On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers continued their playoff dominance with a resounding 115-84 victory over the Toronto Raptors. The win improved the Cavs’ postseason record to an impressive 9-0, making them just the fifth team in NBA history to accomplish such a feat.
Coming off an eight-day layoff, many wondered whether or not the Cavalier players would experience rust. In the early portion of the game, it seemed like that would be the case, as the Raptors–just two days removed from a game 7 victory over the Miami Heat–jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead while the Cavs missed routine shots and turned the ball over.
As the game went on however, Cleveland got back to doing what they have grown accustomed to this postseason. Dominate. The team used a 12-0 run near the end of the first quarter to create separation from the Raptors and never looked back. It was the second unit that really got the ball rolling, as they ratcheted up the defensive intensity, trapped ball handlers, rotated crisply, and created easy transition offense opportunities.
On this night, the Raptors looked very much like a team on tired legs and proved to be no match for the fresher Cavaliers.
What we learned:
The Raptors chose to stay home on the Cavs’ 3-point shooters and use single coverage to guard LeBron. In response, LeBron feasted all night against helpless defenders, shooting 11-13 from the field and getting wherever he wanted. Whenever DeMarre Carroll was the defender, James would simply back him down until he got an easy lane to the rim. Maybe we’ll see more James Johnson on Lebron in game 2. The Cavs didn’t shoot the lights out tonight (35% from 3), but the threat of made 3-pointers combined with LeBron’s playmaking may be too much to throw double teams. Catch-22 indeed.
Early on, the two man pick and roll game worked for the Raptors. Whenever setting a screen on Irving, Patrick Patterson would find himself open, as Kevin Love would hard hedge on Kyle Lowry, leaving Toronto’s stretch 4 open. Love would eventually opt to just switch onto the ball handler, leading to mixed results. As the Cavs players increased their intensity, however, the Raptors were forced into uncomfortable positions on the court and the shots stopped falling.
Kyle Lowry must be better for the Raptors to even have a shot. On Tuesday night, he was awful. Shooting 4-14 from the field (0-7 from deep) and committing 4 turnovers. I thought that he was forcing the issue a bit too much, launching threes and layups without his feet set properly. You certainly have to give the Cavs credit, as they followed the scouting report to a tee, and took away Lowry’s strengths. Lowry’s poor play can also be attributed to tired legs from his heroic Game 7 performance, in which he played 42 minutes and carried the team to victory.
The Raptors have to find a way to slow the game down and survive the first punch from the Cavs. Running and gunning against Cleveland is not ideal, especially for a team that has played two back-to-back series resulting in Game 7s. When the Cavs start swarming on the defensive end, the Raptors need to swing the ball and hit shots.
Game 2 is set for Thursday, so we’ll see what adjustments the Raptors make.