Cavs-Raptors Set To Do Battle…Again

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.





Cavs’ Warts Showing Up Again

How short is the memory of Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans?

Have they forgotten that the Toronto Raptors won one less game in the regular season than the wine and gold?

This is the Eastern Conference Finals.  It’s not supposed to be easy.  And the Cavs and Raptors were the two best teams in the East for the entire season.

Thinking Cleveland was going to cakewalk to The Finals is shortsighted and is probably the reason for the angst that fans have this morning after the 105-99 loss to Canada’s darlings.

A few of the things we were concerned about before the series started have reared their ugly heads in the contests played up north.

That doesn’t mean these things can’t be corrected, and quite frankly, until the Cavs lose the home court advantage or there is a seventh game of the series, we will not go into panic mode.

In the first two games, the Raptors were concerned about the three point shooting of the Cavs, so they extended their defense, and Tyronn Lue’s club made a parade to the basket, including an array of dunks.

Toronto closed off the paint at home, and Cleveland hasn’t been as proficient from distance as they were against Detroit and Atlanta.

Lue has to come up with a counter, and maybe he did by playing Channing Frye at center in the fourth quarter, which drew Bismack Biyombo away from the hoop.

It’s simple, if the long range shots aren’t falling, you have to try something else, and you need to attack the basket.  And we aren’t talking about driving one on four like Kyrie Irving has time and again over the past two games.

The bigger issue in the last two games has been the defense, particularly on the Raptors’ all-star backcourt combination of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

The Cavs seem to be going behind the screen on Lowry, allowing him open looks on three point shots, while DeRozan’s mid-range game has JR Smith and LeBron James on their heels consistently.

Perhaps blitzing the pick and roll more often, like Cleveland did early in the fourth quarter, should be the plan.  Let the offensive burden be more on DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, etc.

Also, Tristan Thompson has not been effective keeping Biyombo off the boards.

The media narrative is that Kevin Love is killing the Cavs defensively, because he is always the reason the wine and gold lose, right?  We don’t see any evidence that Luis Scola and/or Patrick Patterson doing damage offensively.

Think about last night’s fourth quarter.  Cleveland scored on 11 straight possessions, but the reason the Cavs could get no more than a three point lead was the inability to stop the Raptors on the defensive end.

A few stops at that time, and we are talking about a 3-1 series lead.

The Cavaliers simply have to do a better job slowing down Lowry and DeRozan, and then limiting the Raptors to one shot.

It sounds simple, but the defense must get better, and the offense can’t settle for the long range shot.  Attack the basket and get to the foul line.

One more thing that was striking about last night’s comeback attempt in the fourth quarter.  The offense was running through James and Matthew Dellavedova.

This isn’t to say Delly is better than Kyrie Irving, but the latter seems to be in his “try to do everything himself” mode at times.

A victory tomorrow night will ease the panic and put Toronto in a position to be eliminated.

It is true that the Cavs haven’t been able to win in Canada, but the same is true about the Raptors at The Q.



One Loss Shouldn’t Cause Concern

You really didn’t think the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to go 16-0 in the playoffs, did you?

That is why the Cavs’ 99-84 loss to Toronto last night doesn’t have us wringing our hands with despair.

After all, Cleveland still has a 2-1 series edge, and they didn’t do anything as damaging as losing the home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The wine and gold shot 35.4% from the field in game three, and we believe most teams that shoot as poorly from the floor as Tyronn Lue’s squad did, would come to the same fate.

It is well documented that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shot a combined 4 for 28 from the floor last night, and we would bet that won’t happen again during the rest of the playoffs, let alone this series.

The Raptors were playing their first conference finals game in the history of the franchise, and they were up to the challenge, and their fans were rightfully excited for the team’s premier foray to the NBA’s final four.

There was a lot of emotion in the building and the Cavaliers didn’t diffuse it early in the game.

Love missed some shots early and seemed hesitant to be more active offensively, and Irving missed some contested drives to the hoop in the first quarter as well, but he seemed to take the Raptors’ bait, and continued to try to get to the basket by going through four Toronto players instead of moving the ball and letting someone else have open looks.

“Bad” Kyrie made his first appearance of the playoffs.

However, we will write this off as one bad game, and after the dominance the Cavs have displayed for most of the post-season, they are entitled to a off night.

Now, it’s Tyronn Lue who has to make some adjustments instead of trying to come up with counters to what he thinks the opponent will come up with.

We would guess Lue will try to get Irving and Love some easy looks early, so they can get the taste of game three out of their mouths as early as possible.  No doubt, LeBron James will help provide them with those looks.

Defensively, the wine and gold need to slow down DeMar DeRozan early.  He had his mid-range game going in the first half, although JR Smith was in good position defensively for many of those attempts.

As for Bismack Biyombo, who had the game of his life Saturday night with 26 rebounds, Lue said it best.  The Cavs’ coach said the Raptor big man had a lot of boards because Cleveland missed a lot of shots.

However, they need to continue to make open shots difficult for Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross, because if either can get their three point shot down, it could make game four a difficult proposition.

To be blunt, the Raptors played perhaps their best game of the playoffs and the Cavaliers played their worst, and the outcome was still in doubt halfway through the fourth quarter.

And even if Toronto can hold serve and win Monday night, two of the next three games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

Relax, it’s the playoffs.  It’s not supposed to as easy as it has been thus far.

LeBron James and his crew will play better in game four.  And Irving and Love will not shoot 14% for the entire game.



A Look At Cavs-Raptors Matchup

And then there were four…

The NBA playoffs started what seems to be eons ago with 16 teams in the tournament, and now we are down to just a quartet, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are one of those teams.

Tonight, the Cavs and Raptors open the Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena.

The two teams met three times in the regular season with the Raptors winning two of them, although Cleveland’s starting point guard in one of the losses was Jared Cunningham, because both Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova were out nursing injuries.

Remember that the Raptors finished one game behind Cleveland for the best record in the East, and they also have an all star backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto is one of the league’s best shooting teams from three point range, with the 5th best percentage in the league at 37%.

The also take a ton of free throws, ranking third in the NBA in that department.  LeBron James alluded to their shooters making a lot of pump fakes and that Cleveland defenders must stand their ground.

Despite those numbers, the Raptors rank 13th in the league in scoring (the Cavs are 8th), so Toronto doesn’t play as fast as the wine and gold, something Tyronn Lue’s club will try to take advantage of, pushing the tempo.

Defensively, the Raptors rank one spot above the Cavs in points allowed per game, giving up a tenth of a point per contest less than the Cavaliers.

They do rank 5th in field goal percentage against, but they are second worst in the league in defending the three point shot.

So, if the Cavs want to get to the basket they will need to do so in transition because Toronto is going to do what the Hawks did, pack the paint, and allow their opponents to beat them from outside.

Of course, that didn’t work for Atlanta.

The Raptors are a little more physically imposing as the Hawks are, especially if Jonas Valanciunas can play in the series.  If we can, they have three solid inside defenders in Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, and Luis Scola.

They also have DeMarre Carroll, who has given LeBron James more trouble than most defenders.

The Cavs can counter these inside presences by using Channing Frye to draw the big men away from the hoop, and you may see some Timofey Mozgov to bother the Raptors’ bigs defensively.

Remember that until he was hurt, Valanciunas was probably Toronto’s best player in the Miami series, so he can be a force.

As has been a constant during these playoffs, a big key for Cleveland defensively will be stopping penetration, particularly by Lowry.  This means once again all eyes are on Irving, who has been much better in the post-season on the defensive end.

Two other factors could come into play in this series. One would be fatigue.  The Raptors have played 14 games since the regular season ended, while Cleveland has played eight.  With the extra intensity involved in playoff games, you have to wonder if the Cavs’ fresher legs give them an advantage.

The other thing is the satisfaction level of Toronto.  Are they happy with getting to the conference finals for the first time in their history?  Sometimes your goal isn’t what you think it is.

If the Cavs continue to play like they did in the first two rounds, they will be Eastern Conference champions again.  There isn’t any reason why that level of play cannot continue.



Raptors Did What Cavs Couldn’t

Four years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat via free agency and the team went from a perennial NBA power to a team that has been in the draft lottery every year since.

That same season, another team lost a premier free agent to the Heat and that team has recovered very nicely despite not having as good of a record as the wine and gold had the year before James left.

That would be the Toronto Raptors, who lost Chris Bosh, and yet they will enter the playoffs as the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. And they did it despite not having the top pick in the draft twice since Bosh departed.

The Raptors won just 22 games the first year after their star free agent left, compared to the 19 games the Cavaliers won in the first season of the post-James era. So, there wasn’t much difference that first season.

The following season, Cleveland added first overall pick Kyrie Irving and the fourth choice in Tristan Thompson, who was selected one pick ahead of Toronto, who picked center Jonas Valanciunas, who sat out the following season because of a contractual situation in Europe.

The Raptors went 23-43 in the strike-shortened season, while the wine and gold were just two games behind, finishing up at 21-45.

In year two of the post-superstar era, Toronto traded for guard Kyle Lowry and drafted Terence Ross with the eighth overall pick in the NBA draft. Cleveland chose Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick.

The Raptors also traded for Rudy Gay using Jose Calderon and former first round pick Ed Davis, and saw a player picked before Bosh’s last season with the team, DeMar DeRozan, blossom into a budding star.

Toronto jumped to 34 victories last season, while the young Cavaliers went 24-58, mostly because they won just four games the last two months of the season.

This past off-season, led by new GM Masai Ujiri, the Raptors traded former first overall pick Andrea Bargnani to New York for Steve Novak, some expiring contracts and draft picks. They also added Tyler Hansbrough as a free agent.

With DeRozan’s emergence, they were also able to deal Gay to Sacramento during this season, for John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes, who have contributed greatly to the team’s success this season.

Cleveland also added some veterans to the roster this year in Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, and the team improved over the second half of the season, playing .500 ball, but a horrible first half of the season has them currently with 12 less wins than the neighbors to the north.

The key move for Toronto looks to be trading a starter and a first round pick for Gay, and then swapping him out for some key role players once DeRozan replaced him as the primary scoring option.

That is to say, they traded from strength. They had Lowry, meaning Calderon was superfluous, and DeRozan’s play made Gay expendable as well.

The Cavs had plenty of talent tied up in two positions (point guard and power forward), but hasn’t used it to their advantage.

Hopefully, even though they started rebuilding at the same time, the Cavaliers are a year behind the Raptors and the 2014-15 season will signal the wine and gold’s return to Eastern Conference prominence.

However, the Cavs can tell you about the “process” all they want, but another team went out and started winning games.

It’s another reason to take a good hard look at the organization this summer.