Raptors 94 Cavaliers 114 [box]
Nine wins in a row. All nine by a margin of at least 12 points. No team…ever…in the history of the NBA…has ever pulled it off. Well, other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, that is. With this 20 point victory over the free falling Raptors, the Cavaliers made NBA history by becoming the first team in NBA history to have a 9 game win streak with such impressive margins of victory. Along the way, a couple franchise records fell as well.
In the first minute of the game, LeBron James knocked the ball away from Jose Calderon, notching the 735th steal of his career, to take over as the sole leader in steals in franchise history from team legend Mark Price. Mike Brown called a timeout shortly after to give the crowd a chance to acknowledge the feat of the young phenom. It’s amazing that in just his 6th NBA season and at a mere 23 years old, LeBron James is already all over the Cavaliers franchise record books. He’s already the all time leader in points and now steals, but he’s creeping up everywhere else as well. He’s 3rd in FGs, 3rd in attempts, 4th in 3-pt FGs, 2nd in 3-pt FG attempts, 2nd in FTs, 2nd in FT attempts, 8th in rebounds, 2nd in assists, and 8th in blocks. At 23, most people are just graduating college and looking for a job. LeBron? He’s already the king of an entire franchise.
Another guy who will one day be looked back on as a Cavaliers legend got an important record of his own in this game. In the 2nd quarter, LeBron allowed a missed shot to be scooped up by Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and it was recorded as his 4th rebound of the game, but more importantly, it was the 5,228th rebound of his career, putting him ahead of Brad Daugherty for the all time lead in rebounds in franchise history. Again, Mike Brown was quick to call a time out to allow the Q a chance to shower their thanks and appreciation down on the big Lithuanian center who has overcome so much and given every ounce of himself to this city and to this franchise. It was a touching moment to see a record held by a fan favorite and team legend be surpassed by a person who deserves it more than anyone else. Sure, if LeBron finishes his career in Cleveland, he’ll someday pass this record, too, but for this night it was all about remembering what Big Z has been through and what he has meant to this franchise.
While the records were nice, and it was fun to see so much reflection on this night, the icing on top was the team’s 9th win in a row and 17th win in their last 18 games. With the Pistons loss to the Wizards, the Cavaliers have now opened a fairly commanding 6.5 game lead in the Central Division. This is the team’s first 9 game winning streak since they had a 9 game streak in the 2005-06 season, but this is the best start to a season this franchise has ever seen.
The Cavaliers came out strong once again in this game and opened up a 19 point lead in the 2nd quarter. But after al the distractions of the records, along with the players getting rattled a bit by the officiating in the game, the Cavaliers lost their focus a little bit. The Raptors sensed their opportunity to get back in the game and pounced on it by playing scrappy defense forcing the Cavaliers to take bad outside shots, while on offense the Raptors used a lot of pick and roll plays to create good scoring chances for themselves. They eventually closed to within 4 points at 53-49. LeBron would hit a few FTs after this, though, and then he hit a nice 28 foot three pointer right at the buzzer to end the first half with a 59-51 edge for the Cavaliers.
The second half would open with a huge 23-4 run by the Cavaliers as they pushed the lead back to 82-55 with 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. From there, it was business as usual dor the Cavs. LeBron would sit out the 4th quarter and the Cavaliers reserves would get plenty of playing time and would keep the lead around 20 points the rest of the way.
LeBron ended the game with 31 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in 3 quarters of play. Ilgauskas and Mo Williams each added 13 points, while Wally Szczerbiak chipped in with 16 points off the bench. The bench played pretty solid all around, as Anderson Varejao had 9 points and 5 rebounds, and Sasha Pavlovic had the exact same numbers….9 points and 5 rebounds.
There were only a couple troubling things I saw in this game. First, Darnell Jackson received a lot of playing time in this game as he seemed to take over J.J. Hickson’s minutes for some reason. In 22 minutes he managed 1 point and 4 rebounds, while J.J. Hickson came in for mop up duty and played just 4 minutes, but still managed 4 points and 3 rebounds in such a short stint. Perhaps Mike Brown just wanted to give Darnell some meaningful minutes to give him some experience and to see how he reacted to it. If that’s the case, it wasn’t too bad seeing him take over Hickson’s minutes, as J.J. has already been getting some valuable experience. Regardless, it was still frustrating watching the Raptors come charging back into the game with Jackson on the floor for much of it contributing very little, when you knew Hickson was on the bench when he could have been in the game giving the team his some energy and offense.
The other troubling sight was Daniel Gibson heading to the locker room in the middle of the 2nd quarter. Evidently he sprained his toe and it didn’t seem to be too serious, but he never returned to the game. It’s unfortunate if this is going to hinder him at all or force him to miss any time, because Gibson seemed to just now be finding his stroke and shooting the ball better. Hopefully this won’t cause him to miss any time and won’t be anything that lingers and bothers him for the rest of the season.
Overall, though, this was another great victory for the Cavaliers. They are playing basketball at a level we have never seen in Cleveland, and based on their new NBA record, evidently they’re playing better basketball right now at this moment than the league has ever seen. Tomorrow will be a tough challenge to head into Philly on the tail end of a back-to-back, but with more 4th quarter rest and with confidence at an all time high level, the Cavaliers will be ready for the challenge.