while his three assists undersell his performance, passing off the bounce and attacking the rim helped him find a bit of a groove. He also picked it up on the defensive end, and though he’s simply not talented enough to contain LeBron James, he did an admirable job when tasked with trying to slow him down.
Problem: The offense couldn’t get anything going, shooting 2-of-13 to start.
Resolution: Ask Lou Williams to be absolutely everything and more. Seriously, check out some of these highlights (actually, check out Garrett’s quick reaction, too), and look at the final line.
A career-high 36 points on 9-of-19 shooting, 3-of-8 from long range and an obscene 15-of-15 from the free throw line. That’s the 10th-highest point total of the NBA season so far and the 12th-most free throw attempts, and he did it in 29 minutes of action. The Raptors were a plus-37 when he was on the floor. PLUS THIRTY SEVEN. He’s now averaging 25 points per-36 minutes off the bench and the Raptors are outscoring opponents by 21 points per-100 possessions with him on the floor. That is insane.
More insane? They got him – and Bebe Nogueira – as a salary dump for John Salmons. He’s a perfect example of why salary cap flexibility is about more than just signing a max contract player. John Salmons, ladies and gentlemen.
Part of getting the offense going was head coach Dwane Casey’s decision to try a relatively new look, playing Williams with Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez, giving the Raptors shooting and multiple ball-handlers, spreading out an undisciplined Cavaliers’ unit horizontally and vertically. This lineup had played seven minutes so far to a plus-7 result, and they went plus-12 in their five minutes together on Saturday. It’s hardly an option against every team, but it’s definitely a nice weapon to have when the offense is sputtering.
They also have the benefit of being able to get to the line at will, which can help keep an otherwise moribund offense afloat. The Raptors shot just 40 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent on threes, but they got to the line 42 times (and hit 38 freebies), with just eight turnovers. Ideally, the Raptors offense would be creating good looks at a higher volume, and the attack would be more balanced. Not every team is going to willingly foul, and the team is only average from the field and from long rang on the year, but the ability of Williams, DeRozan, and Lowry to get to the line – with sheer trickery, sheer force, and a mix of both, respectively – sets the floor fairly high.
Really, though, this game wasn’t all that much about tactics. I hate being this guy – I write a lot of analytics/advanced stats stuff, after all, and none of this is readily measurable or necessarily repeatable – but this game had a lot to do with mentality. LeBron has talked openly about the Cavaliers’ lack of effort, and head coach David Blatt has voiced concern over the team’s communication. This isn’t the first time they’ve wilted in a fight, nor is it the first time the Raptors have stepped up to the challenge, taken an opponent’s best punch, and kept on coming. The Raptors are just pesky like that, and after a full calendar year of showing as much, maybe that personality trait is significant.
A day from now, it will be worth going back and looking at how the Raptors got down so badly, and what teams can do to exploit those holes in the future. My first quarter notes are riddled with all-caps writing and angry shorthand (and Bruno doodles). The Raptors’ offense isn’t as good as second overall – though their defense may actually be top-six – and nobody is as good as 11-2. The schedule’s been friendly and home-heavy, and so on. Coming off a win like this – an 18-point comeback on the road against the Vegas favorites to win the NBA championship – that stuff can wait.
These Raptors are a damn treat to watch. It’s hard to imagine a team doing more to reward their growing fanbase’s passion and the number of people who have gotten on board over the past 12 months. There’s rarely a bad game, there’s never any quit, and the team may have just completed the most fun three-game stretch I can remember.
It’s good to be a Raptor fan right now. Let’s go Raptors, even in Cleveland.