In this, the continuing season of Dwane Casey’s basketball life, there is every possibility he will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star Game.
That would be the kind of special recognition that has normally eluded the quiet Casey, the kind of league-wide acknowledgement that indicates he has, in fact, made it bigger than just being around for a long time.
This has been a different year for the Raptors, with new players, and expanded opportunities, and numerous ways of succeeding, and a record after 40 games no one saw coming.
Thursday night was all about role reversal at the Air Canada Centre, one of those scheduled nights a coach and a fan base might underline before the season began as something special. Cleveland vs. Toronto. The hunter and the hunted. The not-so-young and the restless.
So, what happened? Role reversal broke out. Casey’s Raptors played the part of the playoff Cavaliers. And the Cavs played the part of last spring’s dismal Raptors. Toronto basically won a hugely one-sided game without the injured Kyle Lowry, without the suspended Serge Ibaka and with minimal contribution from the pending all-star DeMar DeRozan.
They crushed the disinterested Cavs without their three best players, in essence, and there was a certain symbolism as the first half came to an end. The Raptors led 65-40 at the half, and from the three-point line, where the Raps were embarrassed into change last playoff season, Toronto had scored 21 points from three, the Cavaliers had scored none.
There is not a lot of real interpretation that can come from a night like this, but those numbers still have to mean something. When they were more than 100 points down to the Cavs from three last May.
It means something when Norm Powell, missing in action, starts hitting threes.
It means something when C.J. Miles hits four threes in the first half. Only once in the past two and a half months has he been anywhere near this effective.
And the spunky Fred VanVleet knocked down three from three-point land in the first half. He tied LeBron James in first half scoring, the game’s top scorers, two names rarely found in the same sentence.
Never mind if this wasn’t the real Cavaliers, engaged, interested and looking as though they gave a damn. They give a damn in April. They give a damn in May. That’s when the matter will be settled in some way. But the lesson of Thursday night is imperative for the Raptors, especially for the younger and least experienced players.
The lesson that anything is possible.
And this wasn’t necessary a thump-your-chest evening. It wasn’t a corner being turned. “This is Game 40,” Casey said pre-game. “This is not going to make or break our season, win or lose. It’s a good test for us. “
Toronto now has won 29 of 40 games — the most wins in franchise history after 40 games.
Cleveland has 26 wins, four more losses than the Raptors, and now is firmly behind in the race of placings in the Eastern Conference. The matchup, as disengaged as it turned out to be, brought the Washington Post, USA Today and ESPN to Toronto to take a look at the normally ignored Raptors. It was an opportunity for American national television to get a rare look at what Casey has managed with this team — all the players on this team, maybe as deep a team as there in the East.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was talking before the game about the change he has seen with the Raptors since the playoff decimation of last May. Others in the NBA have already noticed: Casey is getting rave reviews for what he’s done with his best players on the floor and, maybe just as important, when they’re not on the court.
What does Lue see in the Raptors?
“More movement. Moving bodies, moving the basketball. The biggest improvement (you see) is defensively. They’re really good defensively,” Lue said.
“You can see Coach Casey has made a conscious effort just moving the basketball, not playing so much 1-on-1 and ISO basketball. But (he) still let’s DeRozan do his things. They’ve done a good job with that.”
Casey said before the game the Raptors needed to get back to making threes. He said they needed to move the ball better. He said they needed to play better defence. They did all that and a little more. And, in between, Jonas Valanciunas scored 19 points and took down 18 rebounds.
They kicked the Cavs, the way the Cavs kicked them winning four straight last playoff season. They won by 34. They never trailed in the game. There’s reason to celebrate the win, just not, as the likely all-star coach said, a defining reason when the opponent doesn’t fight back.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies