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Game 4 Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs Toronto Raptors

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Down 2-0 with the series moving to Toronto, the Raptors were hoping for a repeat of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals when they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers two games in row in the same situation. Through three quarters, despite Kyle Lowry not playing due to an ankle injury, it looked like the Raptors were on their way to doing just that. Then Dwane Casey’s lineups struck.

There are some nights when your key guys just have to go all the way, especially in a must-win playoff game. Tyronn Lue was ready to do just that, forgoing rest for Lebron James at the start of the fourth quarter and keeping him in a tight playoff game. Casey, on the other hand, opted to sit both DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph and bring in a bench unit that wasn’t at all effective in the first half. Predictably, the Cavaliers went on a small run that essentially ended the game, before comfortably winning 115-94.

When Casey ended up bringing DeRozan and Joseph back into the game, they had already cooled off and it didn’t matter anymore. The Cavaliers were looking to go for the knock-out punch by keeping James on the floor and Casey and the Raptors failed to keep pace.

The Cavaliers have definitely learned from last season’s missteps. In last year’s playoffs, after two similar dominating performances at home, they came into Toronto and looked horribly unprepared as they let the Raptors back in the series. There was no playing around this time; James made sure of that. These playoffs have once again affirmed James’ title as the best player in the world. He finished with 35 points on 56.2 percent shooting from the field, eight rebounds, and seven assists. He kept composure and answered anything the Raptors did, whether it was a back-breaking three or a brilliant pass.

The rest of the team followed his lead and weren’t rattled by the Raptors aggressiveness or their home crowd. The Cavaliers collectively shot 56.5 percent from beyond the arc, and as they’ve done all series, punished the Raptors for giving up open looks.

For the Raptors, it looked like they had found some things that worked. DeRozan was much more aggressive, attacking the rim and getting a few easy buckets to open up his confidence in his mid-range game. While Joseph is not the overall player Kyle Lowry is, he is a better defender and his defense on Kyrie Irving was a big part of the Raptors early success. They also finally seemed to realize that Jonas Valanciunas can have his way with Tristan Thompson. The Raptors’ big man helped set the tone in the first quarter.

Despite those takeaways, the Raptors needed this game in order to make this a series. Maybe if they win this game, Lowry gets some additional rest and can give it a go in Game 4. It was all lost at the beginning of the fourth when Casey made his substitutions. It also didn’t help that the Raptors had hit only one three-pointer up to that point. Considering how close the game was, if they had hit their open looks like the Cavaliers did, then maybe their lead would have been much larger and a mini-run from the Cavs wouldn’t have been too big an issue. But the Raptors have struggled from deep all series, and that’s something they’ll need to address this summer if the front office decides to continue with this current core.

Prediction

It’s losses like this that end up hurting the most. At least in Cleveland, the Raptors were dominated from the get-go. It’s soul crushing to go out and play as hard as the Raptors did for three quarters, only to lose in such a demoralizing way, at home no less.

The Cavaliers smell blood now. James is gunning for his seventh straight Finals appearance, and his fourth title in six years. There will be no let down on Sunday. Cleveland pulls off the sweep in Game 4 and advances to the Eastern Conference Finals.

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About David Yapkowitz

David Yapkowitz