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Random dribbles on the Cavaliers’ 116-104 season-opening road loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.
1. Well, here we are. Pro basketball is back and Cleveland still has a team. That’s enough for me to get fired up. It sure beats writing about city council meetings.
2. As for the Cavs, well, it was just one game. My first thought was, “Hey, it could’ve been worse.” They’ve lost in Toronto before, and they did it with You Know Who on the team. Hardly any reason to write off the season. (Plus, the Raptors are still pretty good, and likely even better, after trading for Kawhi Leonard.)
3. The one major takeaway for me? The Cavs looked like Kevin Love and then … well, who? I repeatedly found myself asking, “Who will be the second-leading scorer this season?” Love had a solid night with 21 points and eight rebounds. Like the rest of the team, he struggled shooting the ball, finishing 5-of-18 from the field. But he did take 14 free throws, showing that he’s willing to sacrifice his body for the good of the team.
4. Mostly, the Cavs missed a lot of shots that I bet they’ll make at home, where everyone in the entire league is more comfortable. If a few more of those “usual makes” had fallen, things would’ve been much closer — against an opponent that finished with the East’s best record last season.
5. That said, I get the sense that the Cavs’ offense will have to be razor sharp for them to actually have a real chance most nights. That is supposed to be their identity. But I have a feeling they may be suffering an identity crises for the first 10 games or so, as they adjust to life without You Know Who.
6. The Cavs just don’t have anyone who can break down defenders off the dribble. So it will have to be pass, cut, move and very little standing around (or especially, over-dribbling) from anyone.
7. Cedi Osman showed a lot of fire and you can just tell he’s gonna have Quicken Loans Arena rocking on some nights. He simply plays with a relentless passion that fans always appreciate. Osman finished with 17 points and 10 boards, compiling a double-double in his first game of his second NBA season.
8. Overall, the Cavs showed a lot of fight, especially in rallying to make things interesting in the fourth quarter. They trailed by just seven with 3:00 left. Then a phantom call on Love sent Kyle Lowry to the line. Then a highly questionable “clear-path” foul on George Hill gave the Raptors two more free throws and the ball.
9. Read: The officials weren’t exactly in mid-season form either.
10. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to reporters: “We got down 20 and kept fighting. We kept fighting, kept scrapping. I thought we did some good things. We still have to clean up some things,” but for the most part, Lue was pleased with the Cavs’ effort.
11. The Cavs also really had to like how Jordan Clarkson came off the bench and immediately started firing away, never letting up. And yes, that’s a good thing. Hey, the Cavs will need the scoring. Clarkson attempted 15 shots (making seven) for 15 points. The rest of the bench attempted just 13 shots combined.
12. Defensively, the Cavs had trouble protecting the paint and from keeping Lowry and fellow Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet from penetrating. That’s a really bad combination. The Cavs will also need to be consistently better at getting back in transition. Their failure to do was a major reason why the Raptors almost turned this into a rout.
13. Osman on that very subject: “We’re gonna have to figure out the fast-break defense. But it’s a long season, it was just the first game.”
14. Rookie Collin Sexton was fairly sloppy with the ball, tying Tristan Thompson with a team-high four turnovers. He went just 2-of-7 from the floor, scoring nine points. Still, Lue praised Sexton’s aggressiveness and like Osman, reminded everyone that there is lots of time left to improve.
15. Sexton probably won’t ever be a super-duper star. But he does have lots of promise and he is a fighter. And the Cavs need someone with moxie, even if that someone is still only 19-years old.
16. The Cavs were also without Larry Nance Jr. (ankle) and J.R. Smith (elbow). I know, neither is a star and the fan base tends to get annoyed with Smith. But both are a regular part of the rotation. It might also be nice to see Channing Frye once in a while.
17. Hill added 15 points and a team-high seven assists, and Rodney Hood scored 12. Thompson collected 13 rebounds. The Cavs shot just 40 percent from the field and missed 10 free throws (29-of-39). They committed almost twice as many turnovers as the Raptors (16 to nine).
18. Love to reporters: “We couldn’t get over the hump. It just didn’t feel like us. We’re a team that has to be attention-detailed. We have to really pay attention to what we’re doing out there, and if we do those things, we’ll be OK.”
19. Not surprisingly, Leonard was fantastic in his Raptors debut, scoring 24 points and hauling in 13 boards. The Raptors are expected to be a top-three team in the East and if Leonard is the same Leonard in Toronto as he was with the San Antonio Spurs … well, the possibilities are endless in the wide-open East.
20. Lowry scored 27 on a remarkable 10-of-12 shooting. He remains very good against the Cavs (in the regular season).
21. This gives the Cavs a good gauge of what they still need to work on, but overall, no biggie. Any other team in the East could’ve lost this game the same way.
22. Hood with the final word: “It was a good first step. We didn’t win, but hopefully we’ll get another game like this and we’ll pull it out.”