Cavaliers vs. Raptors Game Recap: The Night Lou Williams Came To Town

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(Cleveland, OH) — On Saturday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were defeated soundly by the Toronto Raptors 110 to 93 on the second night of a back-to-back. The loss, the Cavaliers fourth in a row, drops them to 5-6 on the season. The Cavaliers started off well, getting up 12-0 to start the game, on their way to a 34-21 advantage by the end of the first quarter. After that, the Raptors spent the next three quarters absolutely dismantling the Cleveland.

Toronto guard Lou Williams was working with a flamethrower tonight, scoring 36 points, shooting only 9-19 from the field, but converting 15 of 15 from the free throw line. Williams put it on any Cavalier defender (including LeBron James) that guarded him, and did unspeakable things to Cavs guard Will Cherry.

“(Williams) had six free throws in the span of two minutes, he had nine in the first half. We can’t allow that, we have to defend without fouling,” James said following the game.

Outside of the first quarter, the Cavaliers looked absolutely inept on both sides of the floor, culminating in a disastrous third quarter in which the Raptors scored 29 points to the Cavaliers’ 17.

“We lost the tempo that we had, we came out and played defense, we shared the ball, moved the ball, moved bodies, I don’t know what happened,” LeBron said regarding the drop-off after the first quarter, “They made a run and messed up the rhythm of what we were trying to do. Once a team like that get’s a rhythm, there’s no turning them off.”

Throughout the night, the Raptors got into the paint at will, and were working in clear air space for a majority of the game. Kyle Lowry got off to a slow start after getting into foul trouble early, but ended the night with 23 points on 14 shots, and eight assists with zero turnovers.

On the offensive end, the Cavaliers continue to struggle. The team could not take care of the ball tonight and it dug its own grave, giving up 22 points on 20 turnovers. “You need those possessions. They are momentum breakers, or momentum makers for the other team,” Cavaliers Coach David Blatt said regarding the teams turnover problem.

The turnovers stole the Cavs’ momentum, and they failed to record more than 22 points in any quarter after the first. It’s either a flood or a drought with this Cavs offense that has struggled to get any points outside of their Big 3 + Anderson Varejao. The bench (again) failed to provide anything of note tonight, pitching in a combined 19 points on eight of 24 shooting. “I felt like we just got nothing from our bench (51-19),” Blatt said, “that pretty much explains it.”

The Raptors were regulars in the paint by the end of the night, scoring 34 points on 17 of 31 shooting. Toronto was also able to take advantage of the charity stripe throughout the game shooting a whopping 38 of 42 free throws. The Cavaliers on the other hand struggled on their free throws tonight, going 20 of 29 from the line.

Top Performers:

Kevin Love

Kevin Love shooting a hook shot

After struggling last night against Washington, Cavs forward Kevin Love started off strong, going three for three in the post. “I thought I was getting good looks, good shots, and as far as making quick decisions, I thought I was doing that well,” Love said regarding his strong start.

Curiously, the Cavs went away from him after that. Love had 10 points on three of five shots at the end of the first quarter, and still only 10 points on a total of three of seven shots by the end of the half. Why? The Raptors paid more attention to Love after his hot start, but to only get him two more shots over the entirety of the second quarter is inexcusable. Love scored consistently in the second half however, ending the game with 23 points and seven rebounds.

One thing that has me confused with Love’s performance in Cleveland so far is that it doesn’t seem like he knows what shots he should and shouldn’t take. So many times tonight he gave up on shooting a three pointer when a man was closing out on him, despite the fact that the defender had no chance of blocking or bothering the shot. Love either passed it away, or pump faked and stepped into a long two (my most hated shot outside of a Dion Waiters long two or the Shawn Marion running floater). Love is a 6’10″ forward with a money jump shot; no defender outside of Anthony Davis has any chance of blocking him out on the perimeter. Why is Love passing up good threes? He’s most dangerous from there and on the block.

It speaks to a lack of understanding on this team about the roles in the offense. The Cavaliers suffer too often from over-passing; scared that their shot is not the best shot, they tend to pass up a perfectly good look.

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving driving layup

Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving had a solid night overall, recording 21 points, six assists, three rebounds and a steal. Irving did a majority of his damage in the second quarter, where the Cavs’ guard scored 14 of his 21 points. Kyrie was forced to play hero ball in the second quarter as a result of an odd lineup choice by Coach Blatt. I’m surprised it’s not understood at this point that 2/3 of the “Big Three” needs to be on the floor at all times at this point in the season. When that doesn’t happen, the offense stagnates, and the Cavaliers’ lifeblood is stopped. The rest of the Cavs team cannot create consistent offense, and Irving is relegated to making ridiculous plays out of necessity. Dion hasn’t stepped up this season like we thought we would, Joe Harris is a rookie shooting guard prone to rookie shooting guard mistakes (GINOBLI), Mike Miller is literally a bag of bones, and Tristan Thompson is not an effective offensive player unless surrounded by stars. You can’t rely on Irving to drag these guys with him when LeBron, Varejao, and Love are all sitting on the bench.

David Blatt

Coach David Blatt and Kevin Love

The Cavaliers defense was as bad tonight as it has been throughout this season. While Toronto only shot 41% from the field, they got wherever they wanted to on the floor, and basically lived at the free throw line. The Cavs couldn’t stay in front of any of the Raptors’ wings, they missed defensive rotations frequently, they didn’t stay on their feet, they gave up dumb shooting fouls, and overall looked like a room of cats chasing a laser pointer.

The job of a head coach is to get the most out of his players, and put them in positions to succeed. In his short tenure with the Cavaliers, Coach Blatt has struggled with both of these two tasks. His offensive and defensive schemes seem tailored for a different team.

David Blatt’s defensive scheme is one of the most frustrating things about the Cavaliers. In pick and roll situations, the most common offensive attack in the NBA, Blatt likes to have his big man defender “show hard.” This means the big man defender will jump out to or past the three-point line to get in the face of the ball handler. The system’s purpose is to corral the ball handler, prevent dribble penetration, and force the ball handler into a trap, or force them to give up the ball and hopefully make a bad pass. This is similar to what Miami has run very successfully for the last four years. The secret? Chris Bosh. Bosh has quietly been one of the top three defensive big men in the league for the last four years. Bosh moves laterally as well as he does going north-south, very unique for anybody, especially someone who is 6’11″. Bosh makes the Miami system work by snuffing out the pick-and-roll, and recovering defensive position quickly. By the time the offense would reverse the ball to counter Miami’s coverage, Bosh was already in position, and the offensive play had been stonewalled. The system requires the defense to play on a string by having the entire defense react as one, rotating over to help the big man who is forced out of position by the pick-and-roll. It requires strong defensive awareness by the whole team, as well as the athletic ability to pull off.

Cleveland doesn’t have Bosh, or team defensive awareness, or many athletes who can work well within the system. Cleveland has Varejao, Thompson, and Love. In their favor, Varejao and TT are both strong defenders, and have the ability to corral ball handler on the pick-and-roll. Unfortunately however, when teams reverse the ball, or attempt to split the defenders, Cleveland’s help defenders are often caught out of position, or not rotating properly. This often results in barely contested shots around the basket or wide-open jumpers.

The Cavs will surely improve in their defensive rotations as the season progresses, I’m just not sure that this defensive scheme is the most effective one for their staff. I would rather see the Cavs run a much more conservative defense that has the big man sag back to cut off the penetrating ball handler, similar to the ICE defense made popular by Chicago Bulls Head Coach Tim Thibodeau. The Bulls turned Rose and Boozer into at least passable defenders; it IS possible.

On the offensive end, this team makes basketball look more difficult than it has any business being. Why is Thompson being used as the screener in a pick-and-roll while Love stands in the corner? Why isn’t Love being used more at the elbow, instead of the low block where he can’t see anybody on the other side of the floor? On that note, why is nobody on the weak side cutting or moving when LeBron or Love is posted up, or has their man in an isolation situation? Why is Marion taking running floaters? Why is Waiters taking anything but three pointers and shots in the paint? I understand that you take what the defense gives you, but when you have Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and Lebron James on the same team, the defense shouldn’t be able to take away all three of them. The Cavs stop the ball far too often for the amount of talent they have on the floor. Their offensive sets are sloppy and slow to develop, too often resulting in LeBron or Kyrie dribbling the life out of the ball before taking a less than efficient shot. This team should not be this bad on offense, and it’s baffling to see them struggle. When they play with pace, cut with purpose, and put the onus on the opposing defense to stay in front of them, the Cavs show us the tantalizing potential we dreamed of this summer. As it stands, they often make it easy for opposing defenses, and that is unacceptable with the talent involved.

Looking Forward:

The Cavaliers have a nice home stretch in the next few weeks in which they can attempt to get back above .500. They face off against the Orlando Magic at home on Monday, before hosting the Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks. After that stretch, the Cavs travel to New York to face off against the Knicks on December 4th. This should be a stretch that we see the Cavs start to show some consistency on the offensive end (I’m not expecting anything on the defensive end at this point). I say SHOULD because nothing with this Cavs team is a certainty at this point, and it’s difficult to predict which game will be a W.

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Adam is a recent graduate from San Diego State University. He currently works for SDSU in corporate sponsorship for the Athletics Department. He's happy to be a staff writer for Cavaliers Nation, and you can follow him at @AMH08.