A game as lopsided as that with two playoff rivals involved is bound to spawn many questions: Are the Raptors really this good? Is Cleveland really this bad? How much of what we saw will translate to the post-season?
As such, many different outlets wrote a lot on Thursday’s game, including from the prominent U.S. national media. And while a lot was taken from a Cavaliers perspective that’s not to say Toronto’s performance didn’t impress.
Here’s a look at what those covering the league had to say about Toronto’s big win over Cleveland.
This Raptors game — a nationally televised affair against a playoff foe from the previous two seasons — would typically be the type of game the Dr. Jekyll Cavs would show up for. While some lackadaisical play could be expected for a team coming off three straight NBA Finals appearances, Thursday, supposedly, would be a night that would grab Cleveland’s attention.
Then again, there’s another Cavs trope that applied to Thursday night: underperforming when the other team is undermanned. The Raptors were missing two of their big three in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, and rather than that result in an easy night for Cleveland, all it did was set the stage for guys such as Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam to make an impact.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost seven of 10; the worst of those came last night, when they lost by 34 freaking points to a Toronto Raptors team missing two (Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka) of its three best players. The third, DeMar DeRozan, didn’t even have a good game; he scored 13 points. That was all the Raptors needed on a night when the Cavs made peppy li’l tyke Fred VanVleet look like Tiny Archibald. Garbage time began in the second quarter.
…The Cavs can’t defend anybody; they can’t shoot; half the roster looks washed up. Last night they got smushed all over the court by a tragic keyboard incident called “Jakob Poeltl.” They’re puke. Aim them at the toilet.
The Raptors certainly looked more equipped to threaten the three-time champs on Thursday night.
During the 34-point blowout, the Raptors canned 18 triples, the most Cleveland has allowed all season. It’s not a one-game outlier either. With a new philosophy and some roster tweaks, the Raptors rank top 10 in both makes and attempts from long range. They were 21st and 22nd in those respective categories last season.
Last May, Toronto’s predictable, isolation-heavy offensive attack couldn’t even take advantage of a flawed Cavaliers defense, averaging just 101 points.
On Thursday, Toronto scored a franchise-high (in a regulation game) 133 points — even without starters Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.
The final score — Raptors 133, Cavaliers 99 — wasn’t indicative of the beatdown the Raptors put on the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions. Toronto finished with 31 assists and just nine turnovers, shot 50 percent from the field, 43 percent from three-point range, and out-rebounded Cleveland 63-35 — including 18 on the offensive end.
It was the latest impressive performance from a Raptors team that is on pace for the best record in franchise history, and the latest clunker from a Cavaliers team that has now surrendered its three highest point totals of the season in its last three games, and sits 29th among the 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency halfway through the season.
It would be easy to look at the details of that last paragraph and decide that this year will be different; that Toronto will be a force come playoff time, and that LeBron James’s run of seven straight trips to the NBA Finals will not extend to eight.
The truth, though, is that despite the very different ways both teams performed Thursday night, they find themselves in exactly the same place: toiling through an 82-game regular season with the knowledge that nothing that happens before the playoffs begin will truly change how people view them.