The Toronto Raptors visited Cleveland on Tuesday night in a rematch of Friday’s game against the Cavaliers and while the game played out slightly differently, the end result was the same. The Raptors put another one in the win column 99-93. This was win number 32 for the Raptors, tying the most wins in franchise history before March, but Head Coach Dwane Casey wasn’t showing any signs of letting up.
“All of our games are grind it out,” Casey said. “We are nowhere near where we can walk into a game and expect to win. Every game is a grind. We have to come in with the attitude of a desperate team, a hungry team every time because we haven’t done anything.”
Terrence Ross started out hot for the Raptors with 8 first quarter points on 3-4 shooting and DeRozan scorched Cleveland with 16 points in the final frame including 7 points in the last 2.5 minutes. The deciding play coming on a DeRozan theft of a bullet pass by Spencer Hawes to Tyler Zeller with 31 seconds remaining that Toronto’s All-Star turned into 2 made free throws after getting fouled by Luol Deng to put the Raptors up by 5 points. This game was closer than the score.
The Raptors got behind 7-2 early after missing 3 shots in a row, but after that, they stepped up their defense and focused, holding the Cavaliers to 28 percent shooting in the first quarter and taking a 23-17 lead. Toronto built their lead to 14 points in the second quarter, but started to blow it with some untimely turnovers. Ross coughed up the ball 3 times in under a minute at the end of the quarter to allow the Cavaliers to climb back to 47-41 at the half.
“Once we got that lead, we kind of got back on our heels and relaxed,” Casey said. “They turned up their aggression and they played desperate.”
The Raptors got out to an uncharacteristically slow start in the second half and the Cavaliers took advantage by taking an early lead and trading baskets with Toronto until the quarter ended with Cleveland up by 1 point, 69-68. A made basket by Kyle Lowry with just over a minute to go was taken away on a shot clock violation upon review after the quarter had ended.
The Cavaliers led for most of the fourth quarter, but a three-pointer by Ross put the Raptors up 90-89 at the 3:01 mark and Toronto ramped up the defense to outscore Cleveland 9-4 the rest of the way. The rookie Matthew Dellavedova, who was 3-3 for 8 points in the fourth quarter, was singled out by Coach Casey as being particularly effective for the Cavaliers.
“Dellavedova, I tell you what, he was all over us,” Casey said. “He was a one-man press.”
The highlights of the game were the impressive driving dunks by DeRozan and Ross and the miracle shots under the rim and unbelievable ball handling of Kyrie Irving, but Toronto won this game by holding Cleveland to just 40.5 percent shooting from the field. It was defense – period, end of story – that made the difference.
When the Raptors stepped up their defensive intensity during this game, the Cavaliers couldn’t score. In the first half, the reason Cleveland fell behind was they missed 14 consecutive shots. In the final 1:39, Irving went 0-4 and turned the ball over on a charge.
DeRozan led all scorers with 33 points. Ross finished with 19 points and Greivis Vasquez came off the bench to score 15 points. Lowry had 13 points and 9 assists, but shot 0-9 from three-point range, however, he drew the offensive foul on Irving in the dying moments of the game.
“That was one example of a guy not letting his offense dictate his defense,” Casey said. “0-9 from three and he had some wide open looks and that’s not normally Kyle (Lowry), but he came in and gave some charges, was aggressive and got the ball where it was supposed to go.”
Irving led the Cavaliers with 25 points and Spencer Hawes got 15 points in his first start for Cleveland. Deng struggled mightily scoring just 8 points on 3-14 shooting and the combination of Irving, Hawes and Deng was held to 19-48 or 39.6 percent from the field.
This game was tied 12 times and the lead changed hands 15 times, but at the end, the Cavaliers didn’t have an answer for the Raptors defense.
It doesn’t get any easier for Cleveland as they start a 3 game Western Conference road trip in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
The Raptors return home to face the Wizards on Thursday. If Toronto wins, they will set a new franchise mark for the most wins before March with 33. The Raptors only won 34 games last season.
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Toronto Raptors Flirting With Franchise History
As the Toronto Raptors head into Cleveland on Tuesday night, the focus remains one game at a time, but in reality, the team is flirting with the best record in franchise history at the end of February. Toronto has never won 33 games before March and with 31 wins and games against the Cavaliers and Wizards remaining before the end of the month, there is a real possibility they could get there.