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Game 1 Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors

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The road to the NBA Finals continues as the second round of the postseason has officially begun.

For the second straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers will take on the Toronto Raptors in what was expected by many to be an Eastern Conference Finals rematch coming into the 2016-17 season.

The two teams will meet in the conference semi-finals instead, but that won’t take away from a series that will feature plenty of hard-nosed competition. On both sides, there are a few different faces that will make a big impact outside the stars of the show.

While new players may be a similarity between these ball clubs, their road to the next round was not. The Raptors were stunned by the up-and-coming Milwaukee Bucks and trailed two games to one after Game 3. That type of adversity forced Dwayne Casey’s hand to make a significant change in the starting lineup, and it worked to perfection.

By adjusting to the Bucks’ lengthy group of five, Toronto found new life. Norman Powell rose up to the challenge in his first games as a postseason starter. In those three games, the sophomore guard posted a net rating of 24.4 points per 100 possessions and posted the highest true shooting percentage (80.5) among all starters in the first round.

The move for Powell resulted in Jonas Valanciunas’ demotion to the bench, but it did wonders for him after he struggled early in the series. Playing with the second unit, the Lithuanian big man posted the highest net rating among bench players with 20 minutes of action or higher. He’s seen his field goal percentage jump nearly thirty percent on almost three fewer shot attempts per game.

These moves were critical for the comeback series win, and of course, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan held their end of the bargain. Serge Ibaka’s new home at the center position proved to be a smart fix as well. It took every ounce of energy in Toronto to come back and win that series, which can be a boost as far as confidence and team morale go.

What awaits the Raptors, though, is a well-rested and ready Cavaliers squad. After sweeping the Indiana Pacers and getting a week of rest, LeBron James and company will look to once again move on to their third straight conference finals by beating a familiar foe.

It all starts with defense, which wasn’t exactly perfect against in the first round, and closing out games with leads. The play of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will certainly play an instrumental factor in this series, especially having had the opportunity to heal the knick-knack injuries both have endured.

J.R. Smith has been oddly bashful thus far in the playoffs, so there might be a more aggressive side of him that comes out for Cleveland. Tristan Thompson did a fine job on Myles Turner in round one by controlling the boards, and he’ll face another tough task with Ibaka.

The fight between these two teams should make for an exciting series, and the action starts on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

SEASON SERIES: CLE 3-1

Who Wins Game 1?

The last time the Raptors were in town, the Cavaliers were in a bad place. Before fan appreciation night, the wine-and-gold had limped through the final stretch of the regular season by losing three straight, and Toronto made it four with a blowout of Cleveland’s reserves.

“The North” was in a much different position with a four-game winning streak to end its year. Fast-forward to 19 days later and they’re back.

Ultimately, this game should be for the superstars to showcase their talents on the big stage, and that will happen. LeBron will make a plethora of highlight plays and probably have a few signature slams. Irving will dazzle in isolation with his amazing isolation skills. Lowry will make some ridiculously contested pull-up threes. DeRozan will be himself and knock down his trademark mid-rangers. We’ll see a bumping, bruising battle in the paint between Thompson and Ibaka.

But the battle of the benches is the most intriguing. According to NBA.com, these second units are the best in the league so far in the postseason at opposite ends of the floor. The Cavs are the top offensive team (127 ORTG) and the Raptors are the best defensive squad (98.1 DRTG) with their reserves on the court.

So maybe pay close attention to the matchup between Deron Williams and Cory Joseph, or the impact made from P.J. Tucker as a gritty on-ball defender. Kyle Korver was relatively quiet in his playoff series debut with the Cavaliers, and that could change. How will Tyronn Lue adjust to a 7-footer off the bench?

These are the scenarios to pay attention to throughout the series. The first game is the tone setter, though, so it’s hard to pick against the home team on a whole lot of rest. The Raptors bring forth a charge, but too much offensive firepower gives Cleveland a Game 1 victory.

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About Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.