CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors went head-to-head inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Sunday evening—both teams with rosters decimated by COVID-19. But the Cavs have embraced a "next man up" mentality all season, and when coronavirus struck, it was just another test of their teamwork.
With Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Lamar Stevens, Dylan Winder and Ed Davis all in the NBA's health and safety protocols, the Cavaliers had signed several players including Justin Anderson and Luke Kornet, as well as Tre Scott, to hardship extension 10-day contracts. Denzel Valentine and RJ Nembhard had been in the protocols just days before as well.
Meanwhile for the Raptors, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., Malachi Flynn, Precious Achiuwa and Dalano Banton were all in health and safety protocols.
But the Cavs fared better Sunday night, using lessons they have learned over the course of the season—like with Collin Sexton's season-ending injury—in order to rally together and play hard through adversity.
In the first quarter, the game looked like it would be a close one, with the Raptors scoring 34 points and the Cavs only ahead by a single point. But the Cavs put it together and ran away with the remainder of the game, outscoring the Raptors 109-65 in the next three quarters and getting a 144-99 victory.
Darius Garland and Kevin Love led the Cavs in scoring, both with 22 points. Love also notched nine rebounds while Garland gave the Cavs eight assists.
Lauri Markkanen put up 20 points and seven rebounds while Dean Wade had 17 points, Denzel Valentine had 17 points and nine rebounds and Ricky Rubio had 16 points and six assists.
The blowout win had some Raptors fans upset about the competitive balance of the game, which is a valid point for any professional sporting event with a slew of starters out from COVID-19 (e.g. the Cleveland Browns). But the Cavs had more than their fair share of key players out with COVID-19 as well, and after placing eight players in health and safety protocols, the team had seen the same challenge in its previous match-up.
Sure, the Cavs lost the Dec. 22 game to the Boston Celtics, but down numerous players, the Cavs still made that game a competition, only losing by 10 points and fighting hard every minute on the court.
Sunday's big win highlighted the way head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been able to get his team to come together and answer tough challenges all season long—showing one of the reasons why he was signed to a multi-year contract extension on Christmas Day. "He knows what he wants. He knows what he wants to get from our team. And he understands how to get the best of us and we follow that lead," Love said.
The Cavs are fifth in the Eastern Conference standings with a 20-13 record and looking to restart what was a six-game winning streak that was broken in the loss to the Celtics. The Cavs will aim to climb higher in the conference standings on Tuesday night on the road as they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at 8.
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