- PG: Kyrie Irving
- SG: J.R. Smith
- SF: LeBron James
- PF: Kevin Love
- C: Tristan Thompson
The Cleveland Cavaliers looked to be on a very clear path of destruction even before game one of their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Toronto Raptors. After trouncing the visiting Raptors at Quicken Loans Arena, it’s fair to wonder if Cleveland will let up for even a single game in this series.
The Raptors could do little to hang with Cleveland, which saw LeBron James go a perfect 7 of 7 going into halftime of game one, and then end the game shooting 11 of 13. Efficient is putting it lightly. And this, coming against the East’s 2-seed that is supposed to have a good, balanced defense.
After such a horrific dismantling, the big question is if the Raptors are really this inferior, or if game two has them show up checked into an entirely different gear. That will certainly need to be the case if they want to avoid the dreaded 2-0 hole.
A good step in the right direction will be making things harder on James, who had it way too easy in game one. The Raptors will also need more out of star point guard Kyle Lowry, who was completely off his game to start the series. We find out if Toronto has some fight in them come Thursday night in game two.
Cleveland is a team on a mission. Change the record, right? It is boring and repetitive, but it’s also the truth. Something clicked for the Cavs late in the year and they entered post-season play hell bent on both playing at an elite level and not giving an inch to the opposition.
So far, so good, as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have been so dominant together that Cleveland is undefeated in these playoffs and the Cavs’ Big Three has been able to rest up late in a handful of games.
It’s arguable their path to this point hasn’t been very daunting. Round one brought a less than savvy or experienced Detroit Pistons squad to the gallows, while last round Cleveland met up and similarly dispatched an Atlanta Hawks team that they swept in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Now they’re slapping around a Raptors team that hasn’t been this far in the playoffs before and two rounds in a row almost had their dreams of advancing to their first ever Eastern Conference Finals series dashed.
Cleveland has been a flawless version of themselves, as they control the pace, dominate fast breaks and continue to murder shots from outside the three-point line. Part of that is suspect defense in spots from the opposition, but more than anything it’s players playing loose and confident. Even more than that, it’s simply a very good team executing as well as they possibly can.
The Cavs are scary even when they’re not going off from three ball range, but when they are, they’re a real threat to win it all. That’s bad news for Toronto in any season. But in a year where the Cavs haven’t lost a playoff game and generally don’t lose at home, it may be a damning revelation.
|5/17/16||VS Raptors||Win 115-84|
|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|
For all of their determination and grit, the Toronto Raptors are facing a dead series in the face if they can’t find a way to stand up and give the Cavs a fight in game two tonight. Two straight full seven-game series has understandably worn them down and it was tough to buy them winning in Cleveland in game one, but they’re certainly better than what we saw the other day and their best basketball could still be ahead of them.
Truth be told, the Raptors are arguably better than we’ve seen them at any point in this entire post-season run. Only a handful of times have we seen both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan click on the same night. Only a couple of times has DeMarre Carroll stepped up offensively and reminded us that he’s a piece to the puzzle, too. That lack of consistency has been killer, and throw in an ankle injury to big man Jonas Valanciunas, and it’s easy to see why Toronto has lacked dominance during these playoffs.
But they don’t need to dominate to stick in this series. They really just need to not give in. To do that, they need to raise their defense up another level and make things much more difficult on Cleveland’s main penetrating weapons – James and Irving. Both attacked at will in game one, which naturally has the defense close and either allowed them to finish at the rim, take an easy mid-range shot or pass out to an open shooter.
The three’s weren’t even falling for Cleveland in game one, which was both depressing and uplifting. On one hand, Toronto didn’t show up offensively but did enough defensively to limit the Cavs to 35% shooting and seven treys from outside. That isn’t amazing, but it could be good enough to get a win. The trouble is, they didn’t challenge the Cavs enough and gave up a whopping 21 two-point baskets to James and Irving, combined.
Toronto needs to meet both James and Irving out at the arc and keep them from penetrating at will. And when/if they do, Bismack Biyombo (zero blocks in game one) needs to be waiting, ready to swat their next attempt all the way to the moon. If the defense can pick back up to where we’re used to seeing the Raptors perform, they may actually have a chance to prove doubters wrong and get back in this series.
|5/17/16||at Cavaliers||Lost 115-84|
|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)|
Where did Toronto go wrong in game one? It’s pretty simple. They did not re-direct Cleveland’s main offense creators and on the other side they got next to nothing outside of DeMar DeRozan. Their normally stout defense was atrocious and their usually balanced offense was nowhere to be found.
That doesn’t have to spell death for the Raptors in this series, however, as extra effort on defense could dramatically alter Cleveland’s offensive fortunes and solid defense could breathe life back into their offense.
|5/17/16||Cavaliers 115, Raptors 84|
|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|
Of course, that is easier said than done. Toronto is tasked with stopping a very solid offense that plays at a similar pace and like Toronto, often thrives on it’s own defense. If Kyle Lowry again can’t show up or he does and then DMR regresses (just like we’ve seen throughout the playoffs), Toronto may not have enough firepower to battle Cleveland on their own turf.
The first big problem is defense, but that is going to be better in game two. The Raptors have adjusted well throughout the playoffs and it’s very unlikely they make life that easy on James and Irving for two straight games. That doesn’t mean those guys won’t make difficult shots or pass out to red hot three-point shooters, but the effort and defensive focus should be better. It’s simply the way Toronto has been all the way up until this point.
It’s Toronto’s offense bettors need to be concerned with. Gone is the team that was putting up 102 points per game during the regular season. This unit is far less effective and way less efficient, putting up just 94 points per game in the playoffs, while shooting a weak 41% from the floor. That’s not good enough to win most games or most series, let alone take down the top team in the Eastern Conference.
|Win/Loss||57-25 (33-8 at home)||56-26 (24-17 away)|
While I think Toronto turns the defense on a bit and keeps things a lot more interesting early on, I don’t trust them to consistently match Cleveland on offense. We just have not seen Lowry and DMR work together in unison much during these playoffs and while the Raptors have twice before bounced back from a 0-1 hole, I don’t see them accomplishing that here.
The Cavs really have the look of a team that desires to make history and a full sweep of their conference playoffs isn’t starting to look like a possibility; it’s starting to look likely.
I do think LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are going to be a little less effective in terms of getting easy buckets, but this offense is a beast at home and after being just so-so outside the arc in game one, I feel it could turn back the other way and we see guys like Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Channing Frye and maybe even Iman Shumpert get hot and carry the offense with a three-point barrage. In the end, trusting the Raptors in any regard is begging for failure, so it’s very tough to bet in their favor. I’ll take Cleveland to win and cover.
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