Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

KeyBank Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Raptors

November 15, 2016
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Rematch with the Raps

After holding off the upstart Hornets in the final quarter with LeBron James and four (albeit high-quality) reserves on the floor, the Cavaliers made another statement that they’re the class of the Conference this past Sunday. And there’s also very little doubt that the Raptors – who come to Quicken Loans Arena for the first time this season on Tuesday night – are not far behind.

By improving to 8-1, the Wine and Gold tied their strong start from last season. The Raptors seem to start well every season, posting a 31-13 mark in October and November over the past three seasons.

On Sunday afternoon – with J.R. Smith on the shelf with a sore right ankle – the Cavaliers got a combined 35 points from Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert in the 100-93 win, Cleveland’s seventh in their last eight against Charlotte.

The Raptors come to town having won three straight and six of seven – dropping the Knicks on Saturday night at The Garden and they don’t get much relief after facing the Cavs on Tuesday night. They have the NBA’s other Finals team on tap tomorrow in Toronto when Steph Curry and the Warriors invade the Air Canada Centre.

Key: Scoring Machine

On Saturday night, DeMar DeRozan joined some exclusive company – Michael Jordan, Nate Archibald and the legendary World B. Free – as the only players in NBA history to score at least 30 points in eight of their first nine games. (Wilt Chamberlain is the only player to score 30+ in nine of his first ten.)

In Saturday’s victory over New York, DeRozan – who’s leading the league with a 34.0 ppg average – finished with 33 points on 11-for-23 shooting and is just the fifth player in the last 50 years to net 300+ points through the first nine games while shooting 50 percent from the floor.

On Friday night in Washington, despite going 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, J.R. Smith tweaked his right ankle and was forced to sit out Sunday’s meeting. He participated in Tuesday morning’s shootaround, but there’s still no official word on his status for the matchup with Toronto.

Even without Swish, the Cavaliers set an NBA mark on Sunday, becoming the first team to can at least 10 three-pointers in their first nine games of the season.

Key: Star-Crossed

The Raptors boast arguably the most explosive backcourt in the Eastern Conference and when they’re both clicking – which they often are – Toronto is extremely difficult to beat, going 5-0 when DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combine for more than 50 points. They combined for 53 points in their Friday night win over Charlotte and have gone for 58 already this year.

Lowry – the team’s leading three-point threat – finished with 16 points, six boards and six assists in Toronto’s recent win over New York – and he’s had some big nights against the Wine and Gold over the past year, including a 43-point outburst during the regular season and a pair of 35-point performances in the Playoffs.

On Tuesday night, Lowry will square off against fellow Eastern Conference All-Star and Team USA teammate, Kyrie Irving, who’s coming off a 19-point effort on Sunday. Uncle Drew dropped 26 points on the Raptors in Cleveland’s 94-91 win on October 28 – drilling the game-winning triple with 44 seconds to play.

Key: Linked by the Draft

Tonight’s battle in the post won’t be a thing of beauty. Jonas Valanciuanas and Tristan Thompson – who’ve been inextricably linked since being chosen No. 4 and No. 5 overall in the 2011 Draft – are blue-collar grinders in the middle.

With the Wine and Gold’s scoring arsenal, Thompson isn’t asked to do much offensively, but he’s still struggled to contribute over the past few games – failing to notch double-digit points since November 3. More concerning was his lack of production on the boards, where he had his five-game stretch of double-figure rebounds snapped last week against Atlanta and Washington. But Thompson – who doubled-up with 11 points and 10 boards in Cleveland’s win over Toronto early this year – bounced back in the victory over Charlotte, leading both squads with 12 boards.

Valanciunas returned to the lineup on Friday night after missing the previous two games with a left knee contusion. He’s one of a dozen players averaging double-digit rebounds this season and leads the Raptors with 71 this season. In the October 28 meeting in Toronto, the large Lithuanian doubled-up with 10 points and a game-high 17 rebounds against the Wine and Gold.

Key: Added Relief

As strong as the Cavaliers’ starters have been this season, their bench has been just as good – especially over the past few games.

On Friday night, Iman Shumpert completely locked down John Wall in the second half, holding him to just five points after intermission. On Sunday afternoon, Shump did his best work on the offensive end – matching a season-high with 15 points, going 6-of-9 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from long-distance.

But as good as Shumpert was on Sunday, it was Channing Frye who stole the show, scoring 11 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter – hitting a season-high six three-pointers. The 12-year veteran – who tortured the Raptors from long-range in last year’s ECF – has tallied double figures in five of his last six games, going 19-for-38 from long-distance during that stretch.

On Sunday, Tyronn Lue closed out the win over Charlotte with a lineup of LeBron James, Shumpert, Frye, Richard Jefferson (who finished with eight boards) and Jordan McRae (who’d logged less than eight minutes of floor time before Sunday).

The Raptors have a pretty decent bench, themselves. Terrance Ross and Patrick Patterson are the squad’s fourth- and fifth-ranked scorers and Lucas Nogueira is coming off a game against New York in which he grabbed 10 boards and blocked five shots while going 3-for-3 from the floor.