Rival Watch: How U.S. media is reacting to Raptors’ loss to Cavs

LeBron James had 17 assists without a single turnover, and the Cleveland Cavaliers demolished the Toronto Raptors' 13-point lead in the third quarter to take this one 132-129.

There are no shortage of takeaways to be had following Wednesday’s thrilling 132-129 Toronto Raptors loss to the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

On the one hand, the Raptors coughed up a 15-point lead and were unable to close it out down the stretch once the Cavs made their comeback and began to assert themselves — a potentially troubling sign if you’re looking ahead to how these two teams may fare against one another come playoff time given that, after last night, Cleveland reminded why, despite the win-loss record, they’re still the team to beat in the East.

On the other, it took a historic night — literally — from the greatest player in the game today and one of the best to ever hit the hardwood to complete the comeback versus Toronto, which was playing on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. LeBron James‘ Herculean 35-point, 17-assist and zero-turnover performance is the only one of its kind.

So as you can imagine, reviews were mixed following an instant classic like we saw on Wednesday — a game that will surely be referenced regardless of the Raptors’ ultimate outcome this season. In the wake of the game let’s take a look at what some notable non-local media are saying about the Raps performance on Wednesday night:

ESPN — LeBron James, Cavaliers give Raptors something to think about

The Toronto Raptors have built a roster full of talented players who appear more poised than ever to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy in the coming months. But Wednesday night’s 132-129 loss to the Cavs offered another reminder that for all the stability and accomplishments Raptors coach Dwane Casey and his team have earned throughout this season, they still have to contend with the one player who has tortured them for years: LeBron James.

…In a scene all too familiar to the Raptors and their fans, James spearheaded a huge Cavs comeback in the second half after his team gave up a season-high 79 points in the first half. James hit crucial shots and made the biggest pass of the night, kicking it out to Kevin Love for a clutch 3-pointer with 27.5 seconds left that gave the Cavs a four-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Casey was hopeful that younger players such as Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam would learn from the experience of playing against James and apply that to potential games in the future, but James’ ability to take over is going to hover over the Raptors’ collective psyche until they find a way to beat him in the playoffs. Lowry seemed frustrated when asked about another quintessential James performance.

Skip Bayless doubles down — “They’re just the Raptors.”

Fox Sports’ talking head Skip Bayless drew the ire of plenty of Raptors fans and local media members alike earlier this week when he said the “baby dino’s” weren’t in the same class as LeBron’s Cavaliers. And boy did he revel in his take on Thursday morning:

“Toronto is still Toronto,” Bayless said. “Didn’t I tell you yesterday?” When co-host Shannon Sharpe said that the Raptors “are a good team,” Bayless continued “— until it’s time. They look good…until they step on the floor against the beasts of the East and then they turn right back into the baby dinosaurs, or just the Raptors. That’s what they are. They’re just the Raptors. The East is over.”

The Ringer — Raptors-Cavs Looked Like Our Dream Eastern Conference Finals

The Raptors played the first half to perfection, attacking the Cavs’ shoddy perimeter D, but couldn’t retake the lead once they gave it away. They’re still the best team in the East, but this result won’t quell doubts about how they’d fare against the Cavs in the playoffs. With apologies to the Celtics, Pacers, and Wizards, I’m ready to see this play out over seven games with a trip to the Finals on the line.

“Stephen A. and Max debate Cavaliers vs. Raptors in NBA playoffs”

Ahead of Wednesday’s game, First Take host Max Kellerman backed the Raptors, citing that he thinks they would win a playoff series versus this Cavs team in six games. His counterpart, Stephen A. Smith, disagreed and said that the presence of LeBron James is too much for the Raps to overcome.

With last night’s game in the books, Kellerman didn’t move on his stance and, well, neither did Smith:

USA Today — LeBron James’ historic game powers Cavs to needed win over Raptors

The Cavs needed a victory like this. The Raptors are the No. 1 seed in the East and the only team in the NBA that ranks in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency. With All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and a deep, versatile bench, they are for real — a legit contender to represent the East in the NBA Finals. Before Wednesday they had won 19 of 21 games, and on Jan. 11, they beat Cleveland 133-99.

“It’s a good win for us because of how depleted we are on our roster and everything that’s been going on,” James said. “It’s a good win for us against a very good opponent. But I don’t need to remind anybody about what my teams are capable of doing.”

ESPN — LeBron posts historic line, says he wasn’t sending Raptors a message

After allowing a season-high 79 points in the first half and trailing the Toronto Raptors by 15 at intermission on Wednesday night, the Cavaliers stormed back to win 132-129. The game left acting head coach Larry Drew believing he witnessed a breakthrough performance.

It might be too late for Cleveland, No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, to catch the East-leading Raptors in the standings; the Cavs have to go 11-0 the rest of the way while Toronto would have to go 0-10 for that to happen. But it’s not too late to build some positive momentum before the postseason.

…”They’re still a hell of a team; you can’t take anything away from them,” Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan said. “They’re still a top team in our conference and in this league. You can’t overlook ’em or underlook ’em — no type of way, no matter what type of changes they make.”

Despite the changes, one thing seems to always stay the same: James.

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