Cleveland, Ohio – The weather outside was frightful. And there was nothing surprising.
The Cleveland Cavaliers snapped a five-game winning streak at the hands of the feisty Toronto Raptors, 118-107. It is Cleveland’s first loss at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse since December 9. The Cavs haven’t beaten Toronto this season, with the Raptors claiming a season series as a result of Wednesday night’s victory.
“They kicked our ass, to be honest with you,” said team captain Donovan Mitchell after the loss. “You could say you have nights like that, but after a win like we had against Milwaukee it was kind of annoying to come off the way we played as a group, especially the juniors. I put him in the starting five. We’ll be better, we’ll learn from him, we’ll move on, but It’s definitely hard to come out the way we did as a group.”
A blizzard warning in the area wreaked havoc on roads, filling a yard halfway. It usually takes Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff, who lives in a western suburb, about 25 minutes to get to work. On Friday night, that treacherous journey took nearly an hour. Players had similar problems getting downtown. For most people, travel time has doubled.
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Although there were talks with the league throughout the day about the possibility of a postponement, the game went ahead as scheduled.
It looked like only one team had turned up.
“You’re out of the gate and you lose (39) points in the first quarter, it means you’re not ready to play,” Bickerstaff said.
The Raptors, who have gone into the night losing six of their last seven games, have put up 69 points in the first half — tied for second to the Cavs in any half this season.
Things didn’t get better for Cleveland in the third quarter.
After trailing by 16 points at halftime, a lethargic Cavs who looked ready to start their holiday celebrations early let the third quarter of the season open 11-2, pushing their lead to 25 points. to a game-high 26, forcing an upset Bickerstaff to call a timeout.
After stopping at 9:25, the coach wanted to send a clear message to five starters – Mitchell, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley and Garrett Allen. Bickerstaff made wholesale changes, pulling all five struggling starters in favor of the reserves.
“It was the perfect thing to do. We weren’t there,” Mitchell said. “You go to guys who want to come and get energy. We didn’t take the call, we deserved to be benched at that time. And I thought it would be the whole game, based on our style of play. Sometimes you need that. Give big credit to the guys who came. JB did the right thing. We didn’t have to be there and it looked bad. The other guys had our back.”
Despite that energetic quintet halving the lead around the three-minute mark from the third, the Raptors regained control and had a 20-to-three-quarter lead.
Cleveland needed a miracle on Christmas Eve.
Bickerstaff got back to his start—and they opened the fourth with a 7-0 lead, sending a momentary jolt across the ring. By the halfway point of the fourth, Toronto’s lead was down to 12. The Cleveland team came close to nine. But they couldn’t dig themselves all the way out of the early, deep pit. Toronto led for 46 minutes Wednesday night — another dominant performance against the Cavs, who appeared to be struggling with the Raptors’ length, athleticism, and physicality for the third time this season.
“When you screw up the whole game—and they’re really good at it—they can screw up the whole game and the umpires won’t call it on every possession,” said Mitchell. “You have to give them credit. It’s physical. We went out expecting some things to go our way, waiting for the false calls that weren’t there. They were just the aggressors. We were on our heels all night.”
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Toronto, the worst three-point shooting team in the league, went 19-of-37 with three-pointers. Almost half of their shots were from outside the arc. It was a 3-point avalanche.
“We didn’t play any defense,” Bickerstaff said.
OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam each scored 26 points to get past the Raptors. Scotty Barnes, who beat Mobley for the MVP award last season, scored 25 points. And against the league’s top-rated defense, Toronto shoots 50% from the field and 51.4% from deep.
Cleveland was led by All-Star guard Garland with 17 points. Mitchell struggled throughout, finishing with only 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting from the field.
The Cavs marched through the snow and entered the game looking for their biggest win of the season against Milwaukee two nights earlier. But this response was far from championship level – the heights they are trying to reach this season.
“The disappointing part was our response to success,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s what this league is about at the end of the day. You win a game on a Wednesday night in December, it doesn’t mean anything. I don’t think our response to winning a few games is what it should be.
“I think when you have success, you tend to get comfortable and the great thing about the NBA is once you get comfortable, somebody kicks you in the face and Toronto is just the team that does that. The style they play, the physicality they play, if You’re high on the horse, they’re going to drop you pretty quickly and I think they showed us that tonight.”
Back in business
Lamar Stevens has returned from a three-game absence due to soreness in his right knee. Playing on restrictions, Stephens came off the bench on Friday night. Scored six points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
During a stellar first half, Toronto raced again and again in transition, scoring 22 fastbreak points compared to just six for Cleveland. The final score in that category was 27-12 in favor of the Raptors.
The Cavs will wrap up their six-game home run against the rookie Brooklyn Nets on Monday. Tipoff is set to 7 p.m
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