“One of 82,” “just another game,” and just about any other cliché you can think of to downplay this game was tossed around back and forth going into, and even coming out of, the rubber match between the Eastern Conference’s two best teams. However, despite the verbal façade put up by both sides, LeBron James and Kyle Lowry both played over 40 minutes, including every second of the second half, in a battle to take a step forward in their pursuit of the #1 seed in the East. Friday’s matchup was perhaps a chance to gain a psychological advantage for a potential playoff matchup a few months from now.
That lead eventually became 11-4 before Patrick Patterson was subbed in for Scola, which turned the tide in favor of the Raptors. This unit of Valanciunas-Patterson-Johnson-DeRozan-Lowry brought the Raptors within two points before Dwane Casey began substituting that group out. Cleveland subsequently pushed the lead to 10 at the end of the first quarter.
After shooting 38% as a team in the first quarter, Toronto put on a 12-for-17 performance in the second, highlighted by Bismack Biyombo’s 10 points. Biyombo compliments both Lowry and Cory Joseph well, as he showed effectiveness in the pick-and-roll and simply exploiting the holes in the defense created by penetration from Toronto’s guards.
The Raptors bench continued its destruction of opposing bench units, and was even able to give the Raptors their first lead of the game before Cleveland again opened up a double-digit lead in the second half, which eventually grew to 14. In fact, Cleveland was in control for much of the game before mental mistakes reared their ugly head for the Cavaliers yet again. On Friday it was Iman Shumpert being handed a technical foul in the fourth quarter that riled up the home crowd at Air Canada Centre and helped fuel the Raptors’ comeback.
Friday was a tough night all around for Shumpert as he had also drawn the defensive assignment of guarding Kyle Lowry (unsuccessfully) for three quarters and Lowry eventually finished with a career-high 43 points on 15-20 shooting, including a phenomenal game-winning step-back jumper.
At this point, Cleveland is still the favorite to win the East, and on a night where DeMar DeRozan had a season low six points, the Cavs had a chance to further solidify that notion. Instead, Cleveland’s lead for the #1 seed is only two games, Toronto holds the tiebreaker after taking 2 of 3 in the season series, and the Cavaliers continue to be hindered by bad habits and mental mistakes that have seemed to define them to this point in their pursuit of the historically dominant teams that stand in their way of a title.
Yes, the Cavs have issues, but so does every other team (except the Warriors) and if this game was any indicator of the weeks to come, we’re in for an exciting race between these two teams for the Eastern Conference title.