A common refrain among the Cavs’ players is that their team is totally different, now, than they were during the regular season. They also downplayed the significance of the previous matchups with the Raptors, indicating that the results meant very little–if anything at all. Considering the team dynamic from earlier in the season, they are mostly correct. After all, David Blatt was still the head coach in two of the three regular season matchups against the Raptors, and players like James Jones, Timofey Mozgov, James Johnson, and even Luis Scola were still in the rotation for both teams.
Nevertheless, after reviewing some game film from those previous matchups, I noticed a few things that both teams either need to address or use to their advantage.
Improve rotations on defense
The Cavs were one of the worst shot blocking teams in the NBA, and that hasn’t changed in the playoffs (and never will as presently constructed). The Raptors’ guards love to drive the ball into the paint, either looking for contact or to dump the ball off to a big. Therefore, it is imperative for the Cavs to sure up their rotations by helping the helper, particularly when pick and roll action is involved. Kevin Love has struggled in this area, as a result of his slow reaction to the developing play and, quite frankly, because of his relatively short wingspan and vertical ability.
One way Coach Lue has tried to slow down the pick and roll attack is to have the big show, forcing the ball handler to divert his path. This gives the guard defending time to recover, or ample time for the back line defense to rotate. However, showing high is not easy to do when defending the pick and roll in semi transition, especially when Kyle Lowry can turn the corner quickly. The Cavs must recognize the offensive development sooner to be able to keep Toronto’s guards at bay.
Continue to utilize Lebron’s playmaking in the middle of the floor
We all know that Lebron is otherwordly from a physical standpoint, but his passing instincts are just as impressive. The Raptors know they can’t guard Lebron one on one, so they divert a ton of attention to him as a team. When the Cavs run a pick and roll in the middle of the floor with shooters spaced out, it causes the Raptors to choose between stopping the roll man, Lebron, or shooters. Given how well the Cavs have been shooting, leaving shooters open to protect the rim is a dangerous proposition.
Control the defensive glass
If the Raptors are to stand a chance against the Cavs, they cannot allow extra possessions, especially since the Cavs are shooting well enough already on one possession. Without Valanciunas, who is an excellent rebounder, it makes it that much tougher to keep offensive-rebounding machine Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love ( or even Lebron) off the boards. To be clear, Biyombo is a solid rebounder himself, but when the Cavs bring in Channing Frye, Biyombo will be pulled from the basket, leaving the battle for rebounds to the smaller players.
Put Kevin Love and Cavs’ bigs in pick-and-rolls early and often
One way to hurt the Cavs is to force them into giving extra effort and making decisions. Whenever Kyle Lowry uses a screen, the defender has to respect not only his shot (39% 3FG), but also his driving ability. This may cause switches, which only works in the Raptors’ favor. As previously mentioned, the Cavs don’t block many shots, so once the guard turns the corner, he needs to attack the basket.
Get contribution from role players
Lowry and Derozan have gotten past their early shooting struggles, but they need help in the scoring department against the Cavs. If the shooters are able to knock down open shots, it makes the guards trajectory to the basket that much easier. Naturally, role players perform better at home, but the Raptors can’t afford to go down 2-0 to a focused Cavaliers team, so playing well on the road is a must.
Cavs in 5
The Cavs are well rested and focused on redeeming themselves from last year’s finals loss. The Raptors, on the other hand, have played two consecutive 7-game series and are banged up (most notably Jonas Valanciunas). This makes for a very difficult task for Toronto, something which the Cavs won’t take for granted. I have the Raptors edging out one victory to avoid the sweep because Kyle Lowry is good enough to take over a game by himself, especially at home. However, if the Cavs are totally locked in, this can very well be a sweep.
All games televised on ESPN:
Game 1 – Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.
Game 2 – Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
Game 3 – Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
Game 4 – Monday (May 23) at 8:30 p.m.
Game 5 – Wednesday (May 25) at 8:30 p.m.
Game 6 – Friday (May 27) at 8:30 p.m.
Game 7 – Sunday (May 29) at 8:30 p.m.