On Tuesday night in Cleveland, the cavalry arrived a little later than usual, but at least it still arrived. After a recent string of wins in which the Toronto Raptors (32-25) used the third quarter to put distance between themselves and their opponents, they wound up making their run against Cleveland in the fourth en route to a 99-93 road win.
DeMar DeRozan provided the spark during the team's late rally, scoring eight of his 33 points in the game's final 2.5 minutes. After two Tyler Zeller free throws put the Cavs up 89-87 with 3:11 left in the game, the DeRozan-led Raps went on a game-closing 12-4 run to close the tight contest.
With Kyle Lowry (3-15) struggling with his shot, the onus was on others to step up on offence. Terrence Ross registered 19 points on 7-11 shooting and hit 5-8 shots from beyond the arc, including the go-ahead trey after Zeller's free throws. Meanwhile, Greivis Vasquez offered some scoring production out of the back-up point guard spot, picking up 15 points on 6-11 shooting. Kyrie Irving led the way for Cleveland with 25 points and nine assists.
It's odd to consider a reigning All-Star as underrated, but the story most overshadowed in DeRozan's recent invite to New Orleans for the All-Star Game might have been his own. While most observers (myself included) discussed his selection from a franchise standpoint (fourth Raptor to be named an AllStar, etc) or questioned whether he was the Raptor most deserving of an ASG nod, DeRozan was being feted and overlooked at the same time. The East's best shooting guard this season now sits 10th in league scoring (22.5 PPG), eighth in free throw attempts (7.3 per game) and fourth in minutes played (38.3 per game). There's something to be said for a volume scorer who a) doesn't shoot irresponsibly (43%), b) doesn't hinder his team and c) plays defence.
I've said it before and I might even say it again: most remarkable about the Raptors' numerous rallies and late surges are how unremarkable they now seem. When the team finds itself down late and not playing up to potential, there is no sense of panic or self doubt - they just continue to push. There simply can't be many other NBA teams with the same confidence and steely resolve as Toronto has when trailing late in a game.
Lowry from Deep
As is the custom for Lowry, Tuesday night's showing was a stat-filling affair in which the point guard counter-balanced his 13 points with nine assists, five rebounds and 7-7 shooting from the free throw line. However, even the varied contributions failed to make up for Lowry's costly three-point woes that saw him go 0-9 from beyond the arc along the way to a 3-15 shooting night. The wayward effort fell two missed three's short of Antoine Walker's NBA record for three-point attempts without a make.
With a pretty uneventful night in Cleveland producing little in the "Random" department, it seems to be a good time to check in on some positive developments in the Eastern Conference standings. At no point in this season have the Raptors been more secure than their are now, sitting 4.5 games clear of Brooklyn in the Atlantic and enjoying a 9.5 game cushion over those outside of the playoff picture. And considering tonight sees the Nets visit Portland and the ninth-place Pistons head to San Antonio, those leads could increase before the day is done.
I feel like I just talked about these guys (oh wait, I did). So instead of belabouring my earlier point, I'll explore an alternate mode of ripping into the Cavs' 2013-14 season. Without further ado, my rank of the top four most miserable '13-14 campaigns*:
* Note: in a tank-happy season, misery is not simply synonymous with teams having bad records, hence why the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz don't appear here.
4) Brooklyn Nets
Limping into the playoffs on account of a weak East wasn't what Mikhail Prokhorov had in mind when he went all in with this club.
3) Cleveland Cavaliers
The young core may be imploding, the No. 1 over-all pick looks like a bust and any fleeting dreams of a LeBron reunion appear to be dashed.
2) Los Angeles Lakers
Nothing says "lost season" quite like a starting line-up that includes Jodie Meeks, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall and (sometimes) Robert Sacre.
1) New York Knicks
Pick your poison here: Andrea Bargnani's been atrocious, JR Smith is an embarassment, Amare Stoudemire is an albatross, Raymond Felton is awaiting a court date and Carmelo Anthony could be out the door this summer. And Denver has their first rounder.
Reunion week continues for the Raps. After rapid-fire return engagements against Orlando and Cleveland, they host Washington on Thursday (7:00pm, TSN), 10 days after paying the Wizards a (winning) visit.
Prediction: Raps 97, Wizards 93 (35-12 this season)