Lewenberg: Timely defence seals Raptors' 32nd victory

Josh Lewenberg
2/26/2014 12:30:02 AM
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CLEVELAND - With just over a minute remaining in a three-point contest, Kyrie Irving, Cleveland's lethal late-game weapon, barrelled into the lane as Kyle Lowry stood in his way, positioned above the restricted area.

Mired in an offensive slump, Lowry - the NBA's leader in taking charges this season - did what he has learned to do best, standing his ground and drawing a crucial offensive foul on the Cavaliers' all-star point guard.

Fast forward 30 seconds to the Cavs' next possession, with the home team still trailing by three, Spencer Hawes - one of the league's best passing big men - threw an interception, intended for Tyler Zeller and picked off by DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors' two best players, their two leading scorers, made the two most important plays of Tuesday's 99-93 win over Cleveland. That much is not unusual. Of note though is both of those plays came on the defensive end.

"Those defensive plays are deflation plays for the opposition," said Lowry, who struggled with his shot, hitting just three of 15 attempts from the field and misfiring on all nine of his jumpers from three-point range. "It's definitely fun to step up for the team in those situations."

Lowry didn't think twice when faced with a split-second decision, one he's made time and time again in high-pressure situations during his breakout campaign.

"Those are winning plays," he said, asked about the art of drawing a charge, crediting the tutelage of former teammate Shane Battier, whom he called "one of the best charge takers" in the league.

DeRozan's steal was just as vital, if not more so, to the team's sixth win in the last seven games and second over Cleveland in a span of five days.

"He was like a free safety out there," Lowry said, shortly before DeRozan - in conversation with the media - made yet another reference to Seahawks cornerback and fellow Compton-native Richard Sherman.

"I kind of anticipated it, I read the play a little bit," said DeRozan, who also made his share of big offensive plays, scoring 16 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter, adding six assists without turning the ball over. "They ran it earlier in the game. I knew they were going to look for it and I just went for it."

Toronto, and DeRozan in particular, has come up short when faced with one final possession, one final shot in the past. Both guards heeded their coach's direction this time around. It didn't come down to a last-second heave. The Raptors won with timely defence.

After enjoying a much-improved first quarter following a series of slow starts, the Raptors struggled on both ends of the floor during the meat of the game. Nothing was falling for Lowry - a 39 per cent three-point shooter on the season - and the team was accumulating sloppy turnovers at an uncharacteristically alarming rate for the second straight contest.

Almost foreshadowing the night's eventual result, Casey was asked how to prevent his team from allowing its offence to dictate defensive effort prior to the game.

"I haven't discovered it yet in my 30 years of coaching," he responded. "It's the same in college, [in the] pros and it's been that way for a long time. A lot of guys have to see the ball go through the basket to get themselves going on the other end, which you don't want, you preach against but I think it's human nature."

For at least one night, his team and his point guard bucked that trend.

"That was one example of a guy not letting his offence dictate his defence," Casey said of Lowry, who also added nine assists, made all seven of his free-throw attempts and could have drawn a couple more charges if not for a pair of close calls that didn't go his way.

"That's how you have to play," Lowry added. "You're not going to have great games all the time. You're not going to shoot 10-for-12 every night or 20-for-30. You're always going to have some sort of off game but you can't let that stop you from helping your team win a game."

Terrence Ross bailed him out offensively, scoring what DeRozan called a "quiet 19 points", knocking down five of his eight shots from long distance.

With the win, the Raptors climb seven games above the .500 mark for the first time in six years. It ensures they'll have a winning record for a third consecutive month, accomplishing that feat for the first time since 2007.

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