With Game 7 of Cavaliers-Pacers working out the way it did this Sunday afternoon, we now who the Raptors will take on in the second round: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers — for the third straight year.
This is the match-up the Raptors have been preparing for all year, the whole reason the culture reset happened to begin with. LeBron has been to the NBA Finals for the past seven years. The road to the championship clearly goes through him. That’s not to say he can’t be beaten — it has happened before! — but right now, even at 33, James has shown few signs of slowing down. Please remember: LeBron just hung 45-9-7 with 64 percent shooting on the Pacers in Game 7. He’s good, is my point.
But the Raptors are going to try anyway. They have to. And to that end, here’s Fred VanVleet, who’s back to basketball action but feeling the effects in his shoulder, talking about the team’s preparation:
The money quote here:
“Obviously I respect [LeBron] a lot, the type of player he is, obviously the person he is. But, for me, the best, the most respect I can give him is to not give him any respect, in terms of just going out there, and trying to challenge him and take him down. And that’s our job, and that’s what we need to do this week.
Toronto, stand up.
Next up is DeMar DeRozan, the backbone of the Raptors’ series win against the Wizards. He talks about rest here — it’s the first time the Raptors have had that in the first round — but then gets down to belief — something else the Raptors haven’t always had.
This Raptors team believes they can compete with the Cavaliers.
“Gotta go through the best to get to that trophy,” said DeRozan, assessing the bottom. This Toronto squad could have taken on the Pacers in the second round, it was almost a thing that happened. But I think we all knew the Raptors would have to go through LeBron. They’d just have to do it. “We’ve been great all year,” said DeRozan. “Why it need to stop now?”
Hard to disagree.
And finally, Dwane Casey weighs in on where the Raptors have been, and where they’re working to go.
Both Casey and DeRozan invoked chess when discussing the team’s playoff performance so far (and into the future), and it’s a fitting comparison. As Casey expounds on here, there are so many combinations the Cavaliers can hit the Raptors with, lineup and tactical permutations for which Toronto will need to adjust.
And of course, with LeBron in play, Cleveland always has something of an advantage. Sticking with the chess analogy, he’s the league’s ultimate queen — the piece that can move anywhere, do anything, and thwart any attack. As such, playing against LeBron, losing to him, is a disheartening experience. We all remember last year, and the words of Kyle Lowry — “no one is catching up to him.”
Still, you can hear at least a little something in the voices of these Raptors (minus Casey, who you know won’t give anything like that away to the media). They know they’re going to have to go through LeBron, and it almost sounds, just a bit, like they’re welcoming it. Beat the best to be the best.
Game 1 is this Tuesday in Toronto. Let’s get it.