- PG: Kyrie Irving
- SG: J.R. Smith
- SF: LeBron James
- PF: Kevin Love
- C: Tristan Thompson
Pick & Preview of Game 1 of Toronto Raptors vs Cleveland Cavaliers
Game one of the Western Conference Finals didn’t go as planned for the Golden State Warriors on Monday night, as they fell at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Toronto Raptors will hope for a similar result as they tip off their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
Toronto was without a doubt the second best team in the Eastern Conference, but it could be difficult for them to steal a game one win, both because it’s in Cleveland and because they haven’t been able to win the first game of a series yet in these NBA playoffs.
Cleveland is easily the better team on paper, has a serious home court edge and has much more star power, but these are still two teams that are separated by one win. Both have displayed an ability to win on the road, and after journeying through two seven-game series, there is no denying the Raptors are battle tested.
Then again, it could be rather troubling that it took so much effort to down the Pacers and Heat, and that it took coming back from 0-1 holes in both series to get the job done. Making it even more difficult is Cleveland’s dominance thus far, as they’ve won all eight of their playoff games and likely waltz into the Eastern Conference Finals with another 4-0 sweep on the brain.
Will we see the Cavs get dealt their first loss right away on Tuesday night, or will Cleveland continue to flex their muscle and prove they are without a doubt the team to beat in this conference?
Cleveland Cavaliers Preview
The Cleveland Cavaliers come in red hot as they prepare for game one, as they’ve won all eight of their playoff games thus far. They’ve done so largely impressively, shooting lights out from beyond the arc in several games and didn’t let two solid teams in the Pistons and Hawks notch even a single win in the process.
They’ve shown solid grit and precision at times, winning three very tight games, and also recorded three strong blowouts.
It’s tough to deny the Cavs at this point, as they were the preseason favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals after making it there last year, and not much has changed. The Raptors are the predictable draw as the two-seed, but they’re not an insurmountable task.
The big advantage here is star power and experience, both of which Cleveland could rely on en route to anything from a sweep to a six-game win. Of course, Toronto is very balanced overall and also has shown they can win consistently, both at home and on the road. The lone issue for Cleveland coming in could actually be the argument that they took care of business prior to this series too quickly. While Toronto could be tired, they’re at least extremely battle tested and in a groove. Cleveland hasn’t been playing for the past nine days and could very well come in a little flat if they’re not careful.
Toronto’s defense is what could give the Cavs problems, but Cleveland was a beast at Quicken Loans Arena and looks quite driven. It’d take a really bad performance to see them flop in game one at home.
|5/8/16||at Hawks||Win 100-99|
|5/6/16||at Hawks||Win 121-108|
|5/4/16||VS Hawks||Lost 123-98|
|5/2/16||VS Hawks||Win 104-93|
|4/24/16||at Pistons||Win 100-98|
Toronto Raptors Preview
Toronto has already proven their worth in these playoffs, as they’re now further down the playoff road than they’ve ever been, appearing in their first ever Eastern Conference Finals. Normally teams don’t keep collecting “firsts” in the same playoff run, so it feels like it’s only a matter of time until the Raptors bow out.
Going up against the Cavs makes that more of a reality, but after gutting through two tough series, it’s possible we’ve all underestimated Toronto’s ability to survive. Cleveland hasn’t been pushed to the limits much in their playoff run, so if Toronto can strike first and continue to battle, they really could make this a series. A 2-1 regular season advantage aids them, plus a collection of bodies to throw at James certainly doesn’t hurt.
The problem is the Raptors are tired and beaten up. DeMarre Carroll has wrist, knee and ankle issues and overall just is not 100%. There is hope he can keep giving something defensively, but he’s not all there and he so far has done next to nothing offensively. Not forcing LeBron James to work on both ends could be awful in the long run.
- PG: Kyle Lowry
- SG: DeMar DeRozan
- SF: DeMarre Carroll
- PF: Patrick Patterson
- C: Bismack Biyombo
Then there is the absence of Jonas V, who is likely to miss the first two games of this series, if not the entire series. That isn’t crippling necessarily with how good Bismack Biyombo has been, but if Valanciunas is indeed going to remain out, Biyombo needs to find a way to drop in gem performances for as long as possible. Going up against awesome rebounding big men in Love and Tristan Thompson, that could prove difficult. Then again, Biyombo is a serious shot-blocker and rebounder, so he could just as easily end up being Toronto’s x-factor in this series.
Toronto’s goal is going to be controlling the pace and keeping Cleveland’s studs from going off. Limiting the outside shooting will also be key, and their team defense needs to be spot on. That’s easier said than done, too, consider Detroit and Atlanta both could defend, yet the Cavs made them look like swiss cheese numerous times.
The Raptors have a chance and they’re here for a reason. They just probably need a perfect series and another full seven games to make it happen.
|5/15/16||VS Heat||Win 116-89|
|5/13/16||at Heat||Lost 103-91|
|5/11/16||VS Heat||Win 99-91|
|5/9/16||at Heat||Lost 94-87 (OT)|
|5/7/16||at Heat||Win 95-91|
Matchup Preview: Raptors @ Cavaliers
This is a very interesting matchup on paper, as the Raptors have some bodies to throw at LeBron James via DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson and Norman Powell. How effective any of them can be on the defensive end could be huge for this series, especially since Kyle Lowry could hold his own against Kyrie Irving.
With Bismack Biyombo (and hopefully a returning Jonas Valanciunas at some point) giving Toronto good size down low, the only real weak spot for the Raptors in this matchup is power forward, where they really don’t have anyone to combat Kevin Love. None of their power forwards are likely to over-work him defensively, nor do they have anyone that should especially give him fits defensively. Love could be a huge part of this series, both on the outside and inside, and certainly on the boards.
|2/16/16||Raptors 99, Cavaliers 97|
|1/4/16||Cavaliers 122, Raptors 100|
|11/25/15||Raptors 103, Cavaliers 99|
|3/4/15||Cavaliers 120, Raptors 112|
|12/9/14||Cavaliers 105, Raptors 101|
|12/5/14||Cavaliers 105, Raptors 91|
|11/22/14||Raptors 110, Cavaliers 93|
Toronto owned the 2015-16 regular season series (2-1), but the Cavs have dominated overall dating back to 2014, with a 4-3 advantage. It’s tough to go on any of this too hard, of course, as the last time these two teams faced off was in February.
That most recent meeting saw Kyle Lowry carry the Raptors to a win at Air Canada Centre (43 points) despite not getting much help from DeMar DeRozan (1-11 shooting) or anyone else.
The one game Cleveland stole in this series, they exhibited that blistering outside shooting they’ve flashed during these playoffs, hitting 17 three’s (51% from outside) and Toronto couldn’t keep up. That game was also understandably in Cleveland, where the Cavs don’t often lose.
Toronto’s other win back in November also was in Canada and yet again, they won on Lowry’s shoulders. The Cavs shot well from outside in this game, too (48%), but overall Toronto was able to limit them defensively (99 points). This was the only game of the season series where DeMarre Carroll was healthy and active, and it may not be such a coincidence that LeBron James wasn’t on top of his game (6-16 shooting, 1-5 on three’s).
If Carroll can fight back against injuries and combine with Biyombo to give the defense a lift, Toronto has a mild chance to stage the upset. Vegas obviously isn’t liking the chances of that happening, however.
|Win/Loss||57-25 (33-8 at home)||56-26 (24-17 away)|
Recommended Game 1 Bet
If you want a straight up pick, it’s Cleveland. They’ve lost 8 games at home all year, zero games during these playoffs and face a team that hasn’t started a playoff series with a win yet this year.
The Cavs are the easy call, but I draw the line at that gaudy spread. A -10.5 line is pretty thick, even for the Cavs. They did win by 10+ points five times already during this post-season run, but Toronto owned the regular season series and we’ve only seen a 10+ point winner in this series once in the last five meetings.
This is also the first time ever these two teams have clashed in the playoffs. They matchup well, play a similar pace and both can defend. The odds are we don’t see a huge offensive explosion on either side, Toronto brings some extra gusto after beating Miami and perhaps Cleveland comes out a little flat. It won’t be enough for the Raptors to win, but it could be enough to keep them within 10 in game one.
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