TORONTO: Thirty-six thoughts for 36 baskets in a 103-99 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Drake night at Air Canada Centre Wednesday…
1. Maybe they were tired. Maybe the injuries caught up with them. Maybe it was the bigs. Maybe it was poor rotations defensively. Maybe the East is legitimately improved. All of that was thrown around as possible reasons for this loss, but LeBron James was having none of it.
2. “It’s not an excuse,” James said of fatigue and injuries. “We have to hold each other more accountable, we have to play better. And we will. But I don’t think we improved tonight.”
3. The Cavs fell to 3-4 on the road, which seems troubling. They join the Miami Heat as the only first-place teams with a losing road record. Of course, it’s still early, the Cavs haven’t been whole at any point yet and they still have the best overall record in the East.
4. They were just 3 of 16 in the fourth before making their last four shots, but the game was over by then. Blatt blamed that on fatigue and thought guys just ran out of gas.
5. Kevin Love had 21 points and 13 rebounds, but didn’t think the offensive side is what hurt them despite the terrible shooting. He thought the rotations were off and the Cavs allowed too many and-ones. Indeed, the Raptors had three attempts at three-point plays just in the game’s final 6 1/2 minutes. They shot just 12 of 22 from the line or else the game would’ve been over much sooner.
6. “Our rotations weren’t quite there and I felt overall we just need to play more physical,” Love said. “We let too many and-ones happen with too many guys close to the basket.”
7. Bismack Biyombo will never be confused as an adequate offensive player, but he had three big baskets in the fourth. Kyle Lowry, an All-Star last season, had 20 points and five assists in the second half, including a big three-point play late in the fourth.
8. “The bigs, we’re playing soft. It’s on the bigs,” Tristan Thompson said. “That’s our job. We got to play physical, be a force in the paint and we’re just not doing that right now.”
9. The Raptors induced six and-ones – all in the second half. Lowry had three of the six.
10. “If we’re going to foul, we’ve got to make it count,” Thompson said. “I’m not saying hurt anyone, but you can’t give up and-ones. That’s not acceptable. That’s on the bigs. That’s on me, K-Love, Andy, that’s on us when we play soft.”
11. Physicality was a big talking point for James. LeBron and Love were the only two Cavs players to shoot free throws, an odd quirk for which Blatt didn’t really have an answer. Some Cavs players didn’t get calls at the rim, but it was clear the Raptors were attacking more. The Raptors nearly doubled the Cavs in paint scoring, 52-28.
12. “It’s all mindset,” James said of physical play. “It comes from within. I’ve always had it, my upbringing had me like that. It’s either you got it or you don’t.”
13. Right now it’s clear he doesn’t think the Cavs have it, but he’s hopeful they’ll develop it. Perhaps it’s something else that will change when the Cavs are whole. They seem tired at times of talking about injuries, but Matthew Dellavedova’s absence certainly seemed to hurt on Lowry.
14. He scored 14 points in the third quarter and 20 in the second half mostly by attacking. Jared Cunningham struggled at both ends and certainly struggled with Lowry. Cunningham started at point guard because Dellavedova wasn’t available and Blatt wanted to ease Mo Williams back into the lineup. Cunningham led the Cavs in shots during the first half and struggled defensively in the second.
15. “No excuse to be made,” Blatt said. “We didn’t have Delly tonight, we had to do the job with the guys that are out there. But (Lowry) is a good player and I thought we did a good job on him early, but he got us late. No question.”
16. Cunningham and Lowry seemed to get into it late in the third when they barked back and forth. Lowry gave Cunningham an elbow and Cunningham retaliated with a one-armed shove, but Cunningham said after the game there was nothing going on.
17. “He had some good looks, but he’s an All-Star point guard,” Cunningham said. “He played well for his team tonight. He’s quick, he gets around the lane and he played a good game.”
18. The Cavs’ locker room remained closed for an inordinate amount of time after the loss. “Lot of sadness,” one player said before James Jones, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Mo Williams and James seemed to have an impromptu discussion in the middle of the locker room about defense.
19. The East certainly looks improved, at least in the early stages. Nine teams enter Thanksgiving with a winning record and 11 are .500 or better – this from a conference that routinely sends a team with a losing record into the playoffs. The West, conversely, has just six teams with winning records.
20. “It’s great for the Eastern Conference,” James said. “There’s always been a lot of shade thrown at our conference the last few years, so it’s great to see that our side is definitely picking it up and playing at a high level.”
21. Blatt agreed. “I think there’s a lot of very good teams in the East, unbeknownst to many,” Blatt said. “There’s a lot of good teams.”
22. Despite the injuries, it’s clear James isn’t tolerating losing. He has been irritated after losses and even after some wins. He is trying to hold this team to a higher standard and not letting them use injuries as an excuse. I wrote for weeks the Cavs were content to hit doubles, to make par and move onto the next hole. That’s no longer true. James is trying to stoke a fire every night.
23. The latest was the awkward start to the game, when the Cavs took the floor before the Raptors were even done with introductions. It led to this strange sight of dancers having to dance around the players with neither side budging an inch.
24. The Cavs are 3-4 on the road, which would be more concerning if they were fully healthy. But James seems annoyed by it nonetheless.
25. “We gotta have a bunker mentality when you go on the road,” he said. “You’ve gotta understand it’s you guys vs. everyone else, vs. the fans, vs. the opposing group. Adversity is going to happen. You have to have a bunker mentality and understand that it’s just us. It’s something we have to learn how to play on the road again which we did last year. At some point we just learned how to start winning again on the road and we haven’t been able to do it thus far.”
26. James played Wednesday with messages scribbled on his shoes honoring Ebony Nettles-Bey, an 18-year-old standout Wisconsin high school basketball player who died Wednesday from complications of a rare cancer. Her public battle with the disease lasted two years following her diagnosis in late September 2013. James met Nettles-Bey prior to a game at Milwaukee in 2014 when he was still with the Heat.
27. Chatted with Tristan Thompson briefly before the game regarding all the rumors surrounding him last summer and the Raptors’ interest in bringing him home through free agency. They already have Canadians Cory Joseph and Anthony Bennett, while Sim Bhullar is on the Raptors’ D-League team. Let’s not get into the whole Andrew Wiggins to Toronto murmurs, which surfaced long ago and already has the Timberwolves fairly paranoid.
28. The only way Thompson to Toronto seemed viable was if Thompson took the Cavs’ qualifying offer last summer, which would’ve made him an unrestricted free agent next year. He said Wednesday he didn’t have much interest in that.
29. “I never thought about it,” he said. “My whole thing was to focus on getting better and whenever my situation was handled, my business was handled, that’s when I was going to get back on the court. Whenever it was, so be it. I’m glad it’s here in Cleveland.”
30. Thompson watched James’ homecoming last season up close, but didn’t seem overly motivated by the idea of a homecoming of his own after growing up in nearby Brampton.
31. “As a kid I always watched the Raptors growing up and was a fan of the Raptors,” he said. “When we were in the playoffs our first couple years I definitely cheered them on … But I’m a Cleveland guy and that’s where my heart’s at.”
32. Dellavedova’s loss was evident in the second half when Lowry got loose. Missing Wednesday will give him three full days off to rest his sore left calf prior to Friday’s game at Charlotte. The Cavs then return home to face the Brooklyn Nets Saturday.
33. “Obviously I want to play but you’ve got to be smart about it,” he said. “There’s no point trying to play now and then missing three or four games because you do it worse. Hopefully missing this game now and getting an extra day or two of rest should hopefully clear it up.”
34. The Cavs are staying overnight in Toronto and flying Thanksgiving morning to Charlotte for Friday’s game. They’ll hold some form of a Thanksgiving dinner as a team, likely at the hotel, but that’s about it.
35. “I wish all of our guys could be home to be with their families,” Blatt said. “But we’ll have a little get together and enjoy the holiday a little bit. But that’s the NBA schedule. We’re not (home).”
36. Happy Thanksgiving. Talk to you Friday from Charlotte.