Bargnani scores 31 to lead Raptors over Cavaliers
Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey isn't convinced that his team is a playoff contender yet. Still, he doesn't think they would look out of place in the postseason.
''We're playing playoff style basketball,'' said the first-year coach. ''Whether we're a playoff team or not, I venture to say we're not right now.
''But we're playing the style of defense that it takes to play in the playoffs,'' he added.
The Raptors (3-3) showed their defensive toughness by holding Cleveland to just under 30 percent shooting from the field while nearly shooting 47 percent themselves.
Toronto took the lead late in the first quarter and held it the rest of the way for its second victory of the season over the Cavaliers (3-3).
Strong defense is the style that Casey is trying to instill in the team in what he calls a culture change for the club.
''Believe me, we're nowhere near where we need to be,'' he said. ''Defensively we're making strides. We're thinking defensively and thinking in terms of getting stops, which is a part of the culture change.''
Casey also feels there is work to be done offensively.
''We need to clean up some things, timing, spacing, cut down on turnovers, which we did tonight,'' he said of Toronto, which had 11 turnovers.
It helps when Bargnani plays the way he has been, shooting 11 for 16 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds.
It also doesn't helps when DeRozan hits five 3-pointers, a skill that he has developed this season after hitting five all last season.
''It's showing me that my hard work is paying off,'' DeRozan said.
When DeRozan makes 3s, it opens up space for other players on the court.
''That's the one thing the team and I wanted to accomplish coming in this season, being able to do that, not just for myself but for my teammates so we can get easy buckets,'' DeRozan said.
Then there was Jose Calderon running the team, dishing out 11 assists to go with 13 points.
''He's much better than people give him credit for,'' Casey said of his point guard. ''Solid play, running the team, shooting the basketball. He's one of our best 3-point shooters.
''He and Andrea have a thing going on with their pick and rolls,'' Casey said.
The game was an underwhelming homecoming for Cleveland rookie forward Tristan Thompson, a native of Brampton, Ont., and the fourth pick of the 2011 draft who scored one point in just under 17 minutes and was 0 for 5 from the field.
''I thought he didn't play well at all,'' Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. ''But he isn't the only one. We had a bunch of guys that just didn't play well tonight.''
Thompson, 20, entered the game with 1:09 left in the first quarter and received a round of applause. He left 26 tickets for friends and family and figured that he had a contingent of about 200 supporters cheering for him.
''Coach Scott is honest and he's played this game,'' Thompson said. ''And he knows what me and Kyrie are capable of so him saying that we didn't play well is the truth, we didn't play well. Coach is great, him getting on me that is what I like. I like a coach that wants to push me to my limit. That is good.''
Scott gave credit to the Raptors defense but felt his team was off after playing two nights in a row.
We seemed a step slow tonight on both ends of the floor and I don't know if that was because of our first back-to-back game,'' Scott said.
Bargnani had 21 points in the second half, 11 in the third quarter.
''It felt good in the second half, obviously,'' Bargnani said. ''I think we played great defense. That is what we're working for here, very good defense.''
The Raptors took a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter but the Cavaliers scored the first five points. Leandro Barbosa responded by hitting a 34-footer that brought a gasp from the crowd.
The Raptors beat the Cavs 104-96 in the opening game of the season for both teams on Dec. 26 in Cleveland. But Cleveland won three of their next four games before Wednesday's game while Toronto lost three in a row before beating the New York Knicks 90-85 on Monday.
NOTES: Attendance was 14,468. ...The Raptors assigned center Solomon Alabi to Bakersfield of the NBA Development League on Wednesday. ... Cleveland's 19-year-old rookie guard Irving was announced Wednesday as one of three Cavaliers placed on the ballot for voting for the NBA All-Star game with veterans Jamison and Varejao. ... Calderon, Bargnani and DeRozan were the Toronto players put on the ballot. ... Forward Samardo Samuels was not with the Cavaliers because of problems with his visa and passport. ... Cleveland assigned forward Christian Eyenga to the NBA Development League.