If you expected anything different out of the first two games, the Cleveland Cavaliers must have you feeling pretty foolish right now. LeBron James and his cohorts laughed the Raptors out of the building in both games, building huge leads, hitting every shot, and throwing some disrespect out there as the cherry on top.
From #TheJump: Does LeBron James have no respect for the Raptors or absolutely no respect for the Raptors? Plus: a disrespect montage pic.twitter.com/tMoDSdXQrG— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) May 4, 2017
Now, the Raptors return home for Game 3. Last season, a change of scenery was enough to get Toronto to reset. They battled hard and tied the series after four games.
This year, an injury to Kyle Lowry may bury their chances for a repeat performance before it even gets underway. That’s one of our three things to look for in tonight’s Game 3.
After falling awkwardly on his ankle and literally crawling off the floor in Game 2, Kyle Lowry returned to limp around and gain hero status before leaving for good in the fourth quarter. Lowry didn’t take part in practice yesterday, and according to the almighty Woj, his status remains uncertain for tonight.
Toronto All-Star Kyle Lowry still getting treatment on ankle injury, uncertain on his status for Game 3 tonight, he tells @TheVertical.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) May 5, 2017
This is obviously bad news for the Raptors. For the most part, Lowry is the only person on the floor playing with any consistent efficiency. His 20 points per game on 56 percent shooting leads the team, and he’s been his usual bowling ball self in creating points for an anemic offense.
Without Lowry, it would require a resurgence from DeMar DeRozan, who’s averaging a pitiful 12 points on 33.3 percent shooting. This would involve being able to create his own shot, and also find better ways to beat Cleveland’s traps.
In these traps, the Cavaliers are throwing the Raptors out of what they normally do. The omnipresent James is also getting in the heads of Toronto players, as they’ve rarely challenged his defense yet in this series.
Instead, the Raptors are taking quick shots once DeRozan or Lowry passes out of the trap. The most notable here is Serge Ibaka. He’s been a great release valve, but has taken a lot of long twos early in the shot clock. A 46.4 percent shooting percentage belies the inconsistency of his shots, and the Raptors might be better served if he continues the ball movement with hopes of a better, more open shot.
Then, as we’ve said all series, it’s on the other guys to knock down their looks. Unfortunately, Norman Powell (25 percent), P.J. Tucker (16.7 percent), and Patrick Patterson (28.6 percent) continue to struggle from deep in this series. A nation sighs.
Energy, More Energy, Whatever It Takes
As hope wanes for this series, it’ll take a seesaw swing in emotion for the Raptors to have any hope. For Toronto, it means actually believing they can beat LeBron and the Cavaliers. With the dunks off the backboard and the ball-spinning, LeBron has given his not-so-subtle message: “I don’t take you seriously.” The Raptors need to hear this, get everyone playing well, and a more competitive game will follow.
On the Cleveland side, some of these disrespect tactics by LeBron are invented motivation. The Cavs are famously a team that sleepwalks through games against lesser teams, and by hyping his guys up, James is keeping them motivated to get through Toronto as quickly as possible and get more rest before the next round.
Will that same team show up in Toronto, though? Or will some combination of apathy, nightlife, and a 2-0 lead have Cleveland leaving the door open for Toronto?
The Raptors probably need both to happen to have a chance. That’s how good LeBron is. But... you knew that, right?
Where to Watch: Sportsnet, 7:00 p.m. EST