The Toronto Raptors are BALLLLLLLINN. With a historical 128-84 victory over the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night, the Raptors captured their 6th straight victory to improve to 14-6 on the season. The 44 point difference was the largest margin of victory in franchise history, surpassing the 42 point victory back on November 21, 2014 against the Milwaukee Bucks. DeMar DeRozan led the way with 21 points (now averaging 27.9 ppg, 5th in the NBA) and Kyle Lowry finished with 17 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds (Who recently quoted, “Every shot I take, period, is going in”. Dennis Schroder led the way for the Hawks with 15 points and Dwight Howard finished with 10 points and 17 rebounds. After Lowry and DeRozan, 6 more Raptors players finished in double figure scoring. Nogeira finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds on 5/5 shooting while Terrence Ross & Patrick Patterson continued their production combining for 32 points on 7/9 shooting from beyond the arc. Rookie Jakob Poeltl also saw action in the final minutes and absolutely posterized Tim Hardaway Jr. with a transition And-1 tomahawk SLAM!
It was one of those team balanced dominant victories that the Raptors needed for this season. All players contributed and it went to show just how deep and well-rounded this squad can be. To make things even sweeter, the Raptors are now tied for 1st in the Eastern Conference with the Cleveland Cavaliers who are currently on a 3 game losing streak. This makes Monday’s match-up of last season’s Eastern Conference Finalists all the more interesting. There are still plenty of games left in the season, but both teams will look to make statements in tonight’s show down.
Losing 3 straight has not phased Cleveland one bit. They are still the defending champs, are still favoured to return to the Finals, and still have an elite squad led by one of the greatest basketball players of all time. If this was last year, then the pressure would be completely different but it’s funny how a championship changes everything. If you need proof LeBron isn’t fazed, he decided to throw a Toronto club party at Lost & Found Saturday night, with the Cavaliers having the weekend to prepare. The Cavaliers most recently played on Friday night in Chicago losing 111-105 to the Bulls. All the media attention was focused on the always-competitive regular season battle between good friends Dwyane Wade and LeBron James now both representing their hometown teams. Fans even got to catch a glimpse of LeBron in Chicago Cubs gear, as a result of losing a MLB World Series bet made with Wade back in the Fall.
The Raptors will be playing their 5th game of a 6 game home stand. It has gone perfect so far despite the tight schedule, however, Cleveland is clearly the toughest match-up of this home stand. It will be the third match-up of the season for the Raptors with King James and the Cavs. After that, they will meet again on the final game of the regular season and then….maybe….Eastern Conference Finals??? Still too early to tell but we’ll see. Some Toronto fans have complained about the Raptors’ tough schedule so far (facing LeBron James 3 times at the beginning of the season) but it’s a good test for the team early on. As the corny slogan goes, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to BEAT the best. LeBron James has not lost an Eastern Conference Series since 2010 against the Boston Celtics. He shows no signs of slowing down despite turning 32 this month, averaging an impressive 23.3 points, 9.4 assists, and 7.7 rebounds. He may also be getting the best team support he’s ever had in his career, with Kyrie Irving leading the team in scoring with 24.4 points and Kevin Love showing a revival with 21.1 points and 10.4 rebounds.
The first 2 match-ups between these teams were VERY close. Cleveland won the first game 94-91 following a no-call on JV & dagger 3 by Kyrie Irving. The second contest ended 121-117 with the Raptors giving up a crucial 4 point lead in the final 3 minutes. If the Raptors hope to build off their recent success and continue their winning streak, let’s outline their keys to taking down the King:
Saturday’s triumph was exactly the effort the Raptors need to show for an entire game. It didn’t matter if they were up 20 or how much time was left on the clock, the foot was on the gas pedal on BOTH ends of the floor. The Cavaliers are fully capable of climbing out of big holes and can go on runs as well as any team in the league. They are too talented of an opponent to ease up at any moment in the game. Take care of the ball and eliminate those easy buckets off turnovers. When every shot goes up, get a body on a player and control the defensive boards.
The Raptors’ Bench combined for 64 points Saturday. While Monday’s contest is unlikely to feature garbage time minutes, it would still be helpful if the support is there. The Cavaliers do not have much rim protection so the second unit needs to be in ATTACK mode. Cleveland also runs a tight 9 (sometimes 8) man rotation so it is important to take full advantage when any members of the Big 3 are off the court.
No need to tell any of the players this, there is no need to be intimidated. Both match-ups were close and the Raptors remain the biggest threat to Cleveland in the East. With Jurassic Park and a packed Air Canada Centre roaring in a playoff-type atmosphere, the Raptors have plenty of support behind them. The Raptors have always won games with their hustle and effort and that comes with an aggressive determination to prove to the NBA just how legit Canada’s only team is.
Catch the game live at 7:30 p.m. Eastern!