Finally, a non-horrible start to a game. Progress? Maybe. Toronto didn’t get off to a good start on Tuesday in Cleveland, but it wasn’t a bad one either. And the team got it together in a first quarter for the first time in a while to take a six-point lead into the break.
In a reversal of recent fortunes, the league’s top second half team got outscored by seven in the third, before springing to life in the fourth.
- The team would probably prefer Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to be less streaky, but when they’ve been on, they’ve been scorching. Quarters of 15 or so points are becoming routine lately for Toronto’s all-star caliber backcourt. I talked about DeRozan’s remarkable improvement as a playmaker here and he put up his 16th game of the season with five or more assists. Remarkably, it was the eighth time he did it without committing a single turnover.
- It wasn’t just their offence that helped the Raptors win for the 32nd time – two off of last season’s win total. Lowry took a massive charge late on Kyrie Irving and DeRozan made a key steal to finish off the Cavs, a .500 team at home heading in.
- Coaches don’t like it, but lulls happen nearly every game. It wasn’t at the start this time, but it came after a 15-0 run in the second quarter put the Raptors firmly in front 29-17. Cleveland managed to outscore Toronto 24-18 from there to crawl back within striking distance. It got worse for Toronto when the rare bad third quarter start took place.
- Greivis Vasquez gave the Raptors some much-needed secondary scoring. With Lowry struggling with his jumper and the rest of the bench AWOL (save for Tyler Hansbrough), every one of the 15 points Vasquez scored were helpful. He was the only Raptor going when Cleveland closed the gap in the second.
- Some areas for concern for the Raptors: Outscored 40-32 in the paint; Eleven combined turnovers by Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson; No impact from Jonas Valanciunas, who dominated against these same Cavs last time out, but was benched for most of the second half in this one.
- Another one: Lowry’s shooting just 26% from three over his past 10 games and 38% overall. He’s shot just 35% over his past four. Still, he had nine assists and no turnovers, plus that huge charge taken on Irving.
“You’re not going to have a great game offensively all the time, so I tried to do other things. That’s how you’ve got to play. I just tried to get everyone in spots where they could be successful by attacking all night,” Lowry said afterward.
- Not a concern: The play of DeRozan. He’s averaging 23.7 points over his past three, along with 5.0 assists, just 2.0 turnovers and shooting 46.4%j from the field. In those three games, DeRozan has averaged 15 points on 53.1% shooting in the second half.
- Really liked what I saw from Brampton’s Anthony Bennett in Toronto last week, but that didn’t carry over into this one. Bennett had a rough start, airballing an easy shot and getting lost a couple of times on defence. Still, he’s one of the youngest players in the league and is only now getting back into top shape and getting consistent minutes. He’s a rookie, doing rookie things. Write him off now and look foolish later.
- Tristan Thompson continues to play well. One more rebound in this game and Friday’s against Toronto and he’d be on a seven game streak of double-doubles.
- Toronto stayed 1.5 games ahead of Chicago and picked up another half game over Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division lead. This is the first time the team has been seven games over .500 in six years. Toronto beat Washington Feb. 20th, 2010, to move seven games over .500 and hadn’t been there since.