The Cleveland Cavaliers (16-23, 10th in the East) will try to keep their 3 game winning streak going Tuesday night when they host the Toronto Raptors (13-28, 13th in the East). The Raptors have lost 2 straight games and have won just 6 of the 19 games they’ve played since February 1.
Before the Cavaliers get to excited, though, they should remember the last two matchups with the Raptors. For whatever reason, Toronto has been Cavalier kryptonite this season, as the Raptors have rather easily taken apart Cleveland in the two previous games. Two of Kyrie Irving’s 3 worst games this year have been against the Raptors. Both times Toronto was able to light up the Cavaliers from three point range, both times Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani were able to orchestrate the pick and roll to perfection, slicing the Cavalier defense apart.
That’s the bad news. The good news for the Cavaliers is that Jose Calderon is out tonight with an injury. As for Bargnani, he missed all of February and the first couple weeks of March before returning a couple games ago. Bargnani is still working himself back into playing shape, but he does still present a matchup issue when paired with Calderon. Now that the Raptors will be without their starting PG, it will be interesting to see how Jerryd Bayless does in his place.
Bargnani’s shooting ability allows him to draw defenders out of the paint, opening up room for Calderon to use his precision to either drive or setup a cutting teammate for an easy basket. They work well together and they do something that the Cavaliers definitely struggle with defending.
Bayless is a different animal. A solid player in his own right, Bayless prefers to look to score first himself and then setup teammates later as the defense adjusts to his aggressiveness. It’s a stark contrast to the way Calderon plays. Calderon averages 10.5 points and 8.5 assists on 9.2 shots per game. His AST% is at 44.1%. Bayless averages 10.3 points and 3.3 assists on 8.7 shots per game. His AST% stands at 27.3%. So there’s no question they are very different PGs. Kyrie Irving will be happy to see Bayless rather than Calderon tonight, as Irving has had much more success against PGs who are more like Bayless.
If you recall from the earlier matchups with Toronto, the Raptors’ focus for this season was said to be similar to Cleveland’s: development. Both teams came into this season looking for progress and trying to find signs that things were moving back in the right direction. Toronto has seen some very mixed results, but they wanted to reform their team through defense. To that end, the Raptors have still been pretty decent on the defensive end, and certainly they have been immensely better than last season.
It’s on offense where Toronto really struggles. Losing Bargnani, who has been quite excellent on offense, for over a month certainly didn’t help, and neither does being without Calderon now. Just as the Cavaliers struggle to find consistent scoring outside Irving and Jamison, so too does Toronto struggle outside of Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan.
These are very similar teams in many aspects, even if their approach to the game is pretty different. Bargnani being back is a huge boost for Toronto. The Raptors were 6-7 with him before he went down with injury. The Raptors hope his return will allow them to get back to improving and developing and showing signs of growth.
For Cleveland, they are still waiting for Anderson Varejao’s return, but they have found ways to survive without him. Rather than finding one consistent source to provide scoring beyond Irving and Jamison, the Cavaliers have seen players take turns stepping up. Some nights it’s Ramon Sessions, some nights it’s Alonzo Gee, and some nights it’s a surprising player like Samardo Samuels. When the Cavaliers win, though, it’s usually because someone else on the team stepped up.
The Raptors may not be as good as Denver, Oklahoma City, or Houston, but the Cavaliers will still need someone to step up and shoulder their share of the burden. I’ve given up on waiting for Kyrie Irving to be aggressive in looking to score in the 1st quarter. For whatever reason, he just seems to be content to wait until the 4th quarter to make his impact felt on the game. And hey, it’s working, right?
In this recent win streak, the Cavaliers’ formula for winning has mostly been: ‘let Antawn Jamison carry us for 3 quarters, get sporadic scoring from one or two other players, then let Kyrie Irving do his Mr. 4th Quarter thing’. I’m just not sure relying on Antawn Jamison to carry the team on his back for 3 quarters is a sustainable recipe for success. This is going to catch up to the team eventually. Without Varejao on the floor, though, Irving just doesn’t seem as comfortable running half court sets. So once again, playing a Raptors team high with confidence against the Cavs, Jamison will likely have to be on fire to help lead the team through the first couple quarters of this game.
If this game is close in the 4th quarter, though, no matter how they get there, the Cavaliers will like their chances with Irving. That’s the name of the game right now for Cleveland. Get to the 4th with the score close. Let the rookie do the rest. So far he has rarely let the team down.