10 things: Norman Powell’s heroics extend Raptors’ win streak to nine games

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 115-109 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

One — Slog: This game was harder than it needed to be. The Raptors made short runs to extend their lead into double-digits, but each time the Cavaliers had a response. You figured the Cavaliers would give up at some point, especially since they’ve lost ten of their last 11, but credit them for fighting through and keeping it close. The Raptors simply made more plays in crunch time and that’s how the game was decided.

Two — Deserved: Kyle Lowry showed exactly why he was named a six-time All-Star in this game. Was it pretty? Lowry’s antics and brutish style never are. But was it effective? The win says it all. On a night when the rest of the Raptors looked sluggish, it was Lowry who brought them to life. He scored 14 of his 23 points in the third quarter, and after the bench gave up the lead to start the fourth, it was Lowry who immediately found Serge Ibaka for an and-one and Pascal Siakam for a corner three to regain control. Lowry bowled over the Cavaliers’ young guards with his strength and stubbornness, and was extremely opportunistic in the way he drew fouls.

Three — Underrated: As usual, there was pushback against Lowry’s All-Star selection from the casual camp that doesn’t watch basketball. When all you see are flashy highlights, you miss out on why Lowry is so impactful as a winner. It’s simple plays that make him special, as evidenced in this game: diving into the crowd to save a loose ball which led to a triple for Ibaka, swiping the ball off the Cavaliers after a rebound to stop a fast break and then find Siakam in the corner, and shutting down a 4-on-1 fast break in the third quarter. Siakam called Lowry the “heart and soul” of the Raptors and Lowry set the tone tonight, as he does every night.

Four — Decision: Nick Nurse made the call to close the game with Norman Powell over OG Anunoby, which proved to be the right one. Powell had been on fire of late and Anunoby fumbled a few too many chances under the basket. Powell was quiet for much of the night, but came up clutch with a corner three off a drive-and-kick from Siakam before stealing the ball on the ensuing possession and taking it the length of the floor for a dunk. Anunoby offers more defensive cover, but Powell’s emergence is undeniable.

Five — Reliable: This was yet another great game in a tight spot for Serge Ibaka, who finished with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Kevin Love is a pylon on defense and Ibaka found whatever he wanted in the pick-and-roll. Ibaka also hit three triples, continuing his resurgent year from beyond the arc. After concentrating his efforts in the paint last year, Ibaka has rediscovered his touch on the perimeter, resulting in his 3-point percentage rising from 29 last season to 38 this season.

Six — Soon: You can breathe a sigh of relief. Marc Gasol sat out tonight, but he will not miss too much time with his left hamstring issue. Nurse said before the game that Gasol’s injury is not as severe as the initial infraction that sidelined him for a month. Without Gasol to box out and solidify the defensive backline, the Raptors allowed 15 offensive rebounds which almost cost them the win.

Seven — Makeshift: In Gasol’s absence, Nurse went a little crazy with a frontline of Chris Boucher at center and Pat McCaw at power forward. They looked like a pair of chopsticks in comparison to Cleveland’s beefy frontline with Larry Nance Jr. alongside Love or John Henson. Credit Boucher for protecting the rim, and McCaw was brave in chasing down rebounds, but this combination is a losing one. Oshae Brissett or even Stanley Johnson (who just underwent another stint in the G-League) would have given the Raptors some decent minutes in the absence of Gasol and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

Eight — Glitch: The following is the clown show that Cavaliers fans are treated to on a nightly basis. What exactly is Collin Sexton doing here?

Nine — Spunky: The Cavaliers have a good player on their hands in Kevin Porter Jr., who finished with 13 points off the bench. Give him this much: Porter Jr. was good enough to make Lowry mad at him and he didn’t back down to the challenge. Yes, there were times where Lowry coaxed Porter into fouls and turnovers, but he also took it back at Lowry on a few possessions. Porter has good size, he can handle the ball a bit, and he’s a capable shooter.

Ten — Hopeful: Now that Siakam and Lowry have their invites, the task is to send Nurse and his coaching staff to All-Star weekend. The Raptors only need to win one of their two remaining games this week — either tomorrow against Detroit or Sunday against Chicago — and the team will hold the No. 2 seed by week’s end. There’s an outside shot of Terence Davis Jr. making the Rising Stars game, but that’s a tougher task for the undrafted rookie.

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