The Toronto Raptors were without Kyle Lowry on Saturday, but they still managed to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers by a final score of 106-95, to record their eighth-straight victory.
The Raptors are now 20-4 on the season, giving them a four-game advantage over the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference standings.
From Kawhi Leonard's performance to how the Raptors looked on offence and defence, here are five takeaways from their victory over the Cavaliers.
Kawhi Leonard is a problem
After scoring a season-high 37 points against the Golden State Warriors earlier this week, Kawhi Leonard came up big once again for the Raptors on Saturday, scoring a game-high 34 points on 11-for-21 shooting from the field.
Leonard got off to a relatively slow start in the first quarter, but he helped the Raptors build a comfortable lead with a 13-point second quarter. He then scored timely buckets in the fourth quarter - more on that soon - to prevent the Cavaliers from making things more interesting than they could've been.
Leonard also made some big plays on the defensive end against the Cavaliers, pulling down eight rebounds, blocking a couple of shots and coming up with a steal down the stretch on Cedi Osman.
🖐🏾🖐🏾 pic.twitter.com/7bEgFG81Nn- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 2, 2018
To put how valuable Leonard was into perspective, the Raptors outscored the Cavaliers by 28 points in the 36 minutes he played. That's pretty impressive considering they only won by 11.
One of the reasons the Raptors didn't win by more is because they didn't close the second and third quarters well.
When Kawhi Leonard checked out with 1:35 remaining in the second quarter, the Raptors led 47-36. They proceeded to turn the ball over twice and get off only one shot with him on the bench, paving the way for the Cavaliers to cut the lead to single digits by going on a 4-0 run.
It was more of the same in the third: Toronto led 73-53 when Leonard went to the bench with 2:46 to play and saw the Cavaliers go on a 14-4 run to make it a 10-point game.
Fortunately for the Raptors, Leonard helped secure the win by scoring 11 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter. Without him, they would've been in big trouble.
A quiet night for the bench
The Raptors bench has come up big time and time again during this win streak, but they struggled on Saturday.
Whereas they averaged 40.3 points per game in the seven games prior, the second unit scored only 17 points against the Cavaliers. OG Anunoby led the way with eight points; Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and CJ Miles combined for nine points on 4-for-13 shooting from the field.
To make matters worse, each one of them posted a negative plus-minus. While the Raptors were only outscored by four points in the 14 minutes Miles played, that number quadrupled in Wright's 19 minutes.
It doesn't help that the Cavaliers got some decent production from their bench, led by Jordan Clarkson (18 points) and Alec Burks (13 points).
Not having Fred VanVleet run the show likely had an impact, as last season's Sixth Man of the Year finalist started in place of Kyle Lowry, who was sidelined with a back injury.
VanVleet didn't have a huge night in the scoring column, but he scored a couple of important baskets down the stretch, including a triple that sealed the deal.
Timely offence. @TangerineHoops Game Highlights: https://t.co/CkdPYaWq0k pic.twitter.com/oyssXn3Xes- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 2, 2018
Trust the defence
The Raptors had their ups and downs on offence, but the defence held it together for most of the game.
Toronto limited Cleveland to only 95 points on 34-for-88 (38.6 percent) shooting from the field and 5-for-22 (22.7 percent) shooting from the 3-point line. They also forced 12 turnovers and allowed the Cavaliers to score only 34 points in the paint, 7.5 points lower than their season average.
Where the Cavaliers hurt the Raptors the most was from the free throw line. They attempted 25 as a team, knocking down 22 of those opportunities.
A monster double-double for Tristan Thompson
The player of the game for the Cavaliers was Tristan Thompson.
In 39 minutes of action, the Canadian recorded 18 points, 19 rebounds and three assists. Seven of those rebounds came on the offensive glass, where Thompson has been giving teams fits all season long.
What's most impressive is all of Thompson's offensive rebounds came in the second half. The Raptors did a good job of boxing him out in the first half, but he wore them down in the third and fourth quarters.
Tristan Thompson tips it home to beat the 3RD quarter BUZZER! 🚨#BeTheFight pic.twitter.com/22TEHa06bH- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) December 2, 2018
In a rebuilding year, Thompson continues to be a bright spot for the Cavaliers.