Thursday, January 6, 2011

Toronto Raptors 120 at Cleveland Cavaliers 105 - January 5, 2011

The original plan for this day was to return to Buffalo to watch the WJHC finals. I had expected the final to be between Canada and the US but when Canada lost to Sweden in the round robin, it changed everything. Fortunately, Sharpy and I witnessed Canada beating the Yanks in the semi-final, which was enough for us. So we decided to forgo the ridiculous ticket prices and stay in Cleveland to watch the Raptors take on the Cavaliers in a battle of two teams whose star player moved to Miami last summer. Needless to say, both teams are near the bottom of the league this season.

Quicken Loans Arena

Located at the corner of Huron and Ontario in downtown Cleveland, Quicken Loans Arena is known as the Q to locals. Progressive Field is next door and the two venues comprise the Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex. Both were built from 1992-94, the first time in the country that two sports facilities were constructed simultaneously on the same site.

Originally known as Gund Arena after the owner at that time, Gordon Gund, who had bought the rights, the venue underwent a massive renovation in 2005 when new Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, who also owns Quicken Loans, took over. Gilbert also bought the naming rights and the Q was born. It was an incredible remodelling and the venue is still like new despite being over 15 years old.

There is expensive parking near the arena ($25 at one lot) but I am sure you can find free street parking around. We stayed downtown so we walked to the arena, so don't have any parking tips.

Scalpers are plentiful and for a game such as this, desperate to sell. We had worn our Canadian hockey jerseys and wanted to sit behind the Raptors' bench to cheer them on, but nobody had those seats. Instead, we ended up with $101 club seats near center court for just $25 and we probably could have got them for cheaper had we negotiated with some other salesmen.

When you enter the venue, you go through metal detectors, sadly not an uncommon experience in the States. Game programs are free and available just inside the gates. I initially tried to go up an escalator to the second level to grab some pictures, but was refused as I had a club ticket. I tried to explain that I just wanted to take a look but the lady didn't quite understand me and so I gave up before the line behind me grew too large.

As you can see above, the lower bowl is separated into two distinct sections. The lower, flatter section is normal seating and can be accessed via the concourse. The upper, steeper area contains the club seats and these are accessed via elevators or directly from the parking garages connected to the arena.

I found it annoying to get from the club to the upper level as there is no obvious link between the two. I eventually found a door that led to a staircase that takes you to the other levels. This door is unguarded, so you can also enter the club without a ticket if you are looking to explore.

Frankly though, the club area isn't that special. The concourse is narrow and there are few concessions because most people get food delivered to their seat or eat at Bridges, the fine dining establishment for club patrons. The other concourses are more typical, much wider with plenty of food options. There is a Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant on the lower level that provides seating if you want something a bit more substantial.

The 4-sided scoreboard is excellent and provides extra info such as the point differential in the game as well as the FG% for both teams. The video quality is superb too.

The Cavaliers don't have a storied history, and having lost LeBron, it's doubtful any new banners will be raised anytime soon to join those below. There are a few retired numbers including Larry Nance and Mark Price which are hanging from the rafters as well.

As I walked around, I noticed one cute touch in that the signs for the bathrooms are holding little basketballs.

Otherwise there is nothing particularly special about the Q. I think they went a little heavy on the club seats but now that the primary attraction has left, it feels a bit forced. The limited access to the club is also mildly frustrating when you are sitting there and want to move around.

Still, it's a good place to watch a game, with tickets easily affordable, excellent sightlines, and passionate fans. The arena is easily accessible, with lots of bars and eateries (I liked Flannery's Irish Pub at Prospect at 4th) nearby. I certainly think Cleveland is a great sports town and if you haven't been there, check it out.

The Game

Both teams are terrible, but Cleveland is slightly worse, coming in at 8-23 and in the midst of a 1-17 run. In fact, when I saw them in Minnesota back on December 4th, they lost the 3rd game of this stretch, which means one win in over a month. Things are not pretty here.

Toronto was 11-20 and on a 1-6 streak of their own. Clearly, something had to give. Their "star" is Andrea Bargnani (below), the first overall pick back in 2005.

It was Antawn Jamison (below) bobblehead night which brought a good crowd out (announced as a sellout at 20,562 but there were lots of no-shows) and the Cavaliers responded early, dominating the first quarter, shooting nearly 80% in taking a 38-26 lead.

But Bargnani (below on offense) scored nine points to start the second and the Raptors went on a 24-10 run to take a two-point advantage. The teams exchanged the lead the rest of the half, which ended with Toronto on top 66-63.

It was quite a reversal and amazingly it was enough. Cleveland got within one point early in the third but the Raps put together a 12-3 run over 2:41 to take an 87-77 lead and the Cavaliers were done, never getting closer than 6 points the rest of the way. Toronto cruised to the 120-105 victory and Sharpy and I went home happy.

Ramon Sessions with a nice shot for 2 of his 16 points

Bargnani led the winners with 25 while Jamison paced the Cavs with 32. However, it was Jose Calderon who was the big star, dishing out 17 assists to go along with his 20 points.

DeMar DeRozan looks to shoot

It can be tough in basketball to determine what really led to victory; turnovers or defense or foul shooting or rebounding or something else. Looking at the boxscore, Toronto had 21 more FG attempts and 16 more FG, a consequence of good offensive rebounding and lots of second chance opportunities. The Raptors' defense was also that much better over the last three quarters and Cleveland had trouble finding any rhythm. These two factors combined to give Toronto the win and keep the road winning streak alive on this trip, now at 5-0.

The final score, note "The Diff" in the middle which shows the difference between the two teams. Can Cleveland fans not subtract?

With the Cavaliers scoring 100, another free chalupa was awarded, which meant two in two days. Unfortunately we had to get out of Cleveland early the next day and didn't have time to enjoy our bounty, but we certainly enjoyed our time in Cleveland. Go Raptors!

WJHC Final

After the game, we went to a nearby bar to watch the end of the hockey game in Buffalo. It was 3-3 when we arrived and we didn't know that Canada had blown a 3-0 lead. So we were excited to see the last 10 minutes, but when Russia added two more goals to win gold, our excitement dissipated somewhat. I'm glad we chose Cleveland and saw a Raptors' road victory though.

Returning to Canada the next day, I was shocked at how disconsolate the country was. Does the failure of a bunch of teenagers to win a single game mean that much here? They had a terrible period, but that happens in sports. It doesn't mean the "future of Canadian hockey is in danger" or anything else. Canada needs to get over itself regarding hockey, they have become far worse than Americans on baseball or basketball.


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