© Provided by Toronto SunRaptors forward Pascal Siakam (right) drives to the basket beside Cleveland Cavaliers' Jarrett Allen in the first quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023.
The Toronto Raptors defence has come a long way in the past couple of weeks.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were a nice, and timely, reminder how much further it has to go with a 118-93 drubbing of the visitors from the north.
The Cavs are one of the four best teams in the Eastern Conference and despite a three-game losing skid coming into Sunday night’s game with the Raptors (and maybe because of it) and the fact the Raptors had won all three previous contests this season between the two teams, the Cavs dominated them for all but a handful of minutes.
It was the first loss for the Raptors in the last five and just the second in the last nine.
The Raptors did not cave in this one, keeping it a game until late in the third, but they were up against a three-headed monster they just could not contain.
With the Cavs, it starts with Darius Garland, whose combination of speed, court vision and three-point shooting make him a lethal weapon on the break, in the half court or just about any scenario that can arise in a game. He demands multiple defenders and then makes the opposition pay for devoting extra bodies to him.
Garland had it going early from three-point land and then switched gears to become the primary facilitator for all his teammates.
Then there’s big man Jarrett Allen, who runs the floor as consistently as any big in the league and always seems to be a lob threat on any break the Cavs happen to get on. He’s also a deterrent at the rim and a guy who cleans up misses at his own end and gets his team extra possessions at the other with his work on the boards.
But the transformation of the Cavs from bottom-of-the-seeding playoff team to actual serious contender is the addition of Donovan Mitchell.
All Mitchell has done since arriving in that off-season blockbuster with Utah is score.
He hadn’t done much of that against the Raptors in the first three meetings compared to his work against the rest of the league, but he made up for that Sunday night.
Mitchell and Garland were a combined 11-for-16 from three in the game, a big part of what let the Cavs start to pull away for good in the third quarter.
Mitchell led all scorers with 35 and looked just about unstoppable. Even when the Raptors were on him with hands in his face, Mitchell was finding a way to get the ball to drop.
Garland would only score 18 but he also had 11 assists and was instrumental in just about every bucket the Cavs scored.
It didn’t help the Raptors, either, that while their defence was being exposed a little by this well-oiled Cavs machine they just didn’t have the bullets to answer back offensively.
Without Fred VanVleet for a third consecutive game — congrats to the VanVleet family that added their third child on the weekend — the offence once again was primarily limited to Pascal Siakam.
Siakam had 25 in the game, the only Raptor who had more than 13 in the contest.
Gary Trent Jr., who got it going in the Detroit game the night before after a slow start, never got it going in Cleveland, hitting just 2-of-13 attempts for a seven-point night.
O.G. Anunoby still looks like he’s finding his game legs following a long absence with a sprained wrist. For the second night in a row, he was a non-factor in the offence, an area the Raptors clearly needed help without VanVleet steering the ship.
For the first two games, VanVleet was listed as out for personal reasons. VanVleet explained the reason for his absence on social media with a picture of himself, his son and daughter and the newest addition to the family.
Without VanVleet, the Raptors offence has looked lost at times. Scottie Barnes is still finding his way playing the point but has been aided by the tireless play of Siakam, and normally the clutch shooting of Trent Jr.
That wasn’t all present Sunday night.
The Raptors return home for an off-day Monday before hosting old friend and former teammate DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.
They head right back out on the road after that for a five-game trip beginning with two in Washington, a pit stop in Denver for a game and then on to Los Angeles where they will tip it off with both the Clippers and Lakers before returning to Toronto.