10 things: Gary Trent Jr.'s electric 44 points leads Raptors' rout of Cavaliers

·7 min read

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 135-115 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

One — Unexpected: It's impossible to predict what the Raptors will do on any given night. Pascal Siakam got the night off to rest in this stretch of four games in five nights, which looked to be a white flag ahead of a key game in the tanking race to the bottom. But instead the Raptors came out guns blazing and utterly crushed the Cavaliers in a game that was a blowout for the final 40 minutes. Wacky results have marred this pandemic season for the entire league, but no team is wackier than the Raptors. If you're betting on this team, you must be very brave.

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Two — Demolition: The first half for the Raptors felt like a fever dream. Not only did this skeleton crew set the franchise record for points in a half with 87, but it came on the wildest of sequences. DeAndre' Bembry got it started with a prime Russell Westbrook impersonation with how often he was able to get to the rim, then Gary Trent Jr. started knocking down every shot like a Splash Brother. Malachi Flynn dissected the Cavaliers defense with the precision of a brain surgeon, and then Yuta Watanabe of all people ended the half with a buzzer-beating three. The Raptors could not miss, and with a 33-point lead at halftime, there was no way the Cavaliers could come back.

Three — Calm: The Cavaliers did try their very best to make a push to start the third quarter, fuelled mostly by pride and the explosive scoring output of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. They managed an 18-2 run and did create a few nervous moments for the Raptors, who saw their lead trimmed down to 12 points. Cleveland dug into the ball and it forced the Raptors out of their offensive rhythm, and the Raptors put gas to the fire with turnovers and by fouling three-point shooters. It looked to be yet another unfortunate twist for the Raptors until Flynn wrestled control back for his team. Flynn made a heavily-contested three, a darting layup, a floater off a momentary breakdown by the defense, and knocked down another pull-up three to erase Cleveland's progress.

Four — Promising: These are valuable learning experiences for Flynn, who finished with career-highs in scoring (20), assists (11) and in minutes (39) while veterans Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet cheered him on from the sidelines. Flynn had a slow start to his rookie year, which was to be expected since he was behind two championship veterans while also not having Summer League, a full preseason, or access to the G-League aside from two weeks, but Flynn is making the most of his opportunity in this stretch. Flynn is finding ways to get downhill and to pressure the rim, which is the main function of point guards in Nick Nurse's offense. That ability to penetrate is allowing Flynn to be more of a facilitator, and tonight was the best example of how Flynn is able to both score for himself, while also creating for others. This is the first of many career milestones for the promising rookie.

Five — Torching: Trent Jr. literally could not miss as he finished with a career-high 44 points on 17-of-19 shooting. It was the type of shooting display that most players dream of where everything coming out of Trent Jr.'s hands was swishing through the basket, regardless of the difficulty of his makes. He started the game with a drive to the basket for two free throws, then made a stepback three with the defense dropping back for some inexplicable reason, and he just poured it on from there. At one point in the second quarter, Trent Jr. and his newfound buddy OG Anunoby scored 27 straight points for the Raptors, and while Anunoby cooled off, Trent Jr. just kept firing away. The Cavaliers got into him for the second half, but Trent Jr. was in such a groove that even his contested mid-range jumpers and his running floaters from the elbow were going in. Trent Jr. is off to a legendary start to his Raptors career.

Gary Trent Jr. was an absolute menace as he dropped a career-high 44 points in Toronto's blowout win over Cleveland. (Getty)
Gary Trent Jr. was an absolute menace as he dropped a career-high 44 points in Toronto's blowout win over Cleveland. (Getty)

Six — Role: Bembry was quiet for the remainder of the game, but he got the Raptors off to a wicked start thanks to his two-way contributions. Bembry cleverly found the gaps in the Cavaliers defense and got himself to the rim repeatedly, while also recording two blocks at the basket and another steal to trigger a fast break as part of the Raptors' 47-point first quarter. Bembry continues to think the game at a high level, and he consistently makes quick reads to benefit his team. He is ideally a luxury player off the bench, but he has also proven to be very useful in a pinch.

Seven — Solid: Freddie Gillespie, the newest member of the Raptors on a 10-day contract following a promising rookie year in the G-League, saw his debut go as smoothly as he could have possibly hoped for. Not only did Nurse reward him with the game ball for his first career points, but Gillespie was already seeing minutes ahead of veteran Aron Baynes thanks to his productive stint. Nurse lauded Gillespie's screening ability ("crushing people over and over") and complemented Gillespie's hands for being strong and huge which allowed him to come up with loose balls. Gillespie only had a morning walkthrough with the team so it's clear that he doesn't know many of the sets and whatnot, but the Raptors aren't expecting much. He's there to play with physicality, to pop his guards free with his screens, to chase down rebounds, and to finish layups, and on all three fronts he did well in his debut.

Eight — Hops: Yuta Watanabe scored his career-high as well with 14 points off the bench on 6-of-7 shooting. Watanabe played with great energy in a game where the Cavaliers sleep-walked through three quarters, and it allowed Watanabe to showcase his athleticism. He broke free repeatedly for breakaway dunks, he drained a corner three off crisp passing by the Raptors, and he drained a buzzer-beating three which put the entire bench in a frenzy. Watanabe is very transparent about his own performances, and the Japanese forward said he lost his minutes because he wasn't aggressive enough on offense. This is a game where Watanabe did all the right things, and in terms of scoring, it's not about taking every shot so much as it's about always taking the shots that are there for him. Watanabe only passed out of one layup today, and that was for an open corner shooter.

Nine — Return: Lowry is on the precipice of returning, which should only make life easier for the rest of his teammates. The Raptors have lacked consistent playmaking, and riding through the ups and downs of a rookie guard in Flynn is usually a losing formula. Lowry brings stability and an edge to the team as they look to salvage the remainder of the season. One could say the team should look to tank instead, but how long can you realistically hold out a healthy player? Tanking is the job of the front office, not a responsibility of the players.

Ten — Washed: It's sad to see a great player like Kevin Love play out his career in such an uninspired way. If Love had his way, he would be in Brooklyn along with all the other ring-chasing veterans playing a supporting role for a title team. But instead he's still stuck in Cleveland as a relic of the 2016 championship team along with Matthew Dellavedova, and he knows it's a losing battle. Love moved with the intensity of a middle school librarian tonight, as the Raptors went at him repeatedly on offense. If Cleveland re-signs Jarrett Allen this summer, it wouldn't be a surprise to hear Love's name as a buyout candidate even though he's owed $60 million over the next two seasons.

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