The Cleveland Cavaliers came to Toronto riding a six game winning streak and hoping to make it seven in a row as they continue their push towards a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, they had several factors working against them. Anderson Varejao, C.J. Miles, and Dion Waiters all missed tonight’s game due to various injuries. The Cavaliers were also playing with new center Spencer Hawes after he was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday. Finally, there was the play of guard Jarrett Jack, who may have had his most disappointing night in a disappointing season.
The first half was a grind it out affair. While neither the Cavaliers nor the Raptors could get much going, the Cavaliers did do a good job moving the ball had good energy throughout. Tyler Zeller got into foul trouble early, and Spencer Hawes had a nice debut, scoring five quick points and blocking a shot. Hawes also displayed some nifty passing throughout the game. The Cavaliers had trouble scoring when Kyrie Irving wasn’t on the floor, but their solid defense kept the Cavs on top and they led 44-39 at the half.
Things unraveled in the third quarter as the Cavaliers were able to get their offense going. Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry were particularly effective during this stretch, while the Cavaliers missed five of six free throws at one point. The Raptors outscored the Cavaliers 37-21 in the third quarter, and although they made a bit of a comeback in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers win streak ultimately came to an end as the Raptors prevailed 98-91.
PG Kyrie Irving – Tonight was a rough night for Irving as he shot 3-16 from the field and was hounded by Kyle Lowry throughout the night. That being said, Irving did have nine assists and hit ten of twelve free throws. With the Cavaliers missing several key offensive pieces and Luol Deng and Jarrett Jack struggling while Spencer Hawes tried to get acclimated on the floor, the Raptors were able to focus almost totally on Irving.
SG Jarrett Jack- At this point Jack’s struggles on both ends of the floor have become an obvious hindrance to the team for even the most casual Cavs fan. He routinely takes poor midrange jumpers off the dribble, and was completely unable to guard Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, or whoever else the Cavalier put on him. The Cavaliers owe Jack quite a bit of money over the next few years, but if they want to make a playoff run, they may need to remove Jack from the rotation when C.J. Miles and Dion Waiters return.
SF Luol Deng – Deng continues to struggle with his shot, finishing 6-15 from the floor tonight. The Cavaliers’ small forward did make seven of eight free throws and added eleven rebounds. He also did a nice job guarding All-Star Demar DeRozan.
PF Tristan Thompson – The older of the Cavaliers’ two Canadian power forwards had a solid night with thirteen points on 6-10 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Thompson did a nice job guarding Amir Johnson, but struggled with stretch forward Patrick Patterson, continuing problems he has had with stretch fours all year.
C Tyler Zeller – After a stretch of the best basketball of his career, Zeller came back to Earth somewhat tonight. While eight points on 4-6 shooting to go along with four rebounds in twenty minutes of action isn’t terrible, Zeller committed several boneheaded fouls early and struggled with guarding Jonas Valanciunas the entire night.
While Anthony Bennett continued his stretch of improved play, newcomer Spencer Hawes was the star off the bench tonight. While Hawes only had seven points on 3-10 shooting, he added ten rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. Most importantly, he seemed to fit the offense after only having one shootaround with the team thus far. One can already see the advantages Hawes’s spacing will provide one the Cavaliers have had some time practicing with their big man.
Mike Brown gave his players credit for never giving up this game, but conceded that the team’s effort in the third quarter cost his team the game.
If there is one thing to take from this game it’s that the Cavaliers continued to show great effort and never gave in even though they were facing a solid playoff team on the road and were short several key players. As long as they continue to play like this, things should continue to look up for Cleveland. The Cavaliers return home to face the Washington Wizards this Sunday at 6 p.m. – hopefully with a few more healthy bodies.