Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ hard-fought 105-102 home win over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
1. It wasn’t always pretty but say this much — the Cavaliers simply refused to be denied. They just were not going to lose, a decision they appeared to reach at halftime.
2. These second nights of back-to-backs are always tricky, even when both games are at home, as they were for the Cavs. Plus, the first one came against LeBron James and the Lakers, a big-name opponent that can get you to play with extra energy.
3. So it wouldn’t have been surprising if the Cavs had been physically drained on Sunday.
4. But they just kept fighting and trying to find a way. Eventually, they did. And everyone had their moments.
5. For instance, Max Strus scored zero points in the first half. Then he came out on absolute fire in the third — sizzling from the perimeter in scoring all 20 of his points. Strus finished 4-of-9 on 3-pointers and also grabbed 11 big rebounds.
6. Then there’s Jarrett Allen, who has looked like an All-Star for most of the past week. All he did was score 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting, then make the defensive play of the game. Pretty good night, no?
7. The Raptors had the ball, down three points, with 9 seconds to go. They got it to wing Gary Trent Jr. in the corner. Allen ended up as the defender on Trent, who wanted to try to launch a game-tying three. Instead, he tried to do a sort-of pivot move to shake Allen. He tried it again. Allen didn’t budge, holding his ground with his long arms reaching high in the sky. Eventually, Trent stepped on the sideline, out of bounds, giving the ball — and the win — to the Cavs.
8. There’s so much more, though. Tristan Thompson came off the bench to offer a massive lift in the third quarter. Perhaps no one ever has made such an impact in eight minutes. Thompson still does all the little things well, and it usually begins and ends with deflating the opponent. He is just all energy, hustle and effort. He can do so much without scoring a point (though he did finish with four, including a fantastic tip-in).
9. Meanwhile, Darius Garland played one of his best games of the season, not missing a beat after sitting out the second half of Saturday’s loss with a neck strain. There is probably a reason the Cavs lost that game. And Garland showed what a difference he can make, scoring a team-high 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting vs. the Raptors. He killed them with those floaters in the lane.
10. Yes, Garland committed five turnovers, and a few of them were maddening. But he is finding ways to overcome them. Some are inexcusable … unless you can make other plays to help win the game. That was Garland on Sunday.
11. On the downside, Donovan Mitchell shot 4-of-17 from the field, one night after going 4-of-18. So make that 8-of-35 over two nights. Oh boy. That’s not good.
12. But guess who knocked down the two biggest free throws of the game with 9.6 seconds left? You guessed it. Mitchell even had his eyes shut for a moment on the first foul shot, seemingly realizing he just had to breathe and forget about his weekend slump. It worked, giving the Cavs the cushion they needed.
13. The Cavs (9-8) trailed 52-42 at the half. They looked sluggish. The offense was stagnant. The overall energy was incredibly low.
14. Garland to Bally Sports on what changed: “Getting stops on defense. Getting out in transition. Getting some easy buckets. … It was a great team win. Everybody did their part. That’s what we need every day.”
15. Evan Mobley added 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. He also matched Allen with two blocked shots.
16. Thompson joined John Michael and Brad Daugherty on the Bally Sports postgame show and said he just wanted to “make an impact.” He added: “We needed this game tonight. We fell short against the Lakers so I just wanted to make an impact however I can.”
17. Quite honestly, it was Strus, Thompson and that third quarter that started to change the course of this one. Then the Cavs carried it home as a team with contributions from everywhere.
18. Toronto (8-9) received 18 points and 13 boards from Jakob Poeltl, and 18 points from Pascal Siakam. The Raptors are close to the Cavs in the standings today, but I have my doubts that they’ll finish there.
19. Overall, nice win for the Cavs who will get a rest day before another biggie against the Atlanta Hawks in a home In-Season Tournament game on Tuesday. The Cavs still have a shot at the knockout round, but must beat the Hawks and get a little help.