It was just business as usual for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In a game that wasn’t as close as the final score suggested, the Cavaliers rolled to a 116-105 win over the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They remain undefeated in the 2017 Playoffs. Lebron James showed why he’s still the best player on the planet, finishing with a game-high 35 points on 56.5 percent shooting and ten rebounds. The Cavaliers came out strong from the onset and held off a few Raptor runs to preserve their dominance.
There isn’t much for the Cavaliers to change heading into Game 2. It’s as the old cliché goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While James was masterful in dictating the Cavaliers offense, Kyrie Irving showed up in a big way as well. His 24 points and ten assists really helped to set the tone for Game 1. Kevin Love had 18 points and nine rebounds and when the Cavaliers Big 3 are clicking on all cylinders like they were on Monday night, they’re near impossible to beat. As long as the Cavaliers role players continue to hit their open three-point shots as they did in Game 1, they’ll be in excellent shape.
The one blemish on the night for the Cavaliers, however, was their bench defense. When Tyronn Lue brought in Deron Williams, Channing Frye, and Kyle Korver, the Raptors’ bench was able to outplay them and get themselves back in the game. The bench’s ability to maintain a lead could go a long way toward this series being over relatively quickly or not.
For the Raptors, there were some encouraging signs despite the one-sided affair. Kyle Lowry continued to be aggressive and had some success attacking Irving and getting to the rim. Making Irving expand energy on the defensive end and wearing him out a bit is a must for the Raptors to make this a series. The other half of the Raptors’ All-Star backcourt, DeMar DeRozan, didn’t shoot well, but he didn’t force much either. His shots came within the flow of the game and were shots he normally makes. He stayed aggressive as well, though, and managed to get to the free throw line a few times. Serge Ibaka also showed up and continued production from him is crucial. The Raptors need that third scorer who can take some of the pressure off Lowry and DeRozan.
The main things that went wrong for the Raptors were outside shooting and defense. Apart from Ibaka, none of the Raptors role players could buy an outside shot. The Cavaliers’ defense was doubling and trapping Lowry and DeRozan, yet the Raptors were unable to make the Cavaliers pay. DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Norman Powell, and P.J. Tucker were a combined 5-17 from behind the arc. That’s not going to get it done if the Raptors want to make this a competitive series. Patterson, in particular, had several open looks and went 1-5 from distance. If the Raptors shooters can’t consistently hit the shots generated from the defensive pressure given to Lowry and DeRozan, this will be a short series.
On the other side of the ball, the Raptors seemed to play defense only in spurts. They would string together a few good defensive possessions in a row, then go back to looking sloppy and lackadaisical. One switch that Dwane Casey could make is more Tucker and less Carroll. The two of them have been given the unenviable task of stopping James. Carroll provided no resistance to him and allowed him to move freely on the court. James is going to get his no matter what, but the Raptors can’t let him waltz freely into the paint and get free for open layups and dunks. If he’s going to beat you, at least make him work for it. Tucker has done a better job so far.
This is not the Milwaukee Bucks the Raptors are facing. The Cavaliers are the defending champions with the best player in the world. They know what it takes to win in the playoffs. The Raptors cannot count on their experience and talent to win like they did against Milwaukee. They are not more experienced and they are certainly not more talented. It’s hard to envision the Raptors actually beating the Cavaliers. But at some point, you’ve got to punch the bully back. Going out on a limb here and saying the Raptors steal Game 2. The role players hit their shots, Lowry and DeRozan have big nights, and this series is 1-1 heading to Toronto.
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