Drake picked himself a nice night to take in his Toronto Raptors courtside.
Toronto's global ambassador was given a treat Thursday when the Raptors completely steamrolled the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning 133-99 over last year's finalists.
Without Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka due to a bruised tailbone and suspension, respectively, the Raptors looked to be in hot water before their contest against the Cavaliers even got underway. It became quickly evident, however, that Cleveland just couldn't match an undermanned Raptors side.
Here are three things we learned in watching the Raptors thoroughly dismantle the Cavaliers:
Cleveland's defense is worse than we thought
Much has been made in the past about the Cavaliers lacking intensity on the defensive end, but their effort Thursday was downright atrocious.
Their loss to the Raptors now marks the third straight game in which the Cavaliers have surrendered at least 127 points, and it's now the first time in his career that LeBron James loses back-to-back games by 25 or more points. It's not like Cleveland can use fatigue as an excuse, either; James and Co. were on two full days of rest heading into Thursday, and they've played just four games in 11 days in the new year.
Coming into Thursday's game, the Cavaliers ranked second-last in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions, and Toronto capitalized on that ineffectiveness, leaving Cleveland incredibly lost on the defensive end. The Cavaliers had little-to-no rim protection at all, and their backcourt seemed to lack even the most basic communication - this incredibly uncontested layup by Delon Wright in the first quarter serves as the perfect example in the case of Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade.
Toronto's bench just doesn't end
Relatively unknown names like Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, and Fred VanVleet flourished on a rare national broadcast for a Raptors game. Taking on a more significant role in Lowry's extended absence, VanVleet, specifically, set a new career high with 22 points and went 6-of-8 from 3-point range, showing coach Dwane Casey the Raptors' production from the point isn't dropping off just yet without their starting floor general.
The Raptors' bench in total outscored their equals on the Cavaliers 76-48, but their effect was felt predominantly in the second quarter when the Raptors first began running away with it. Perhaps no more so than Poeltl, whose defensive awareness seemed to spark the Raptors in the second frame with massive block after block after block.
But to hammer home the point, Toronto's bench was so deep versus Cleveland that even Lorenzo Brown - a 15th-man on a two-way contract who's averaged just 6.7 minutes per game this season for the Raptors - still managed to finish a plus-19 with six points and five assists in 19 minutes. That alone isn't what's so impressive, though. What is impressive is that Brown had just recently played 34 minutes for the G League's Raptors 905 earlier the same day. That factoid alone encapsulates the kind of effort the Raptors' bench gave them Thursday.
The dynamic of the East is shifting fast
It's no secret the Cavaliers and James historically take it easier during the regular season, and a January game on the road isn't the be all and end all, but there's clearly cause for concern this season with the oldest team in the league.
Despite cruising through the regular season, Cleveland still tends to come close to the No. 1 seed. Now, however, the fourth-place Miami Heat are suddenly just two games back of the Cavaliers, and Cleveland has actually inched closer to the No. 8 seed (five games ahead of the Indiana Pacers) than they are to the top seed (6.5 games back of the Boston Celtics).
No one will (or should) say the Cavaliers are in danger of missing the playoffs, but the balance in the conference is evidently shifting. Their dominance over the East is waning, and the Cavaliers don't feel like the Goliath they've become since The King returned home to The Land. When even a fiery James playing coach can't will his team back into a game, something's wrong.
This was also a statement game for Toronto in its first meeting of the season with the Cavaliers. They exhaustively dominated Cleveland without Lowry and Ibaka, demonstrating they at least have the deeper side (a small victory that could ultimately prove moot in the playoffs when rotations are tighter). The Raptors will face the Cavaliers twice more this season, but if they meet in the playoffs this win will only serve as needed encouragement.
(Photos courtesy:Action Images)