Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 112-96 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
One — Painless: There have been very few stress-free games in this pandemic season for the Raptors, so this was a nice relief in that regard. The Cavaliers kept pace with the Raptors for three quarters, but the Raptors were always in control because they got the rim at will, and they made one hard push in the fourth quarter to collect the win. The Raptors even managed to keep minutes low for their starters ahead of their murderous row to decide their playoff fates with Brooklyn, Utah, Denver, both Los Angeles teams, and a meeting with Washington to follow.
Two — Wow: Malachi Flynn saved his best for last, scoring 16 of his 18 points in the final 13 minutes of the game. Flynn was quiet in the first half outside of a crossover so quick that it dropped both himself and his defender, but was able to find his rhythm in the second half. Flynn went on a personal 5-0 run in the span of four seconds to end the third quarter, and he carried his momentum to close out the fourth. Flynn got inside the paint repeatedly, puncturing through the Cavaliers' zone and either scoring at the rim or kicking it out to his teammates. Flynn found Yuta Watanabe twice off his drives in the fourth, knocked down a three, and drew the foul on another three.
Three — Impressed: Nick Nurse heaped praise on his rookie point guard, lauding him for showing improvement in every facet of his game over the course of the season. Flynn's first impression was strong in preseason, but was largely absent to start the season and was demoted to the G-League, where he lit it up for two weeks before getting an early call-up when the Raptors needed depth due to injuries. From there, Flynn wormed his way into the rotation with his pesky defense, where he showed his willingness to battle in scrums with much bigger players. Flynn's biggest development on offense has been his ability to get into the paint, which is opening up both his own scoring and his passing. The adjustment there was for him to weaponize his quickness without rushing, which was a hard adjustment. Flynn is fast enough to get by his guy, and then it's just about reacting to how the defense plays him. Flynn is even knocking down the outside shot at a 42 percent clip over his last 12 games after shooting 18 percent in his first three months of professional basketball.
Four — Patient: Cleveland's defense was shocking from start to finish, and while they did show a semblance of stability when playing zone, it wasn't particularly difficult for the Raptors to break them down. The Raptors recorded 32 assists, which is an impressive figure on its own, but it's even better in the context of the Raptors' poor outside shooting with only eight threes made on the night. Instead of jacking up shots from the outside and playing into the hands of the zone, the Raptors patiently drove it into the paint, and showed off their connectivity on a series of quick tic-tac-toe passing sequences to get layups and dunks.
Five — Easy: The best play of the night was Kyle Lowry repeatedly finding Khem Birch rolling to the basket. The Cavaliers often sent two defenders at Lowry in pick-and-roll sequences, hoping to trap the veteran guard beneath a blanket of long arms, but Lowry is far too clever for that. Lowry showed great trust in Birch, sometimes lofting the pass just into open space with the expectation that Birch will catch it, and Lowry was rewarded with five assists just to Birch alone.
Six — Unselfish: Birch said in the post-game interview that it was the easiest 14 points of his career, despite that matching his personal best, because it was all created by Lowry. For his part, when asked about the budding chemistry with Birch, Lowry said his goal was to get Birch paid and to learn how to use his bigs. Lowry gave a similar answer in preseason when asked about Aron Baynes, and that didn't quite pan out, but it wasn't for a lack of trying by Lowry. He's always had a reliable pick-and-roll target over the years, whether it was Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, or even to lesser known players like Lucas Nogueira or Bismack Biyombo. Some of them weren't particularly skilled offensive players, but Lowry made it work and made them look their best. Birch just needs to keep his hands ready and roll hard to the basket.
Seven — Spark: Nurse made a surprise move by going to Stanley Johnson as one of his first subs in the second half. Part of that was to spell Pascal Siakam who was battling foul trouble, but Johnson wasn't in the rotation in the first half and had been outright benched in the past week. Johnson came in and delivered a shot in the arm, mostly with his physicality on defense and by facilitating the play on offense, which is exactly what the Raptors needed. Johnson has had some very good flashes throughout the year, and while he's not always under control, Nurse seems to like him as change of pace off the bench. It's like throwing a left-handed submariner into the game as a reliever in baseball. Johnson got the Raptors some key outs in the fourth.
Eight — Improved: There's no doubt that OG Anunoby has made tangible improvements in his offensive game this season. Anunoby stretched his 20-point streak to four games, but unlike the previous three, Anunoby didn't need to rely on the three. Anunoby was 9-for-10 in the paint to offset his 0-for-5 showing from deep, and the majority of his looks were on drives. Anunoby's best finish was a reverse layup around a premium shot blocker in Jarrett Allen, and Anunoby made several nice passes off his drives as well. There is still a heavy hint of awkwardness in how Anunoby moves, but that's quite fitting with his persona.
Nine — ???: Anunoby's latest viral moment is the revelation that he's never been to the zoo. When asked about it by TSN's Kate Beirness, Anunoby insisted that there was no need to go to the zoo when he could just simply google images of animals instead. This explains another clip from earlier this year, where Anunoby was challenged to name as many animals as he could in 24 seconds. He finished with nine — three of which were variations of primates.
Ten — Lazy: It must be hard to accept playing on a losing team in Cleveland, but Love needs to do better. During the third quarter, Love grew frustrated with how physical the Raptors were on the glass, and after an uncalled over-the-back call, Love slapped the ball in disgust on an inbound. The pass — if you could even call it that — never found its way to his point guard, but instead right into the hands of Johnson who reversed it to Flynn for a quick three. Love was the only Cavaliers player not to see the floor in the fourth quarter and rightfully so. For the most paid and most veteran player on the team to act in that way sets a horrible standard for the rest of the franchise.
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