One day after one of their best performances of the season, the Toronto Raptors followed it up with one of their worst.
Toronto is used to being blown out by the Cleveland Cavaliers late in the season but with LeBron James now in the Western Conference, this year was supposed to be different. The Raptors were down four at the half, trailed by 14 after three, and ended up losing by 25.
With the loss, Toronto falls to 48-20 on the season while Cleveland improves to 17-50. LeBron’s new team, the Los Angeles Lakers, are up next to face a Raptors squad who head home not sure who will be available for their next outing due to health and suspension.
Here are six takeaways from the Raptors’ lacklustre effort in Ohio.
The offence wasn’t the issue on this night, it was the defence. For reference, Cleveland ranks 29th (second-worst) in field goal percentage, 29th in scoring and 28th in assists. The Cavs scored 59 first-half points aided by 13 points off 11 Toronto turnovers.
The main defensive miscues came guarding the three-point line where Cleveland added another 54 points for the entire game to mark the Cavaliers’ 13th straight game where they’ve made 10 or more threes. Cleveland came in averaging 103.7 points but finished with 126 on Monday night.
The Raptors actually shot a better percentage from the field, hitting on 47.6 per cent of their shots in comparison to Cleveland’s 46.8 per cent. The Cavs, however, made seven more three-pointers (18) and 10 more free throws (20) and had seven more assists (27).
The inability to get to the line and draw a foul and guard without fouling was paramount. The Cavs shot 13-of-14 from free-throw line in the first half while the Raptors on the other hand were just 4-for-8. Toronto’s ninth and 10th free throws didn’t come until Pascal Siakam stepped to the line with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
The one plausible excuse for Toronto is they did travel after playing in Miami the day before. Toronto has had a professional approach on short rest this year so they should be given the benefit of the doubt. Toronto now falls to 8-3 on the second night of back-to-backs. Only the Denver Nuggets have a better record on second night of back-to-back games with an 8-1 record.
When the two big men got tangled up on a full-court outlet pass, Chriss said something to Ibaka, who had fallen to the ground. The two had already been jawing at each other for a couple of possessions. Ibaka took exception on this occasion, got up, grabbed him by the throat and pinned Chriss against the basket stanchion. Chriss then threw a punch which Ibaka quickly countered before the two were separated.
Ibaka will certainly be suspended which will act as his pre-postseason load management. Since Ibaka is a repeat offender, he’ll likely miss 3-5 games. This is Ibaka’s fourth suspension in his two years with Toronto, all of which were for physical altercations. Three took place on the court and the other was with a team staff member.
With Serge Ibaka out indefinitely, there are two roster spots open. Marc Gasol and Chris Boucher are the only true centres left on the roster.
Few threes but decent offence
Toronto’s offence wasn’t great but it was far from their biggest issue. Kawhi Leonard racked up his sixth straight 20-point game as he finished with 25 points and nine rebounds. He was one of the just three Raptors in double-figures after eight Raptors scored in double-figures on Sunday when Leonard sat out. Toronto was just 11-for-39 from three-point range one night after tying the franchise mark for threes in a game with 21. Toronto has scored over 100 points in 14 of their last 15 games and lost just three times during that streak.
Lowry tweaked his ankle in the fourth quarter and was taken out of the game before going back to the locker room with Director of Sports Science Alex McKechnie. Post-game, Lowry and Nick Nurse said he was fine and was removed for precautionary reasons given the score.
Raptors have a day off Tuesday after the back-to-back. They don’t play until they host the L.A. Lakers on Thursday and then go to Detroit for a short trip on Sunday. Toronto has the second-easiest schedule in the league the rest of the way.