The Cleveland Cavaliers nearly overcame the Toronto Raptors with another late comeback, but their spirited efforts fell short with too many unforced misses in the closing minutes.
In a time with so many Eastern Conference teams trying to differentiate themselves from the middle of the pack, every win or loss has much more drastic consequences than earlier in the season. The Cavaliers are fighting to regain their momentum from the previous season, but constant injuries continue to set them back from the top of the East.
Though Cleveland entered the fourth quarter with momentum in their favor after falling into a double-digit deficit by halftime, the Cavaliers could not finish the comeback, ending the night 121-124 on the road. In the first period, Pascal Siakam's barrage from deep silenced Cleveland's early push and forced the Cavs' defense to over-commit to shooters too frequently.
With impressive performances from the newest Raptors RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, an energetic and physical Toronto team came out on top, handing the Cavs their fifteenth loss on the season. In their debut games, the former New York Knicks combined for 33 points, 7 assists and 15 rebounds on the night.
Although Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen provided another great game individually alongside a season-high 31 points for Caris LeVert, the Cavs were outperformed and missed crucial shots in the final moments of the loss. Cleveland outscored the Raptors every quarter outside of the first, but they missed consecutive game-tying attempts, eventually being forced to foul and hope for missed free throws in a last-ditch effort.
Losing a close contest hurts even more, heading back to the locker room knowing one or two moments could have changed the result. The Cavs cannot afford to hang their heads on this loss, based on any handful of small mistakes, though. The Cavaliers' showing against the Raptors was another example of some worrisome trends for Cleveland.
Fouls and free throws kill the Cavaliers' hopes once again
It is not uncommon to see Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff furious by the end of regulation due to the constant free throw disparities the Cavaliers experience. Bickerstaff has had a controlled, calculated demeanor in post-game interviews for the majority of his Cleveland tenure, but this season he has been happy to call out problems he believes are out of control.
The Cavaliers ended the night with 26 free throw attempts but gave the Raptors 40 attempts at the line of their own. While it was not as imbalanced as many games have been when Cleveland has fewer than 10 free throws, the Cavs' inability to force a bad shot without a whistle following the play has been undoubtedly infuriating for the entire team and staff.
Four of Cleveland's five starters ended the night with four personal fouls, and Georges Niang contributed five off the bench. While the Cavs have reasons to argue some choices by the officials are unsavory and ill-advised, constantly putting opponents at the free-throw line is only going to be a recipe for disaster.
Following the loss in Toronto, Bickerstaff noted a moment he believed was an obvious traveling violation from Siakam that would have given the Cavs one last chance to bring the game to overtime. He also commented that he sees the team developing, getting stops when needed and playing the right way.
The Cavaliers are also still battling through their current injuries to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, stifling the gameplan they had at the start of the season. Several Cavs have stepped up and contributed wonderfully in their absences, but the loss of both stars is beginning to take a noticeable toll with teams now planning for Cleveland's depleted squad. Their foul troubles are certainly deriving in part from not having Mobley's shot erasure in the frontcourt.
All things considered, the Cavaliers still have plenty of positives going their way, still. With endless rumors floating around Mitchell's future in Cleveland, the All-Star guard has remained wholly committed to the Cavaliers and has continued to give stunning performances to will them to victory.
Additionally, Jarrett Allen's recent stretch has been filled with numerous double-doubles and career performances against every opponent that steps on the hardwood. As painful as the last two losses have been, the Cavaliers are witnessing improvement and growth that can prepare them for a strong run after the All-Star break with a healthy roster.
Thankfully, the Cleveland Cavaliers return home to face the 6-26 Washington Wizards for two straight games as they look to get back on the right course and redeem themselves from their last two games. The Cavs will host the Wizards on Wednesday, January 3 at 7:00pm Eastern Time and Friday, January 5 at 7:30pm Eastern Time.