by Patrick ‘Rey’ Reynell
If someone were to bet with Byron Scott that a team would shoot below 40% and still reach triple digits and win, he probably would have gone all in. Good thing this is hypothetical or Coach Scott would be bankrupt.
The Toronto Raptors (25-39) shot just 39% from their home floor yet still defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers (21-42), 100-96. Rookie starter Dion Waiters led all scorers with 21 points.
A third quarter malaise once again doomed the Cavaliers, who went into the locker room leading 55-46 at the half.
Tyler Zeller started the early and consistent first half scoring for the Cavs.
In a display of versatility, Zeller scored with a mid-range jumper, a shot fake and drive, and a layup off a Dion Waiters assist. The two rookie starters began hot from the field to give Cleveland the advantage early after a Waiters jumper made it 19-15 in the first quarter.
Toronto’s mis-communication and screen switching allowed Cleveland guards to take advantage of mismatches early on. Their defensive rotation seemed troublesome as they were continuously beat off high ball-screens and double teams.
With the Raptors chasing the Cavs all over the floor, the away team took advantage of ball reversals with the biggest beneficiary being CJ Miles. He came off the bench to hit four threes, finishing the half with 13 points. Miles’ fourth three-pointer and a Kyrie Irving layup made it 50-33, which would turn out to be their biggest lead of the night.
Defensively, the Cavs strategy focused in on Toronto’s leading scorer, Demar DeRozan. Cleveland guards clearly took away the middle of the floor from DeRozan as they pushed up into his hip pocket.
Toronto, favoring its one-on-one style offense, often found an extra defender on the block when DeRozan looked to penetrate. The third year man out of USC finished the half with only 8 points.
The second half saw a stagnant Cavaliers offense against a Raptors offense that still insisted on going inside-out. The surprise of the game was Raptors’ forward Amir Johnson who totaled a double-double with 17 points and 16 rebounds.
The Raptor guards continuously fed Johnson and center Jonas Valanciunas to create open space. The Cavs frontcourt did little to keep the Raptors from catching cleanly in the low or high post. The defense became porous and flat-footed against the persistent Raptors attack. As a result, Toronto went on a 25-10 run the end the third quarter.
After a CJ Miles’ turnover, Cleveland faced their biggest deficit early in the fourth quarter. Miles would finish with only 2 points in the second half for a game total of 15.
With under 5 minutes to go in the game, the Cavs had ample opportunities to tie the game. A Waiters Euro-step and finish finally tied it at 94 with just a minute and a half remaining.
It proved to be too little late to late as Kyle Lowry made two plays down the stretch to seal it for the home Raptors.
Tristan Thompson, a native of Canada, finished with his twenty-third double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Demar DeRozan, who on February 27 at Cleveland scorched the Cavs for 34, finished with 13 points and 6 assists.
Rudy Gay was a late scratch from the lineup due to a nagging back injury.
Kyrie Irving left the game in the third quarter with a left shoulder injury. X-rays were negative.
The Cavs will return home Tuesday to face the Washington Wizards.
Toronto will travel to Boston to face the Celtics on Wednesday.