Apparently, defense was optional in Cleveland on Tuesday night.
In a rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors fought each other in a shootout -- one that elated the Quicken Loans Arena crowd into a playoff-like atmosphere.
After three quarters of Cavalier control -- they led by as much as 12 points -- the Raptors entered the fourth with purpose and movement. Toronto reversed the tide of the game and ballooned a lead of their own to seven points.
Tough shot for easy shot
Though Toronto eventually mustered up some amount of control, their offense grew stagnant in the final minutes. The All-Star Guard duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan combined for 54 points, but they did so on a whopping 50 shots. While the Raptors -- now at 7-3 on the season -- were juiced by more efficient performances from the likes of Jonas Valanciunas (14 pts, 9 rebs) and Terrance Ross (18 points, 7/12 FG), many of their late-game shots clanged off the rim and into the arms Cleveland rebounders.
The Cavs shot a solid 53% from the floor and outrebounded the visitors 46-40. LeBron James chalked up one of his best and most efficient games of the young season -- falling one rebound short of a triple double and and dishing out 14 assists. Kyrie Irving chipped in 24 points and shot 50% from the field, and big men Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson each recorded a double-double.
The catalyst for this win, however, might have been Channing Frye.
Acquired at last year's trade deadline from the Orlando Magic, Frye has offered the Cavs a delightful clubhouse leader-clutch shooter combo since making Cleveland his home. Tuesday night, he scored 21 points and shot 7/10 from the floor. He hit five threes, too, including the game sealer with about a minute left. From an on-ball screen, Frye popped to the top of the arc, swooped his arms around a jumping closeout attempt by Lowry, and nailed a straightaway three to put Cleveland up 117-115.
On the next possession DeMar DeRozan missed his own three point jack off a baseline hook screen, and Tristan Thompson wrenched the rebound to seal Cleveland's 9th win of the season.
Over the hills and far away
Now that -- for most teams -- the NBA season is 10 games old, the tiring grit of the winter and playoff preparation for spring will soon begin. The Cavaliers and Raptors may very well meet in the playoffs for the second straight year, but their are areas in which both should improve.
The Cavs sit atop the East with a 9-1 record, but they struggled on defense tonight. Though they held Toronto to under-50% shooting, Cleveland allowed more than 25 points in each quarter and only forced 7 Raptor turnovers. Both Cleveland and Toronto made 13 three-pointers, a definite reason for the prevalent offense, but each club has their own improvements to make to reach their optimal ability.
On Wednesday night, the Cavs visit the Indiana Pacers at 7:00 pm EST. 300 miles northward, the Raptors host the reigning champion Golden State Warriors at 8:00 pm EST on ESPN.