Still, did the Raptors lose this game down the stretch, really?
The Closing Minutes
The Raptors finally shifted to their starters to close the game (thank goodness) for the first time this playoffs, and largely played them through the end of the 4th quarter and OT, with a few offense-defense substitutions thrown in late. They came in with a one point lead in the 4th and lost by a point over the final few minutes, then lost by another point in overtime.
That’s largely break even basketball entirely against LeBron James and the best lineup the Cavaliers can put around him. Sure, you’d love to win those minutes, but if you can hold LeBron James to roughly break even basketball, you have to think you are going to win the game.
So, as much as I’d have loved it if the Raptors would just hit one... more... shot...
What Really Went Wrong?
Let’s instead start with what went right.
The starting unit, even with their late game struggles to hit a layup or open three, played to a +7 on the night in 24 minutes.
The all bench unit, even with Fred VanVleet’s continuing struggles, and the Cavaliers resting LeBron early to be able to throw LBJ and Love out against the bench unit, still managed almost break even basketball (-1 in 9 minutes).
Most of the other transitional and bench units managed to play to about break even, which is a bit disappointing (especially from the DeMar DeRozan plus bench unit, which inexplicably still included Delon Wright instead of VanVleet) considering their minutes included those minutes where LeBron rested.
And so they headed into the 4th with a 5-point lead, and were still up by five by the time the all bench unit was broken up, with Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas checking in to form a quasi-bench unit, and still up five when the team finally abandoned the bench lineup construction and brought DeRozan back into the game.
But wait. We said when the starters came back in the game, they were up only one. What happened to that 5-point cushion?
Well, now comes the bad stuff. We got treated to this nonsense:
KL-DD-DW-Pascal Siakam-JV: 1 minute played, -3
KL-DD-PS-Serge Ibaka-JV: 1 minute played, -1
Those aren’t disastrous splits on their own. But in a five point game, to give that lead away in the span of two minutes using two completely nonsensical lineups, when the game is down to the final six minutes to play, and you have a perfectly functional starting lineup that to that point had shown they could more than play even with the Cavaliers — it takes something special.
How two lineups that played a combined 16 minutes all season long manage to see the floor in a tight game in the playoffs is entirely beyond me.
The good news from this game is the lineups they should be playing, worked. And should work even better as those good shots start to fall like they should. And even worked against Cleveland lineups that were problematic in the past for the Raptors, such as the small starting lineup with Kyle Korver, James, and Kevin Love that the Cavaliers used.
The bad news is they didn’t use those lineups enough and lost. It’s not a new thing for this team. But in the Washington series we saw the rotations improve with time. Hopefully that happens here too — and hopefully against a team anchored by LeBron James, it won’t come too late.
Stats per NBA.com