Maybe there’s just a magical aura around Drake Night, the annual love fest to and from the Toronto Raptors’ (10-6) Global Ambassador. The club moved to 3-0 on such nights, notching their biggest win among the three by upending LeBron James and the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers 103-99. Wednesday night’s festivities included the “Hotline Bling” rapper announcing the Raps’ lineup, the giveaway of OVO-branded shirts and headbands and, most importantly, the club’s first home win over LeBron since 2009.
The Raptors appeared poised for yet another fourth quarter collapse early on in the final frame, falling into a scoring drought that saw them held without a point for the first 4:15 of the fourth. However, a Patrick Patterson three set the stage for a 9-0 run that put the hosts up by seven points. That lead held strong throughout the rest of the quarter, first thanks to critical stops and timely buckets and then on account of a late scoring flurry that saw Toronto withstand Cleveland’s 10 points in the final two minutes with seven points of their own in the same period.
For one night, Kyle Lowry proved the better of the respective teams’ go-to floor leaders. The point guard had 27 points on 11-17 shooting, including 14 points during a 33-point third quarter, to go along with six assists and four steals while badly outplaying opposing starting PG Jared Cunningham (six points on 2-10 shooting, two turnovers). James was his typically productive self for the Cavs, but his 24 points didn’t measure up to the Raps’ point guard and wasn’t enough to carry an under-manned Cavs team, minus Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert, to victory.
Cleveland arrived in Toronto as the winners of their past three straight, a stretch in which they had averaged over 110 points per contest. On Wednesday, though, the Raptors held them below 100 on just 43.9% shooting (36-82) by holding their biggest threats in check. Only James (11-12) and Kevin Love (2-4) saw any opportunities from the free throw line, while supporting players like Tristan Thompson (eight points) and Anderson Varejao (zero points) failed to contribute much of anything. Foul trouble and injuries also exposed a painfully thin Cavs’ bench that featured just Varejao, Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson and James Jones. For those keeping track at home, the Raps have know shut down two title contenders (the Cavs and Clippers) in as many games.
Drizzy, meet Bizzy
Okay, so that nickname hasn’t caught on and probably (and hopefully) never will for Bismack Biyombo. But the Congolese big man and president of what he refers to as #Biznation (no, really) is proving his worth as a starter in place of Jonas Valanciunas. While primarily focused as an interior force en route to altering shots and pulling down 12 rebounds, Biyombo set a season-high with 11 points on 4-5 shooting. As part of those 11 points, he scored six of Toronto’s final eight to put the game away, including two consecutive cutting dunks off passes from Lowry.
Drake takes over
Call me a stick in the mud if you will, but there’s something nice and simple about reflecting on a time when Drake was a famous guy who just happened to like coming to Raptor games. Now an employee with the club, his presence at the ACC warrants a dramatically branded event. Don’t get me wrong – the giveaways are pretty cool and the festivities inject a buzz in the arena that might remain unmatched for the rest of the regular season. But being followed by his own camera crew? Walking in front of the team bench while the game takes place? I must have missed A. Graham in the box score from Wednesday’s game, as he clearly had to have played to warrant that level of focus.
Still not quite sure what to make of the bizarre stance taken by the Cavs in the moments leading into tip-off, as the starting five took to the court and refused to back away to allow the Raptors Dance Pak to do their routine un-disturbed. Seems like they probably felt that the ceremonies leading into tip-off were running a little long, but the game still started on schedule so I’m not sure what their objection was.
Speaking of much ado about nothing, James Johnson is apparently unhappy with his playing time and use. He, like any professional athlete, should want to be playing more, so I get the displeasure and actually respect him for explaining his beef rather than deleting the Tweet and trying to distance himself from the comments. Still, don’t hold your breath, James. You seem to be buried pretty deep on that depth chart and, unlike in the past, you aren’t getting too much vocal support from the fan base.
It’s pretty boring to talk about Cleveland right now. Their East-leading 11-4 record seems awfully ho-hum, and Irving will likely return around Christmas to a Cavs team that still controls their fortunes as the premier team in the Conference. Interestingly, setting the cruise control and maintaining a rather leisurely status quo doesn’t seem to be sitting well with James, who called a player’s-only meeting after the Toronto loss along with Jones to take his team to task for inconsistent early season play. Good for LeBron, but it is tough from the outside to see much consequence in play for the Cavs over the regular season beyond drawing the King’s ire.
Delon Wright made his 905 debut on Wednesday night at the Hershey Centre and quickly made the most of his opportunity and exposure. After suffering the indignity of seeing the club’s second rounder, Norm Powell, get more chances out of the gate than he, their first, Wright scored 24 points on a perfect 9-9 shooting effort from the floor while leading the D-League affiliate to their first home win. Despite taking just the fourth-most shots among the starting five, Wright was firing on all cylinders while providing a spark alongside Scott Suggs, Bruno Caboclo, Axel Toupane and Ronald Roberts.
On the road again! Toronto gets set to renew acquaintances with John Wall and the Wizards in Washington on Saturday night (7:00pm, SN1).
Prediction: Wizards 96, Raps 95 (record this season: 6-9)