Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 117-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
One — Romp: The Raptors capped off the best calendar year in franchise history with a professional effort. It doesn’t take much to beat a hopeless side like the Cleveland Cavaliers that threw at least three passes out of bounds for seemingly no reason, but it was still encouraging to see the Raptors handle their business. The game was never in doubt, as the Raptors improved to 17-0 against under .500 teams.
Two — Exciting: Terence Davis atoned for his brain fart at the conclusion of the Oklahoma City Thunder game by matching his career-high with 19 points. Davis came alive in the fourth quarter, where he poured in 14 points to help the Raptors close out the win in style. Davis had the play of the night as he caught a pass from Kyle Lowry off a curl and hammered home a two-handed flush in traffic.
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Three — Connection: Davis and Fred VanVleet make for an excellent pairing. VanVleet found Davis three times on drive-and-kick plays for three in the fourth quarter, while Davis also kicked it to VanVleet in the first for a triple of his own. VanVleet took Davis under his wing in the offseason, helping him both on and off the court, and Davis speaks the world of his mentor.
Four — Curious: Nick Nurse made the surprise announcement shortly before tip-off that OG Anunoby would be replaced in the starting lineup by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Anunoby started every game of the season (outside of missing time with an eye injury) but he had struggled of late. Nurse said after the game that it’s not a form of discipline for Anunoby, nor is the decision permanent, but it seemed to have sparked both players. Hollis-Jefferson cut down on fouls and turnovers, while Anunoby made two threes and finished with a stat line of 12 points, seven rebounds, and four assists off the bench.
Five — Confidence: For his part, Anunoby responded positively to the temporary demotion. Instead of getting down on himself, Anunoby was more assertive and returned to his form to start the season by knocking down open shots and by making smart reads on offense. Anunoby even hustled back to break up a 3-on-1 fast break after a rare mistake on offense. If he continues like he did tonight, then Anunoby will be back in the starting lineup in no time.
Six — Efficient: Nurse was excellent in his game management. The Raptors had the ball after a timeout on six occasions, and five times the Raptors scored thanks in large part to brilliant playcalling by Nurse. Anunoby scored on a post up, Serge Ibaka finished two dunks and converted a pair of free throws, and in the fourth, Nurse rode the hot hand by calling a slick play to generate an open corner three for Davis.
Seven — Assistance: Ibaka was saddled with the arduous task of keeping Tristan Thompson off the glass, but he wasn’t alone. Thompson collected four offensive rebounds, but the Raptors’ guards did a great job of sending extra bodies to help Ibaka corral missed shots. On the other end, Ibaka roasted Thompson in pick-and-roll situations, as he finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting from the field.
Eight — Masterful: Kyle Lowry finished with 24 points and eight assists without breaking a sweat. Lowry has been excellent of late in the midrange area, where he has been able to create his own shot against defenses that have looked to run him off the three-point line while also taking away the paint. The midrange shot used to be a major feature of Lowry’s game, but the advent of analytics and the geometry of playing with DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard forced him into more of an outside shooter. But now that he’s been called upon to pick up more of the scoring, Lowry is back to hunting his shot from everywhere on the floor.
Nine — General: In addition to leading the offense, Lowry was vocal as a leader. He corrected Davis after the rookie overplayed a passing lane which led to a breakdown in the defense, Lowry urged Hollis-Jefferson to settle down after a wild turnover, and he correctly prompted Nurse to challenge an erroneous call in the third quarter where Lowry cleanly stripped the ball to stop a fast break.
Ten — Perspective: The Raptors started the decade as nobodies. In the first three seasons of the decade, the Raptors won a combined 79 games and never came close to sniffing the playoffs. In the calendar year of 2019, the Raptors recorded 70 wins and won the first championship in franchise history. They have come a long, long way as a franchise, and the turn of the decade is as good of a time as any to reflect on the journey. Lowry and Masai Ujiri have taken this franchise to unimaginable heights, and every Raptors fan should be grateful for their contributions.
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