Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 117-104 road loss to the Raptors on Thursday.
1. This wasn’t a matter of effort. Mostly, it was just a matter of the Cavs not being able to put anything together. At least, not for a long. That happens in the NBA. The Cavs were just hoping it wouldn’t happen on this night.
2. For a game that was hyped as having playoff-like atmosphere, it was actually kind of boring. The Raptors can make games that way. And that’s not an insult. That’s a credit to their execution on offense and physical style on defense.
3. The Cavs on the other hand? Yeah, mostly way out of sorts. Again, you can’t underestimate what the loss of Jarrett Allen means — especially in games like this. He’s not just a presence at the rim, a shot-alterer and shot-blocker. He is the the eyes and ears and the guy who directs traffic, too. With Allen, the Cavs have ranked fourth in the NBA in defense. Without, they’re 20th.
4. So in short, there’s a reason the Cavs’ defense hasn’t been very good lately. But again, this wasn’t an awful performance or something about which to be overly concerned.
5. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff on the loss: “They just outplayed us. Give credit where credit is due. There was a level of physicality that we had a hard time breaking through.”
6. Bickerstaff was asked about the supposed playoff atmosphere and added that the result should be viewed as “another opportunity of growth and learning for our guys.”
7. The coach is right. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other guy. The Raptors just did more, played with more energy, and man, they got out and filled it up.
8. To wit: The Raptors finished with 18 fast-break points. The Cavs had four.
9. Lauri Markkanen led the Cavs with 20 points, but you probably wouldn’t have known it. Everyone just seemed pretty quiet. Darius Garland had yet another double-double with 18 points and 10 assists. And Lamar Stevens played one of his better all-around games of the year with 16 points.
11. The Cavs committed 13 turnovers to the Raptors’ eight, and I actually had to read that stat twice. It felt like the Cavs had a lot more.
12. Stevens was a little less diplomatic about the loss than Bickerstaff. The energetic forward said the Cavs failed to respond with toughness when the Raptors started to take it to them.
13. There is undoubtedly some truth to that.
12. Pascal Siakam erupted for 35 points for the Raptors (41-32). Yes, the Raptors have caught the Cavs in the standings. But as you may know, the Cavs own the tiebreaker, courtesy of winning the season series by a 3-1 count.
14. But really, it doesn’t matter if the Cavs finish fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference. You just want to avoid seventh and the play-in tournament. Not that the play-in would be a total failure. The idea, however, is for this team to get a real series under its belt for next season. The sixth seed or higher guarantees that.
15. Next up: Yeah, you guessed it. None other than the Bulls. They have not been good lately. They come to Cleveland on Saturday with a one-game lead over the Cavs in the East. It’s not a must-win. But a win sure wouldn’t hurt, right? Right.