Jakob Poeltl and the Toronto Raptors needed to show they were for real against a team with postseason aspirations during their duel with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While slowing down Donovan Mitchell is quite important, this game would be decided based on how well Poeltl performed against Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.
Poeltl has had a weird season to this point. While he has played well enough to be a starting center in the league and justify his big four-year contract from a statistical point of view, some Raptors fans believe that his often incongruous fit on the offensive end can lead to some spacing nightmares.
The Cavaliers may have finished on top with a 105-102 win aided by Gary Trent Jr. foolishly stepping out of bounds with one second left, but Poeltl did his job. With 18 points on 8-9 shooting, along with 13 rebounds against a tough frontcourt, Poeltl kept Toronto alive.
Poeltl is not a perfect player, but he will be here for the long haul due to his contract. If he keeps playing like this against some of the best bigs in the East, Masai Ujiri may indeed be justified in making the trade and giving the 7-1 Austrian the responsibility he has bestown upon him.
Jakob Poeltl kept the Toronto Raptors alive vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers
Poeltl will never be a stretch big that lights up the scoreboard, but the fact he has shot over 70% from the field this season has helped Raptors fans forget about the nightmare days when centers like Aron Baynes were unable to polish off even the most basic looks on the interior. His passing remains tremendous for a center his size.
On the defensive side of things, Poeltl helped limit Allen and Mobley to just 30 combined points, some of which came on tip-ins when he wasn't in the game. Even though the shot-blocking numbers aren't mind-boggling, it's clear to see how Poeltl impacts the defensive side of the ball when he's in the game.
The Raptors offense may still be a work in progress, as their volatile shooting means they can score on just about anybody one night and struggle to break 100 points the next, but the defensive infrastructure has remained quite solid. Poeltl, once again, is right at the center of it all as a lynchpin.
This team is full of problems, as the offense once again struggled against a defense that is actually worth a damn and the shooting remains pitiful. However, a thriving and effective Poeltl at the center spot can be a part of the solution for the Raptors, especially if he plays half as well as he did in this game.