For the first time – maybe ever – the Raptors went down big against a loaded, hungry team and you felt like, ‘They’ll be fine, this one is a long way from over.’ And if you said that, you were right. Forget, for a second, that Cleveland is deeply flawed – two defensive stiffs in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, no rim protection and bad chemistry – the Cavs came in feeling embarrassed and desperate for a win and came out like prime Mike Tyson, hammering away at the Raptors. But Dwane Casey had his charges well-prepared for the carnage and like the former Cassius Clay, Toronto rope-a-doped, took all the hits, turned the tables and came back to manage a decisive victory (that’s it for the boxing analogies, I promise).
- Lou Williams was the star of the game, thanks to his ridiculous performance, Williams had a career-high 36 points, was +37 and hit more buzzer-beaters. What a pickup Williams has been. He gives the Raptors a badly needed closer (I borrowed a line from Glengarry Glen Ross – Coffee is for closers and it will be my new tag-line for Williams) and has been far better defensively than anybody expected. The bench has gone from a weakness last year – particularly at backup shooting guard – to a huge strength.
- Once again, Chuck Hayes made a big difference. He helped steady the Raptors, played his typically excellent defence, boxed out and helped shift things around.
- Have to credit DeMar DeRozan for shaking off one of his worst starts to a game this season (his shot selection was awful early, he kept throwing the ball to the wrong team …) and rallying to end up with at least a close to respectable offensive night (he was 1-for-8 with three turnovers in the first half, 6-for-10, with four rebounds and no turnovers from there). And the bigger story was DeRozan’s strong defence, particularly on LeBron James. If he’s turned a corner at that end, the Raptors are in great shape. DeRozan used his athleticism and size to stay in front of James better than most of his teammates had been doing and ad least made things a bit difficult for the four-time MVP, who had looked like Magic Johnson in the first quarter.
- Yes, that was the barely 6-foot tall Kyle Lowry stepping in and taking a charge on the freight train that is James and living to tell about it. That was another turning point in the game. These Raptors are tough, gritty, resilient and talented. A winning combination, especially in the East.
- The wandering band of Raptors fans was something to see. They were noisier than the rest of the arena combined at many points and had the Raptors raving about them. By now, most of the NBA has become aware that this is one of the most vocal and dedicated fanbases in the entire league.
- Liked many things Casey did on Saturday including: Letting Lowry play through early foul trouble; Giving DeRozan the job of guarding LeBron; Rolling with Hayes; Telling the Raptors to go at Irving, perhaps the worst defender in the entire NBA (as well as Joe Harris); Continuing to give Williams the green light to close quarters and more
- The usual stats dump: Raptors beat LeBron on road for first time since 2004; Record fifth double-digit comeback victory this season tops in the NBA; The Raptors shot 38.1% in the second half – and won; Raptors now second in free throw attempts and makes, just 25th in rebounding and assists per game, second in fewest turnovers and in offensive rating, first in point differential, sixth in defensive rating, fourth in simple rating which takes into account point differential and strength of schedule and seventh in true shooting percentage. The Raptors don’t have much to do with this stat, since they aren’t the ones shooting, but opponents have hit just 67.7% of their free throws against them so far this season, the worst mark in the NBA.
- One more weird one: Terrence Ross was one of the NBA leaders last season, hitting over 47.4% of his three-point attempts from the left corner. This year, he has started just 4-for-15 (26.7%) from there.