This may as well be the Eastern Conference finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers know that their toughest match-up in the East is right in front of them, as a re-tooled Toronto Raptors team.
As most of you probably remember, these two teams met in the Eastern Conference finals last playoffs, where the Raptors handed the Cavs their first two losses of the playoffs in games 3 and 4 in Toronto. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were both quite strong in the wins, and not so much in the losses, where the Raptors lost by an average margin of 29 points.
Fast forward, and here we are again. We are actually in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, as the Cavs finished 2nd in the East this year and the Raptors 3rd. However, there shouldn’t be much doubt that when healthy these two are the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
After a shaky round 1 once again, the Raptors head to Cleveland for game one tonight. The additions of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker definitely make this a more interesting match-up. Without a doubt, the Raptors, on paper, have their best team in franchise history. The numbers actually state that the Raptors have a pretty strong chance of winning this series (based on regular season performance, mind you). However, LeBron has the tendency to make regular season numbers irrelevant, as whatever he does in the playoffs can’t be tangibly quantified. Pair that with the uncertainty of the Raptors performance in the playoffs, and you are looking at a very, very uphill battle for our squad.
I’m not even going to give you a proper preview. This series is simply going to come down to a few things.
Three point defense
The Cavaliers are a very good three point shooting team. Kevin Love, Channing Frye, JR Smith, Kyle Korver, Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson and LeBron can all make it rain when they are given daylight. It will be very, very important for the Raptors to contain the home-run ball and stay at home on shooters. Dwane Casey, please.
He’s going to get his. The king is absolutely still the best player in the world, and virtually unstoppable. The key here will be to make him work for his, and limit what he does for his teammates. Can you contain his playmaking, and make his 30 point performance difficult? The Raptors now have PJ Tucker, a healthier(?) DeMarre Carroll, and a rejuvenated (defensively) Patrick Patterson among others to throw at LeBron. Give him some space to shoot, and don’t let him get his teammates going. It’s the best option here.
Margin for error
When you are playing against the world champions, your margin for error is pretty low. To win this series, you need 4 close to perfect games. That means, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry need to have a helluva series. You need the threes to fall from DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, and Norman Powell. You need Jonas Valanciunas to dominate the weak Cavs frontcourt. You have to take advantage of when LeBron is on the bench. Simply put, the Raptors cannot have the mental lapses that they had in round 1, or multiple blowout games will ensue. Everything needs to go their way, and they absolutely have to play to their full potential.
The Cavaliers certainly have their vulnerabilities defensively, and taking advantage of them is going to be an necessity. This series is going to be a very tough one for the Raptors, but if all goes well, maybe, just maybe, do they have a shot.