Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 133-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
One — Chill: The Cavaliers are pathetic. They have won two of their last 17 games and they barely put on an NBA-level product. The only Cavaliers player to show effort was Tristan Thompson, who was rewarded with a slew of post-ups at the end of a fourth quarter blowout against G-League competition — likely in an attempt to inflate his numbers for an impending trade. The Raptors raced out to a 37-19 advantage midway through the first quarter and had it on cruise control from there.
Two — Dominant: Norman Powell is playing the best basketball of his career with the starting lineup, as he posted 26 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals while shooting an efficient 11-of-16 from the field. Powell is averaging 17.6 points across 15 starts this season, while shooting above 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from deep. He’s in an incredible groove in terms of his finishing and it’s the first sustained breakthrough in Powell’s career. He always had the ability to score, but his consistency of late is admirable.
Three — Disgusting: You owe it to yourself to watch this alley-oop dunk by Powell. He followed that up by pulling up for a 3-pointer on a 3-on-1 fast break moments later.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 17, 2019
Four — Decision: There’s a growing call for Powell to maintain his starting spot and it’s not unwarranted. Nurse even suggested after the game that he would reconsider his case. However, Nurse also bluntly stated a few weeks back that Powell’s role is to provide scoring off the bench and to step up if anyone misses time. The simple fact is that Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are both more well-rounded than Powell (who largely provides scoring and not much else), while OG Anunoby’s defence is too important at the small forward position. Unless there is a trade on the horizon, Powell will likely be the odd man out.
Five — Dominant: Pascal Siakam is an entirely different player when he knocks down a few jumpers in the first quarter. Siakam drew a tough defensive assignment in Thompson, who largely kept him from attacking the paint, but Siakam was on a roll from outside. Siakam drained 3 after 3 and his confidence grew from there, to the point where he was hitting Dirk Nowitzki-style leaning fadeaways over Thompson by the fourth quarter. The next step is for Siakam to maintain his aggression regardless of the defender, or of the effectiveness of his jumper. The Raptors need him to stay in attack mode.
Six — Creative: Although Siakam largely had his way with Thompson, the Raptors were wise to get him into easier matchups by having Siakam attack off a screen in a variety of settings. Siakam came off a pin-down in the third quarter, shed Thompson on the screen and calmly swished a 3. The next time down, he curled around another screen and got into the paint before missing the layup. A few plays later, Siakam worked a dribble hand-off with Lowry, again with the intention of losing Thompson. Siakam is being asked to carry an enormous load for the Raptors and it’s important that Nurse and his teammates can make life easier for him.
Seven — Rhythm: Lowry and Serge Ibaka used this scrimmage against Cleveland to regain their rhythm in the pick-and-roll. Lowry spotted Ibaka three times — twice on jumpers and an uncontested layup — in short succession to start the second quarter. It’s hard to make conclusions in a game devoid of intensity, but it’s a start. That combination was good for 10 points a game last season, but Lowry and Ibaka have both been out of sync since returning from injury.
Eight — Nifty: It’s not hard to see why Nurse admires Pat McCaw. He is 100 percent committed on defence, a dependable ball handler with a bit of playmaking and he is the most unselfish player on the team outside of Marc Gasol. Should Nurse favour McCaw to the extent that it eats into Terence Davis’s minutes and development? No. But with VanVleet missing time due to swelling in his knee, it’s not unreasonable for McCaw to see spot minutes.
Nine — Bonanza: Marc Gasol is showing signs of his former self. After scoring two post-ups against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, Gasol was back at it in the low block with three more post-ups, which included a fadeaway, a simple hook shot and a sweet up-and-under fake for a layup.
Ten — Checked out: Kevin Love may be the most miserable man in the NBA. It’s beyond clear that he isn’t enjoying his tenure with the Cavaliers — especially under new head coach John Beilein — and he’s giving next to no effort. Love was so disinterested on defence that OG Anunoby looked like Allen Iverson while attacking him off the dribble. Love would be a hot commodity on the trade market, but he’s in the first season of a four-year, $113-million extension.
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