The Game Plan
We finally saw the game plan many were calling for, and it worked beautifully.
The Raptors defended like they did all year -- they protected the paint, they gave up midrange jumpers, and they ran guys off the three point line and sent help on the ensuing drives.
If LeBron James is going to beat you with jumpers, so be it. More importantly, if he is settling for jumpers, he's not racking up assists on his way to an easy triple double.
James had 24 points on 17 shots. But he only had 5 assists on the night, and that puts the onus on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love -- and we'll get to them.
Being Bismack Biyombo
The biggest beneficiary of the improved game plan (which required the big men to actually play in the paint)? The man of the hour himself, Bismack Biyombo.
He had a tremendous night on the boards, grabbing an incredible 26 rebounds, including 8 offensive rebounds. No one else on the team had more than 6 rebounds, and yet the Raptors won the rebounding battle 54-40. Throw in his 4 blocks, 6 screen assists and some clutch scoring late on plays where Cleveland blitzed the guards, and you've got your performer of the game right there.
An Effective DeMar DeRozan
He's been great this series, but particularly in this game he did an incredible job of getting into the paint. Yes, he took and missed a few midrange jumpers (4-for-14 from 15 feet out) but also got inside a lot and converted (8-for-10 inside 15 feet) and got to the line (8-for-9 on free throw attempts). He ended up with 4 assists and 5 rebounds, no turnovers and was able to carry the bench units that were out there for Lowry's foul trouble early in the game.
DeRozan quarterbacked 4 different lineups without Lowry in them. In three of them the Raptors outscored the Cavaliers, and overall the team was a +7 in 15 minutes without Lowry. That's an incredible performance from a bench that has been disastrous without Lowry in this post-season, and a credit to DeMar.
Defense on Irving
Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph had very nice offensive nights, combining for 34 points on 23 shots, 6 assists and 11 rebounds. But their defence on Kyrie Irving (hard fought defense that saw Lowry in foul trouble early in the game, with some help from an inconsistent whistle) was their real contribution to the win.
Irving shot 3-for-19 from the floor and 1-for-7 from three. He generated only 1 assist. In 38 minutes, the Cavs' starting point guard got 1 assist. Let that sink in.
Irving wasn't just missing either. Sixteen of those 19 shots were classified as contested shots. He went 2 for 16 on them. Joseph led all non-big men in the game (and trailed only Biyombo's 14 contests on the Raptors) in contested FGA's with 10. Lowry contributed 5.
Big round of applause for them.
The Raptors did a good job setting themselves up to survive the minutes they had Scola out there.
First, they played him exclusively as a PF, and exclusively beside Biyombo. In Game 2, Scola played two minutes at centre and was a -11 in that time.
Second, they didn't let him touch the ball much. In Game 2, Scola carried a usage of 22%. Game 3? 8.5%.
The Raptors did not repeat that mistake, and hit the jackpot with a break even night (0 plus-minus) from Scola (although technically he had a slightly negative net rating).
And Patterson, in spite of a mediocre shooting night, was back to his opponent-destroying ways with the bench. Team best +17 on the night with a +36 net rating. On the rare night where the Raptors can survive Scola starting, it often pays off with a rejuvenated bench led by Patrick Patterson.
The Raptors put out a terrible lineup with zero spacing late in the 4th quarter that almost turned into a disaster. Kyle Lowry was the only shooter on the floor, surrounded by Joseph, DeRozan, James Johnson and Biyombo for 2 minutes. Thankfully the lineup is pretty solid defensively, because they did not score a point (and never seemed remotely close to doing so) in those 2 minutes and were lucky to only shave 2 points off the lead.
On the fun scale, that game ranks up there, right? Incredible game. What did everyone else think? Did I miss a storyline, or a number that says something about the game that I glossed over?
All stats per NBA.com.