Cleveland 108, Toronto 100

The Cavs survived a trap game. In their first game back from their trip out West (and the game before their rematch with the Lakers) the Cavs played just enough defense to outlast the Raptors. Toronto scored 60 points in the first half but only tallied 4o after halftime (and just 17 in the fourth). The Cavaliers’ offense ebbed and flowed (there were stretched of Le-Iso but they weren’t tolerated for long) and they used Shaq really well.

LeBron was at his usual great level. James didn’t seem too bothered by the trip, scoring 18 points in the first half and finishing with a game high 28. There were parts of LeBron’s night I really like; James shot a whopping 14 free throws (made 12) and he finished with 11 assists, 9 boards, 3 steals and 3 blocks (including a monster one on Chris Bosh). However, James missed every three he took… and he hoisted seven (to be fair, some were some end-of-quarter situations). The offense broke down midway through the fourth as James dominated the ball without really doing anything. He went away from what worked (driving, getting inside) and bailed the Toronto defense out with bad jumpers. Thankfully, Mike Brown got things straightened out and utilized Shaq late in the game.

Shaq had a solid, solid night. O’Neal scored 16 points to go with 5 boards and 2 assists in just 24 minutes of court time. In a change of pace, the Cavs actually moved when they threw the ball to the big fella (including two great plays in the 4th where played off Shaq and he netted Mo a trey and LeBron a dunk). There’s really no one on Toronto who can guard Shaq, especially not Chris Bosh (who had a solid game himself with 21-10-3), and O’Neal simply had his way inside, going 7-10 from the floor (the Cavs had 50 points in the paint overall). Shaq also became just the 5th player ever to top 28,000 points. (Though, I gotta say, my favorite part of the entire Shaq in Cleveland experience has been his hard fouls. I get an extra bounce in my step whenever Shaq clobbers a guy who comes into his paint. I love it. He also got Bosh with a nasty pick in the open court).

The Cavs showed, yet again, that they can play any style. On one hand, I like it; Cleveland shot 52% overall (62% on non-threes), had 25 fastbreak points and had multiple guys finish in the open court (LBJ, Mo, Delonte, Varejao, J.J.). They’re athletic and they can be deadly when they run. But the Raptors had no answer for Shaq inside (or for any Cavalier really) and Cavs didn’t seem to consciously exploit it until late in the fourth quarter. Being flexible is one thing but why should 31-11 Cavaliers play the style of the 21-20 Raptors? I don’t get it, exploit your size and strength advantage (the Cavs won the rebounding battle 43-32).

Good game from Mo though I thought we lost him there for a sec. Williams finished with 22 points, 3 boards and 10 assists. While making a swipe at the ball (a common occurrence for the Cavs on D), Mo wretched his shoulder and had to be taken to the locker room. I would’ve sworn he dislocated it. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and Mo returned to the court (said it was a shoulder strain) and eventually knocked down a big trey (pushed the Cleveland lead to 98-94 with just over 5 minutes to play).

It was nice to see the bench play well their first game back home. The Cavs were in the process of blowing a 10 point lead when Delonte West had a break-away dunk midway through the fourth that stopped a 9-0 Raptor run. Anderson Varejao continued his solid play, notching 7 points and 4 boards while Z went 3-4 from the floor. I again liked what I saw from Jawad Williams (5 points, 2 boards and a steal in 19 minutes) but he had a +/- of -10.

I like a lot of the Toronto players. Obviously Bosh is great and I have a begrudging respect for Hedo Turkoglu (Hedo had a rough night shooting 1-6) but I like a lot of their other guys. Andrea Bargnani shot well and scored 19, (but, like Bosh, is soft inside), Jarrett Jack had a solid 11-2-3 and Marco Belinelli went 6-12 and stun the Cavs for 14 points (the Cavs have some trouble with quick point guards- Mo can’t stay in front of them and neither Shaq nor Z can cover them off of picks).

and finally…

Can’t play like this on Thursday. The Lakers are in town and will be looking to avenge the Christmas day shellacking they received at the hands of the Cavaliers. The Cavs need more consistency on both ends of the floor; they’ll have to defend for more than just 8 minutes and I doubt they’ll overcome stagnant offense with bad turnovers. While it seems like they haven’t been playing great (they’ve definitely developed some bad habits offensively), the Cavs are 12-3 over their last fifteen games and those three losses are by a combined 7 points. Folks, this team is good.

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