The new-look Raptors put on an early show and then had to scratch and claw to escape with a 124-121 win over the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night at Scotiabank Arena.
Donovan Mitchell committed a pair of lane violations on late free-throw attempts, including one to seal the game with 2.6 seconds remaining after he couldn’t get up a potentially game-tying three-pointer before being fouled, and Toronto was able to hang on.
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Just two days after a blockbuster trade that sent out OG Anunoby (who had a strong debut for the New York Knicks on Sunday), Precious Achiuwa, and Malachi Flynn, the revitalized Raptors looked fantastic in jumping out to a 41-point first quarter, the most opening-quarter points by a Raptors team since last March. Toronto led by as many as 19 points in the game, but Cleveland, missing all-star guard Darius Garland and excellent big man Evan Mobley, simply would not go away in a plucky effort.
RJ Barrett scored 19 points in his Raptors debut, none more important than the two free throws he hit late with his team up by a point, and Immanuel Quickley added 14, but Pascal Siakam dominated, scoring 36 points. Scottie Barnes added 20.
Caris LeVert poured in 31 points off the bench for the Cavs and star guard Mitchell added 26. Each of Toronto’s five starters scored in double figures and Jakob Poeltl looked revitalized when partnering with Quickley.
The struggling Raptors had lost two in a row and seven of 10, including a stunning defeat at Detroit on Saturday, which led to the deal being struck with New York.
Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic had teased before the game that the newcomers might be brought along slowly with the starting lineup a work in progress, but Rajakovic ended up starting both. Barrett received the loudest roars from the crowd of any Raptor during introductions with Quickley likely a close second. Early on, Barrett found Quickley for an open three-pointer, which he swished, and Quickley later nailed another one.
“I would not read way too much starting, not starting, coming off the bench because that’s going to be an ongoing process figuring out who plays well with who and how are we going to create the best chemistry possible,” Rajakovic had said. “Obviously adding two new players in the middle of the season is challenging. We met yesterday, we had a chance to talk a little bit about offence and defence, we met early this morning before shootaround to go over some basic stuff and game preparation for tonight. Obviously, it’s impossible to put everything in very quickly, but both of those players are players of impact and we want to use those guys to the best of their ability.”
Both Barrett and Quickley were players of impact in this one, though foul trouble cut into Quickley’s minutes. There were glimpses of the possibilities once Barrett and Quickley get up to speed with their teammates and what Rajakovic will ask of them.
Siakam had his second highest scoring game of the season and nailed five three-pointers, one off his career high. Toronto started the game 7-for-14 from deep, but went just 4-for-16 the rest of the way, including 1-for-10 in the second quarter.
Barrett became the 12th Raptor to wear No. 9 (Serge Ibaka was the most notable previously), Quickley the 12th to wear No. 5 (Jalen Rose wore it most famously before) … Barnes became the second youngest Raptor to reach 3,000 career points, trailing only Chris Bosh … Rajakovic played down the recent comments by Dennis Schroder that the team was being too selfish and had to change that quickly. “When a team loses a couple of games, it’s always emotions are high. I would not read too much into that. We’re putting work in every single day to stay together and that’s what we need to do,” Rajakovic said. ” With new guys coming in, it’s going to be new energy, new focus, new refreshed energy, so we move on.”
Toronto will practise on Tuesday before heading West for a gruelling six-game road trip.