CLEVELAND: For the last couple of weeks, Cavs coach Byron Scott has grown irritated with his team’s habit of playing to the level of the competition. The Cavs were spectacular in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and played very well over the weekend in a loss to the New York Knicks.
Yet as soon as the hapless Toronto Raptors came to town, the Cavaliers matched them with an effort — particularly defensively — as hapless as their now-5-21 record indicates.
The Raptors scored 35 points in the fourth quarter and 64 in the second half to beat the Cavaliers 113-99 on Tuesday and end their 11-game road losing streak. They entered just 1-14 on the road this season, but shot 52 percent (50 percent on 3-pointers) and made it look easy in the second half.
“We’re not trying to make any excuses, but it seems as though when we’re playing the lower-echelon teams, we don’t come out the way we want to,” Kyrie Irving said. “When you play teams such as the Lakers and New York, we’re in the game. Then it’s a letdown here. We have to come out with a more focused attitude and a killer mentality. We have to find out what’s missing.”
Any sort of interior defense was missing Tuesday. The Raptors got to the basket with little resistance. They entered shooting 43 percent, but ended the night much better than that in winning their third in a row.
“I’m just going by what I think when you have a young bunch of guys get up for certain teams more than others,” Scott said. “But this was a team we knew was playing pretty good basketball. I thought our focus was there this morning and I thought in the first half we did a pretty good job. But the third quarter, they got a run going, we got frustrated and we never got that intensity back on the defensive end.”
The loss spoiled the return of Dion Waiters, who was as rusty as Scott thought he might be in his first game back after missing eight with a sprained left ankle. Waiters had eight points, four assists and three turnovers. He had a couple explosive dunks, but shot just 4-of-13 and committed three turnovers.
“Shots I usually hit weren’t going down, so I tried to impact the game driving,” Waiters said. “I tried not to take a lot of jump shots.”
Eight of his 13 shots were jump shots.
The Raptors’ Jose Calderon again had a big night with Irving defending him. Calderon averaged 14 points, 11 assists and six rebounds in two games against Irving last season, but one was Irving’s pro debut and the other was his first time playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
There were no excuses this time, although Scott — after being critical of Irving’s defensive effort lately — thought he actually was one of the better defensive players on Tuesday. Scott thought the Cavs simply didn’t give him enough help in the pick-and-roll and coming off screens.
Despite what the numbers say, Irving dismissed the idea he struggled defending Calderon.
“He’s not a tough matchup for me at all,” Irving said. “He just stops behind those screens and hits shots.”
Scott liked the progress the Cavs were making defensively in recent weeks. The last four opponents all shot 43 percent or worse, and the Cavaliers hadn’t allowed an opponent to shoot as well as the Raptors did since the Miami Heat shot 52 percent on Nov. 24 — a span of 13 games.
“We made so many defensive mistakes and they seemed to capitalize on every one of them,” Scott said. “If you want to be successful, it’s on that end first and it has to be focused for 48 minutes. We didn’t do a good job of staying involved and staying in tune with what was going on on that end of the floor.”
Anderson Varejao had 22 points and 10 rebounds, but went down with a knee injury in the first quarter. He banged knees with a Raptors player and fell to the ground in a heap. He returned late in the second quarter, but was hobbling after the game and called himself a game-time decision for tonight’s game at the Boston Celtics.
Daniel Gibson was also unsure whether or not he’ll be able to play against the Celtics. Gibson rolled his right ankle in the second half and there was a fair amount of swelling in it after the game.
Tristan Thompson had 10 points and nine rebounds, while Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas had eight points and seven rebounds. The Cavs carefully considered selecting Valanciunas with the fourth overall pick two years ago, but ultimately settled on Thompson. Tuesday marked their first look at him since he remained overseas last season.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.