COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Believe it or not, Rafael Araujo can play a bit.
He certainly was not perfect, but you can count on zero hands the amount of times the oft-criticized Raptors centre led the team in rebounding and scoring in his rookie season.
The big Brazilian did just that last night, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds, as the Raptors (2-4) didn't wilt on the road, losing 87-83 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a pre-season game at Nationwide Arena.
"He's doing the things we want him to do defensively," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said of Araujo. "He rebounded, he did some good things."
After being sent to the bench by Mitchell in the third quarter for throwing the ball away on a stupid long pass that was intercepted, leading to an easy Cavs basket, Araujo returned in crunch time and delivered solid minutes.
He made a huge play with less than a minute left, receiving a pass from rookie point guard Jose Calderon and laying it in and drawing a foul. He hit that shot -- in fact, he was 9-for-9 for the free-throw line and is an impressive 17-for-18 in the pre-season after struggling with foul shots last season -- to tie the game at 81-81. Unfortunately, the Spanish-speaking Calderon, who is learning English slowly, didn't appear to understand a play coming out of an ensuing timeout and threw the ball out of bounds, instead of hitting Mike James. The Cavs hit the remaining foul shots, ending the Raptors' two-game winning streak.
"Maybe Jose didn't quite understand me, so I've just got to do a better job communicating when he's in the game in that situation," Mitchell said.
Still, after watching another strong defensive effort and a much-improved performance by Araujo, Mitchell has to feel decent about his young team. With the equally inconsistent Loren Woods and Araujo at centre, the Raptors sure could use more nights like this from Araujo, who doesn't want to receive a flight to Arkansas to play for Toronto's development league team.
"It feels good for myself," Araujo said. "Coach is giving me a chance and I'm trying to take that as an opportunity to prove my game."
Rookie Joey Graham, after doing a nice job guarding Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce in a 93-83 win Friday, performed well again against a guy named LeBron James. Morris Peterson and Graham were responsible for James and the dynamic Cav shot 5-for-15 from the field and had 22 points. Defensively soft last season, the Raptors are showing good signs without the ball in the pre-season.
For the second game in a row, the Raptors had three injured players -- forwards Matt Bonner (right calf), Eric Williams (right knee) and Pape Sow (groin).