1) The three is the key
The Raptors allowed 17 threes on Monday, just one off the Cavaliers’ season high of 18. Giving up over 50 per cent from three-point range (the Cavs were 17-of-33 from three) is unacceptable unless you’re playing against the Golden State Warriors. All eight of J.R. Smith’s field goals were from behind the arc.
2) Keep it 100
Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler famously has coined “Lawler’s Law,” which means that, in his opinion, the first team to 100 always wins. In Toronto, the Raptors’ law is the only team to 100 wins. No matter how well the Raptors play offensively, if they give up 100 on defence, they generally lose. The Raptors are 19-3 when they keep opponents under 100. The Cavs’ starters alone had 99 points Monday, while Cleveland scored 30-plus points in all but one quarter.
3) Third Q the difference in the Q
The third quarter was another rough one for the Raptors, who were outscored 32-22 in the frame. Cleveland went on a 21-9 run to close out the quarter, giving the Cavs a 12-point cushion going into the fourth after the game was once tied at 69. That led to the Cavs besting the Raptors 64-44 in the second half. LeBron had nine of his 20 in the third frame and was able to rest down the stretch.
4) Killer Kyrie
Watch out NBA, Kyrie Irving is starting to look like his former self. Irving got to wherever he wanted on the court with a season-high 25 points to go with eight assists and was a game-high plus-23. The Raptors came into the game second in the NBA in opposing PG field-goal percentage, so Irving going off is impressive. The Cavaliers are now 5-1 with Irving in the lineup this season, with the only loss coming to the Warriors. Irving probably doesn’t deserve the controversial NBA East fan vote as an all-star starter over Kyle Lowry (who had 23 and 10 assists in the loss), but the Cavs point guard sure played like an all-star Monday night.
5) The New 5
The Cavs have inserted traditional power forward Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup at centre instead of Timofy Mozgov. Mozgov was exposed in the NBA Finals against Golden State and was rendered virtually useless in the second half of the series when the Warriors decided to sit their own back-to-the-basket centre in Andrew Bogut to further expose Mozgov.
Thompson had been in the Cavs’ closing lineup, but now they’ve decided to make the switch from the start of games. Why does this matter? It shows that the game is getting smaller, not just with two-point guard lineups and stretch fours, but with athletic 5’s. Historically size matters in basketball, but the dominance of teams using 1-5 pick-and-rolls and forcing big lumbering centres to come away from the basket and switch on pick-and-rolls has meant that athletic big men who can move their feet are now the valued commodities. The Canadian Thompson is one of the best in the league at it. It’s the reason Draymond Green is the most valuable defender in the NBA when he plays at the 5. It’s why the Spurs were willing to give up Tiago Splitter so they could keep Boris Diaw.
What does this trend mean for the Raptors? It could mean we see more Bismack Biyombo and less Jonas Valanciunas as the season goes on. Biyombo was the only Raptor with a positive plus/minus with a plus-2 to go with 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting in just 18 minutes of play. Valanciunas had nine points and was a game worst minus-20 in 27 minutes. His opposing centre Tristan Thompson was plus-12 with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting and 11 rebounds. Thompson proved an athletic big who can move his feet on the perimeter defensively, be an elite rebounder and make an open shot in the paint can make big money on the free agent market.
Biyombo was a beast in JV’s absence and the Raptors will have to weigh how much the Lithuanian’s offensive touch is needed in relation to the Zaire native’s defensive prowess in the shrinking NBA landscape.
Super Stat — King Reigns Supreme
The Raptors have not won consecutive games against a LeBron James-led team since his rookie season in 2003-04.