Cavs Fall to Raptors to Remain Winless
OK, I'll try not to lob anymore historical metaphors at you. But you might want to get ready for a whole lot of consternation from the great state of Ohio, because the team with the best record in the league last year has started out 0-2. The Cavaliers fell to the Raptors in Toronto 101-91 to remain winless, and the same problems that surfaced Tuesday night in their loss to the Celtics reared their head again.
You don't touch the button with the P-word on it yet. It's only the second game, of course. But in an Eastern Conference where both of their opponents seem to be ready right off the bat, the Cavs look like they may have a steeper learning curve.
Stop me if you've heard this one, but LeBron James was brilliant in the loss. The reigning MVP earned his 25th triple-double tonight with 23 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds and 2 steals in another exhibition to strike fear in the hearts of Cavs fans. The most disturbing trend from the first two games of the season is the regression to pre-2008 (or if you prefer, Eastern-Conference-Finals-esque) offense from the Cavs. The Cavs starters shot 33.9%, which is only slightly worse than the entire team's 34.9% mark.
Worse, they looked flat-out slow for the second night in a row, as the Raptors consistently got penetration on pump fakes and created open looks with effective ball rotation. Andrea Bargnani started his first year after the monster extension he received this summer, going 11-15 for 28 points and 5 rebounds. Bargnani murdered the Cavs, driving to draw fouls, kicking out to start rotations, and working both inside and out with his remarkable range. Chris Bosh was his usual All-Star self with 21 points and 16 rebounds, while Hedo Turkoglu had 12 points in his Raptors debut while proving to be instrumental in calming the Raptors during a furious third-quarter comeback bid for the Cavs.
The Raptors led 57-39 at the half before the Cavs staged a furious barrage of three-pointers in the third quarter, outscoring the Raps 32-21. But to start the fourth, instead of capitalizing on the momentum, Mike Brown elected to sit LeBron James until the 8:40 mark, resulting in a 9-3 run by Toronto to start the fourth. From there the Raptors offense awoke from its third quarter slumber and put the game away.
It was a great start for the new-look Raptors, and a bad-to-worse development for the Cavs, who are only getting marginal production from Shaquille O'Neal so far (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 fouls). Brown has used the lineup of both Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaq on the floor at once in both of their games and thus far it has exposed the Cavs' vulnerability to the fast break.
It's better to struggle now than later on in the season, but to shrug off both of the Cavs losses as flukes is to ignore the vulnerabilities that a squad that was expected to contend for a title must resolve if it wants to rediscover the dominant team from last season. Because it sure doesn't look like Orlando or Boston are having identity crises.