It seemed like the Toronto Raptors had forgotten how to play defense until their latest win.
A pair of teams coming off their best defensive efforts of the season get together Friday at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers have won eight straight overall and six in a row against the Raptors.
Cleveland (39-30) was the league’s fifth-best defensive team last season, using that along with James’ play to earn its first trip to the NBA finals. But the Cavaliers have allowed 4.5 more points on average this season, and even though they’re still in the league’s top 10 (97.4 per game), they’ve only sporadically displayed a similar defensive effort to those they typically turned in a season ago.
On Wednesday, however, Cleveland held Detroit - the team it beat last season in the Eastern Conference finals - to just 48 points after the first quarter en route to an 89-73 win. It was the lowest point total by a Cavaliers’ opponent this season.
“We took five steps forward, especially on the defensive end,” said James, who had 30 points. “We just locked down defensively. Everybody was on a string. We allowed them to only get one shot at the basket.”
The Raptors (35-33) have allowed only 97.1 points per game on the season, but heading into their most recent game they’d allowed an average of 109.6 over their last 11.
That changed on Wednesday, when Toronto limited Miami to 25.6 percent shooting in its 96-54 win. It was the largest margin of victory and the fewest points allowed in franchise history.
Though the injury-riddled Heat only had seven players, Chris Bosh - who returned to the Raptors’ lineup after missing 10 games with a knee injury - wasn’t about to offer any condolences.
“You don’t get anywhere in this world by having sympathy, especially not in the NBA,” Bosh said.
Toronto was 2-8 with Bosh out of the lineup.
Bosh, who averages 22.3 points, scored only eight in his first game back, but says he was more concerned about getting the job done defensively.
“I just want to bring concentration on the defensive end,” he said. “I know on the offensive end we are going to get looks and we are going to get shots.”
The Raptors will be happy to have Bosh back to face the Cavaliers. He’s averaging 28.3 points over his previous four games against Cleveland, but Toronto has lost each of those contests.
James, who leads the NBA with 30.9 points per game, has averaged 37.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists in his last three games against the Raptors. He scored a career-high 56 points in Toronto on March 20, 2005.
Like the Raptors, the Cavaliers recently got a star player back in the lineup. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.5 points per game, returned on Sunday after missing seven games with back spasms.
He had 20 points and eight rebounds against Detroit. Ilgauskas, however, is only averaging 7.6 points in his last five games against Toronto.
While the Cavaliers’ defense was at its best against the Pistons, it’s been excellent throughout the team’s home winning streak, yielding only 85.9 points per game during those eight wins.
Cleveland has won nine of its last 11 overall against Toronto.