Last season, the Toronto Raptors were the only Eastern Conference team to win a playoff game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They won both games three and four in Toronto to even the Eastern Conference finals, before the wine and gold won the next two contests to advance to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
We all know what happened there, right?
This year, the two teams meet one round earlier, in the conference semi-finals, and they finished the regular season with the same record.
The Cavs have home court advantage by virtue of winning the season series, 3-1.
Toronto is a top ten defensive team, so it will not be a picnic for the Cleveland, who like to win by outscoring their opponents.
In defending the Raptors, they are a team, much like Indiana, that doesn’t shoot a lot of three point shots, ranking 22nd in the NBA in attempts and 13th in percentage from beyond the arc.
Where the Cavs should have an advantage in on the boards. Toronto is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, so Tristan Thompson should be able to buy Tyronn Lue’s squad some extra attempts, and they defending champs must control the defensive glass when they force a miss.
The Raptors also take care of the ball very well, 4th in the Association in least turnovers.
Toronto holds opponents to 44.9% shooting, slightly better than Cleveland’s 45.8%, but they are slightly ranked lower in defending the three pointer.
Remember last year, Dwayne Casey was so afraid of the Cavaliers three point barrage against Atlanta in the conference semis that he placed too much emphasis on that and let the Cavs parade to the basket in the first two games.
It will be interesting to see how the Raptors play it starting tomorrow night.
No doubt the Cavs have to defend Toronto’s high scoring backcourt of DeMar DeRozan (27.3 PPG) and Kyle Lowry (22.4). They account for 43% of the Raptors’ field goal attempts.
DeRozan doesn’t take many three point shots, less than two per game, so the Cavs may give him that shot, which he is not comfortable in taking.
Serge Ibaka, who came over at the trade deadline, likes to shoot from out there and he can make them too, shooting at 40% since arriving in Canada.
The Raptors also have a solid big man in Jonas Valenciunas, at 12.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Lue will likely combat him by using Channing Frye to draw him out of the paint, and perhaps off the floor.
Casey started using Norman Powell instead of the big man in the first round series win over Milwaukee.
Toronto also picked P.J. Tucker at the deadline, presumably to guard LeBron James, but he shot slightly over 40% with Toronto, which means the Cavs don’t have to honor him on defense.
Offensively, the Cavs need Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to make shots, which they struggled doing in the first round.
Irving shot 42% from the floor and just 22% from the three point line. Hopefully, the time off allowed him to rest his legs and get them back into his shot. He also needs to average more than three assists per game, even if the offense is running through LeBron James.
Love also shot just 42% from the field, although he was much more successful from beyond the arc, knocking down 41%. He needs to continue to attack the basket when he gets the ball near the basket, and also has to be a force on the defensive boards.
This doesn’t figure to be an easy series if both teams play well. Keeping DeRozan from having big nights is probably the key to the series.
If the Cavaliers aren’t playing well, and don’t continue to improve defensively, they could be pushed to the limit.