After head coach Dwane Casey stressed the importance of getting off to a good start during the pregame shootaround, the Toronto Raptors stumbled out of the gate against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, and learned that when you play with fire, you’re eventually going to get burned.
Instead of earning their league-leading 11th win when trailing after three quarters, it seemed as if Casey’s concerns were being acted out by the young Raptors during the 102-100 loss to Cleveland, and when combined with poor team shooting, DeMar DeRozan‘s disappearing act in the first half and being out-rebounded, Toronto dug a hole it couldn’t escape from.
When DeRozan was out of rhythm in the first half, not even Kyle Lowry‘s heroics were enough to close the gap against a team they needed to beat in order to gain some breathing room in the Eastern Conference. And as usual, when DeRozan and Lowry were either on the pine or struggling, the Raptors’ offense was noticeably stagnant until late in the game.
Despite the fact that Lowry has now totalled at least 20 points in nine of his last 10 games, a stomach illness limited the birthday boy in the second half, and Greivis Vasquez again proved his worth by hitting several huge shots that allowed the Raptors back into the game. However, fans can only hope that the ill-advised pass Vasquez threw directly at his opponents which sealed the deal for Cleveland doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the valuable point guard.
From the free throw line, the Raptors went just 16-of-26, which included a costly miss from DeRozan with less than eight seconds remaining in regulation. From the field, Toronto was just 35-of-88 for 39.8 percent only a game removed from Sunday’s win, in which they hit a mediocre 42.5 percent of their attempts.
Against a team filled with size and quality rebounders, Jonas Valanciunas finished with only four points and three boards when the Raptors desperately needed the center to post a repeat performance of the 13-point, 13-rebound outing he had during Sunday’s comeback win.
While Toronto continues to suffer from wounds that are mainly self-inflicted, there were some positives such as the 16 points Vasquez scored off the bench, the defensive presence provided by Steve Novak, and the fact that the Raptors won the turnover battle.
But if Toronto can’t stop shooting themselves in the foot from the free throw line and beyond the arc while getting little more than Vasquez’ offensive production from the bench, how exactly are they supposed to get past the first round of the playoffs?