CLEVELAND—The Raptors were determined to learn something about themselves as a group on what was seen as a pivotal week in the NBA’s regular season.
No one said what they would learn would be good.
Two nights after drifting through a disheartening home loss to the league’s worst road team, the Raptors spat up another one here on Wednesday night, losing 103-92 to a Cleveland Cavalier team playing for the second night in a row and missing all-star point guard Kyrie Irving.
So for all the chatter about playoffs and making the last 25 games of the regular season meaningful, there are far more issues at play that need to be addressed before that can be a reality.
After a fine start — the first 10 minutes were the best the Raptors played all night — things went off the rails as the defence disappeared, and even a wonderful 34-point night from DeMar DeRozan couldn’t save the offence.
Toronto’s bench was culpable at both ends: They were largely on the court for a 37-point Cleveland second quarter and contributed a grand sum of eight points (four each for Landry Fields and Alan Anderson) in a combined 55 minutes.
For coach Dwane Casey, one of the toughest decisions he has to make each night is how to divide backup time between swingmen Anderson and Fields.
They each have unique talents — Anderson’s a more accomplished shooter, Fields is more active at each end — but Casey can never be sure who’ll give him what on any specific night.
“Alan’s shooting is a hard read, he’s struggled a little bit,” Casey said Wednesday morning of Anderson. “I thought he bounced back a bit last week but his shooting is something that’s the X-factor for us.”
Fields, meanwhile, brings many more intangibles.
“His defence is solid but his energy, his cutting and moving without the ball, causing almost like chaos on the offensive end, helps us,” the coach said. “And also his rebounding, I think Landry is one of our better rebounders, small or big.”
Neither had any impact on Wednesday’s game, with Anderson struggling through another so-so shooting night and Fields not getting much time on the defensive end.
It was part of an overall bad night from the Toronto bench, which allowed the Cavs to get up off the mat in the first half when the Raptors took a 23-9 lead early. But with each backup ineffective and the starters sluggish when they got back in, Cleveland shot about 70 per cent in a 37-point second quarter to take a 57-48 lead at the intermission.
The bench was so bad — outscored 28-8 through three quarters — that Casey tried any number of different looks. Sebastian Telfair got his first seven minutes as a Raptor in an attempt to boost the team’s defence, and Aaron Gray got four minutes in the third quarter because Andrea Bargnani was awful in five first-half minutes.
The third member of the shooting guard-small forward backup combination is Terrence Ross, who has rarely factored into games in the past two weeks.
Ross hasn’t had more than three field goals — nor has he played more than 14 minutes — in a game this month and was just 9-33 from the field (4-for-14 from three-point range) going into Wednesday. And his propensity for momentary defensive lapses, often caused by his inexperience, make it hard for Casey to run him out for extended periods.
“If we need shooting, if his shot is going, we may have to give him a look, but right now it’s about matchups, it’s about productivity, it’s about experience of being in those situations. If he comes in and has it going, he’ll be in there but if not, we have to go with Alan or Landry.”