For the sake of my argument here, let’s ignore the fact that in games where LeBron has not played, the Cavs are 6-2. The Cavs tonight looked like my old high school team. Lost, looking for outlets that weren’t there, knowing that their options were limited. Essentially, what we saw tonight was the “Pass it To Will” episode of the Fresh Prince, but without Will Smith in the lineup. When anybody other than LeBron was taking shots, it just didn’t work out…and since LeBron wasn’t playing tonight…yeah, it just didn’t work out.
That’s the difference between the Raptors and the Cavs. If the Raptors have to play an extended period without their star, Chris Bosh, I think that most of us would say that while it would hurt, the Raptors would probably be able to get along. If the Cavs have to play without LeBron for an extended period, they just don’t have the depth the Raptors do. This is where the Raptors can make some other teams nervous. If they see Toronto just coming up with player after player off the bench, each guy knowing his role, accepting it and then delivering, then this is the kind of team you don’t want to see in the playoffs. In the playoffs, you know that your star is going to win you a couple of games, but you are also going to need the rest of the team to show up when the star is getting locked down and if it comes down to that, then I’ll take the Raptors over most teams. Problem for the Raptors is shutting down other teams.
For the Cavs, Daniel Gibson showed why I think he is one of the really bright young stars in the NBA. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think they would have done anything special in the playoffs last year, even with LeBron’s heroics. 24 points with 7 assists and 3 turnovers is an exceptional night, but you could tell that Gibson was making a concerted effort to carry the team in LeBron’s absence. Gooden was a beast on the boards, but who knows what Big Z was doing out there tonight and somebody needed to tell Pavlovic to stop shooting, because he looked like he had a shot put in his hands each time he launched.
I’ll tell you what, if the Raptors keep this 30 minute / 20 minute split for Jose and TJ, they are going to win a lot of games. Let Jose start, getting the game off to a nice, controlled pace. Then bring in TJ to unsettle the other team, using his speed and ability to shift gears to keep them off balance. I also like the fact that using them like this keeps them both fresh, which they are going to need down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Speaking of Jose and TJ, another solid game for Calderon. A double-double in just over 30 minutes, but whoa, hold the phone!!! 3 turnovers? WHA? The sky is falling, the sky is falling! The fact that that stat even pops out shows how good he is at controlling the ball. I’m not sure if TJ is 100%, but that dude looked tired out there. He looked like somebody who just came off the flu, trying to get out to cover guys, but just not having the energy in his legs.
Nice work by Jamario Speedwagon and Rasho out there. 9 boards apiece shows some toughness that has been desperately lacking from the Raptors. Given, LeBron wasn’t in there to pick up his boards, but the Cavs still have some strength up there in Big Z and Gooden, so while those guys got theirs, you have to commend Jamario and Rasho for working hard.
Couldn’t call it a night without talking about Bargnani and Delfino. I would still like to see Bargnani put the ball on the floor a bit more and attack, but when he gets that shot going, you can’t fault the guy for jacking it up. He could actually take a few pointers from Delfino’s game tonight. Just when the Cavs started to get up in Delfino’s face on his jumpers, he put the ball on the floor and had some impressive lay-ins, even a little finger-roll in the 4th quarter.
Alright, Saturday night basketball! Raps and Wiz coming up.