Defense was an afterthought as the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers shot lights-out all night long in an exciting and exhilarating playoff rematch (and potential playoff preview). But someone had to win, and the Cavs did just enough down the stretch to take it 132-129.
Take a Breath and Unclench
There is a sense of dread among Raptors fans about LeBron James and the Cavaliers, given the Raptors’ last two playoff defeats, so I get it. But is there any chance we can all just relax, chill, and agree that we watched a heck of a basketball game last night?
It took a perfect LeBron James game (35-17-7, 0 turnovers—the first time a player has ever had that many assists without a turnover), and a near-perfect shooting game from the Cavs (without their best 3-point shooter) for the Cavs to beat the Raptors (also missing their best 3-point threat), who were playing on a road back-to-back and third game four nights.
Take a look at the overall shooting stats: Both teams had 47 FGs made and 15 3-pointers made. The Cavs made three more free throws (on five more attempts). That’s it. That’s your difference.
I’m pretty sure things are gonna be just fine.
Also keep in mind: Maybe Toronto can’t beat the Cavs in Cleveland. But this postseason will be the first time the Raptors will have home-court advantage, should the two teams meet in the playoffs.
(That said, worth asking: Just what the heck is it about playing the Raptors that expands the hoop to the size of a bathtub for the Cavs? How did Jeff Green, Kevin Love, Jose Calderon and George Hill combine to shoot 12-of-16 from downtown!?)
Serge Ibaka No-Showed This One
Yesterday I predicted Serge Ibaka would get the night off to rest. I was wrong—or was I? Because Ibaka sure didn’t show up last night. He shot 2-of-8 and 0-of-4 from 3-point range, and just looked slow, tired and disinterested most of the night.
More crucially, he had a disastrous final three minutes. After subbing back in he immediately fouled James on a 3-point attempt; James hit 2-of-3. Then Ibaka bricked a three—an ugly shot where he didn’t get his feet set properly. Then on the game’s pivotal play, he left Kevin Love wide open in the corner for what was essentially the game-winning 3-pointer with 28 seconds to go.
And hey, I know it’s easy for me to say, sitting here, and a lot tougher to do when LeBron James is barrelling down the lane; of course Ibaka’s natural instinct is to help. But you need to understand time and score, and in that situation there’s one thing you absolutely do not want to do: Give up a 3-pointer.
Serge needed to understand that it was better to give up a dunk to James than an open 3 to Love, and stick with his man.
I get why Dwane Casey went back to Serge there—Pascal Siakam needed a rest. And it’s tough for Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl to contribute on D when James and Love are the forwards. But I would’ve brought back Siakam right away, and left Valanciunas in, becuase Ibaka just didn’t have it tonight, and his mistakes cost the Raptors dearly.
Not a Great Second Half from the Bench
The Raptors’ Bench Mob streamrolled the Cavs in the second quarter, with Siakam and Poeltl running roughshod over the Cavs’ reserves and Fred VanVleet getting in the paint (and getting hot from deep). It looked like we might get a repeat of the January matchup where the Cavs just had no answer for the second unit.
Alas, the bench just couldn’t get it going offensively in the second half, while the Cavs stayed blazing hot the whole half. Norman Powell in particular was bad, just forcing drives and passes and not letting the offense flow. C.J. Miles was definitely missed.
Still, that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this unit. I mean, did you see all of these wonderful Siakam-to-Poeltl dishes? They’re practically telepathic at this point. And the way VanVleet controlled the game in that second quarter was just unreal; I still can’t believe how much he’s grown, even just since the start of the year.
That said, Freddy, I love you, but...
Sometimes it Comes Down to One Shot You’d Like Back
It’s kinda like when you got on a first date, and it’s all going well, but then you say one dumb thing and although the rest of the date is OK, you know there’s not gonna be a second date. All because you said you wished you had a bigger house to display your My Little Pony collection.
That’s what VanVleet’s missed corner 3 felt like. There was about 3:45 left to play and the Raptors were up 1. They swung the ball right to left, VanVleet popped out and JR Smith got completely lost. Lowry found VanVleet, who had a wiiide open look: and he rushed it. It fell well short. LeBron dunked on the next play and the Raptors never led again.
Cool thing about VanVleet is that nothing ever seems to get to him. If anybody can forget an important miss and move on to the next shot, it’s Fred.
But damn, I wish he’d taken his time and gotten his legs into it a bit more.
Hey, speaking of misses, how about the final play? That’s a tough one to execute, inbound from the far baseline, get it back to the inbounder, get a decent shot from about half-court. I wish DeRozan had simply tried to shoot it when he had space, instead of trying to draw a foul—if anyone has ever drawn a foul in that situation, I certainly can’t think of an instance—but respect to Casey for drawing it up and the players for executing it.
Not Enough Lowry in the Fourth
Following the Magic game I said I hoped Kyle Lowry could continue his stellar shooting into the playoffs. Last night had a bit of a playoff feel, and Lowry was on fire once again (6-of-9 from downtown through three quarters). But had all of one shot in 7.5 fourth-quarter minutes, none in the final five.
There was a heck of a lot of DeRozan. I was OK with DeRozan’s shot selection for the most part—he was taking it to the hoop fo the most part, which I liked, but he wasn’t finishing; he lost the handle on one, Jeff Green blocked another.
But I really would have liked to have seen the Raptors get the ball in Kyle’s hands a little more.
I’ll admit I’m disappointed the Raptors couldn’t take this one. I don’t think it ultimately matters—they’re the better overall team—but anytime you have a chance to take down the King and can’t capitalize, that’s a bummer.
Good news is, the Raptors will have another chance in less than two weeks.