Reshuffle, retool, rekindle a spirit…
Forget about it.
These are the same old Toronto Raptors, after all, though through no fault of their own and not for lack of effort.
Jan. 11 — Toronto 133, Cleveland 99.
As Duke told Apollo Creed about a rematch with Rocky Balboa in Rocky II, “I saw you beat that man, like I never saw no man get beat before, and…
“The. Man. Kept. Coming. After. You!”
Wednesday night — LeBron James — 35 points, 7 rebounds, 17 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers in 39 near-perfect minutes — Cleveland 132, Toronto 129.
The Raptors came in winners of nine of 10 and 19 of 21, clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference… in terms of record (53-18), anyway, 11.5 games better than the Cavaliers (41-29).
Then Toronto went out and put a franchise-record 79 points on the scoreboard in the first half, the most points any James team has allowed in any half, ever.
“It doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and beat a team,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of his team’s confidence before the game. “But I think we go into the game with a different mindset, more of a hunted mindset than we did last year.”
It didn’t matter.
Missing five, count ’em, five, rotation players — not to mention, their head coach — the Cavaliers, led by James, showed the basketball world they remain the Raptors’ kryptonite, no matter won-lost records, no matter who isn’t playing (or coaching) for Cleveland.
“You can’t give him 17 assists and also give him 35 points,” Casey said. “You’re not going to stop everything, especially with a great player like him. We understand what the game plan was, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t give him both.”
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry put the blame for the loss squarely on the shoulders of him and his teammates.
“Disgraceful display of defense by us,” he said. “We’ve got to be better than that.”
The head coach uses phrases “can’t give him” and “don’t give him”… the three-time All-Star guard calls the defense, “disgraceful.”
Either the Raptors served up the win on a silver platter to the Cavaliers… or they’re in their heads.
After being swept out of the second round of the playoffs by Cleveland a year ago, coming on the heels of being beaten in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games two years ago, having now lost eight of their last nine at Quicken Loans Arena and given all their success this season, the Raptors can’t be blamed if that is indeed the case.
LeBron is still The King… of The North (to borrow Toronto’s “We the North” mantra), South, East and West.
Leave it to Toronto’s leading scorer and best player, All-Star DeMar DeRozan, to put it best.
“They’re still a helluva team,” DeRozan said. “You can’t take nothing away from them. They’re still a top team in our conference and in this league. You can’t overlook them or underlook them, no matter what type of changes they made.”