Raptors playoff drive hits dead end in Cleveland

Raptors playoff drive hits dead end in Cleveland

Updated: 1 month, 3 days, 18 hours, 54 minutes, 4 seconds ago

The hiccup was going to come, and it came with force.

After a couple of weeks of improved play and with a sense of optimism creeping in, the Raptors came thudding back to earth on an ugly night in Cleveland.

Beaten in every facet of the game, the Raptors were humbled 118-93 by the Cavaliers, just Toronto’s second loss in eight games and first in five.

The Cavs poured in three-pointers, beat the Raptors up and down in transition all game and were never threatened. Donovan Mitchell had 35 points and Cleveland was 18-for-36 from three-point range, while Jarrett Allen operated freely in the paint in a 23-point evening.



To say nothing went right for the Raptors would be an understatement. They couldn’t get open shots against one of the best defensive teams in the league, were unable to guard shooters in the open court, and it was just one of those nights that pop up every now and then.

Pascal Siakam had 25 points for Toronto, and Scottie Barnes added 12.

The Raptors now face one of the most significant three-game stretches of the season with a home game against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday and back-to-back road dates with the Wizards in Washington on Thursday and Saturday.

The Bulls and Wizards are right behind ninth-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference play-in race. If the Raptors harbour any hopes of putting some distance between the teams and moving up the standings, they almost have to sweep the three games.

They should have veteran guard Fred VanVleet back, which will calm down an offence that committed 13 turnovers in Cleveland, eight in the first half. VanVleet missed the last three games as he became a father for the third time, but is expected back in uniform for the Chicago game.

The absence of VanVleet was glaring and costly Sunday, not necessarily because of what Jeff Dowtin Jr. did as a replacement. But Dowtin does not have near the command of the offence that VanVleet does, particularly when it comes to getting others involved.

O.G. Anunoby was a non-factor offensively — seven points on 3-for-7 shooting — and Gary Trent Jr. struggled with just seven points (2-for-13). VanVleet probably could have got them into more comfortable offensive positions.

This week’s games will be a test, but after the disappointment of the first 50 games of the regular season, the fact that the Raptors have a chance to determine their own fate has to be at least a little comforting.

“I’d like to see our defence get up to the level where it feels sometimes like you’re just not going get a good look, and we’re going to take the ball from you a lot, and we’re going to limit you to one shot,” coach Nick Nurse said last week. “Teams know that it’s coming at you with some serious intensity.

“Big picture, my goal is to get us to max that out, play really good, become a great defensive team like we were a year ago in this stretch of the season, and continue to shape and polish our offence. If we do that, the big picture takes care of itself.”

Nothing took care of itself in Cleveland after the Raptors cut a 12-point halftime deficit to four early in the third quarter. The Cavs immediately went on an 8-0 run to take control and were never threatened. Both teams cleared the benches with about five minutes remaining to end the night.

The coming week will be of particular interest to recently acquired Raptors centre Jakob Poeltl. For the first time in years, he’ll be playing a key role in big games for a team fighting for something, after languishing in San Antonio. Poeltl had 13 points and nine rebounds in Cleveland.

“That is what you play basketball for at the end of the day, because you want to win,” he said of the final dash to the post-season.

“You don’t just want to win a (single) basketball game. You want to win to get to the playoffs, to get the Finals, to win championships and stuff like that. So, yeah, that is what makes it fun at the end of the day.”


Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be a registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)

Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct . The Star does not endorse these opinions.