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RAPTORS

Despite solid defensive performance, Raptors drop contest to Cavaliers

By Mike Ganter, Toronto Sun

TORONTO — It was the type of game Dwane Casey would love, with the obvious exception of his team being on the losing end of the result.

Defence was back in vogue in a big way on Friday night at the ACC as two very good offensive teams turned the screws up on the defensive end in a compelling 94-91 win by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The only easy baskets in this one seemed to be the wide-open weak-side threes. Other than that, every bucket was earned, or at least that is the way it seemed at times.

“Specifically on the defensive side, I thought we did exceptionally well,” power forward Patrick Patterson said. “Granted, they missed a bunch of shots, but I thought our communication, finishing plays with the rebound and just talking overall — whether it was guarding our man or just help-side defence — I thought we did a pretty good job. Offensively, we just missed a bunch of shots we normally make.

“Defensive side of the ball, I think that is the only positive thing you can take away,” Patterson said. “Just our effort and our energy on that side.”

The Cavs shot just 41.8% from the field but, alternately, held 1-1 Toronto to just 38.9%.

The defending NBA champions had a distinct advantage from the three-point line, hitting 12 to the Raptors, paltry four. The Raps, however, got up 11 more shots, evening things out a little.

Kyrie Irving had five of those three-pointers for the Cavs including the eventual game-winner with 45 seconds remaining when James found him alone beyond the arc and the Cavs guard hit the mark to cap a team-high 26-point night.

Casey, while happy with his defence, would have liked a little more from his offence and certainly a little more care taken with the ball.

“Some of the same shots we missed, I know we’re going to make,” Casey said. “There’s no consolation, they beat us. We’ve got to continue to believe in our offensive shots. Those are the same shots we’re going to make, but we have to take care of the ball. We can’t have 18 turnovers because it’s a jailbreak against that team.”

In the days leading up to the game, Casey gamely attempted to change the desired media narrative from a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference final and potential revenge game for the home side to just an early test of where they are this season.

In the end, both really got their wish.

Casey was not overly thrilled with the level of defence his charges were playing in the pre-season and, while they were better in the opener against Detroit, the level of defence on display on Friday night was another level.

Between them, Patterson and DeMarre Carroll did yeomen’s work on LeBron James but the defensive intensity was roster-wide.

James seemed to be in a deferring mood, at least until the fourth quarter when he had eight of his 21 points.

Even Toronto rookie Jakob Poeltl got in on the act, pulling down some big boards.

DeMar DeRozan, who opened the season hitting the Pistons with a 40-spot, wasn’t quite as efficient, but he was once again the No. 1 offensive option finishing with 32 on 12-of-28 shooting.

Those 72 points over the first two games set a high-water mark for the franchise previously held by Vince Carter who had 65 to open the 2003-04 season.

Kyle Lowry, who was held to 10 points in the first game, found the range a little more in Game 2 and was instrumental down the stretch getting to the line and converting to keep the Raptors in this one right up until the final whistle.

He finished with 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting so there is clearly still room for improvement.

Through a half, the Cavs had a 10-point lead but were being held to just 43% shooting from the field.

The Raptors defence seemed to be where it wanted to be, forcing the Cavs to make not one, but two, three and four extra passes.

But not even being in the right position was good enough against the Cavs, who lean on shooters such as Kevin Love and Irving to turn frantic possessions into buckets.

Between them Cleveland’s big three wound up with a combined 65 points, 26 from Irving, 21 from James and 18 from Love.

The Raptors will now have a couple of days to get ready for the Denver Nuggets who visit the ACC on Monday.

mganter@postmedia.com