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Five thoughts on Last Night’s Game 1: Cavaliers 113, Raptors 112

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The Toronto Raptors blew a golden opportunity to win Game 1—and prove they weren’t the same old Raptors—falling 113-112 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Five thoughts on a heartbreaking loss.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In a repeat of the past two postseasons, the Toronto Raptors couldn’t stop the Cleveland Cavaliers from beyond the arc and dropped Game 1 of the best of seven series 113-112.

It’s the Same Old Raptors, Right?

The entire 2017-18 season was all about the Toronto Raptors proving that they weren’t the same team that meekly bowed out of the past two postseasons to LeBron James and the Cavaliers. As expected, the Raptors were presented with the chance to finally mount the summit and knock off the Cavaliers and their King.

And once again they failed.

Look, the fact is, it’s not the same old Raptors—mostly. They took advantage of their depth (35 bench points), took advantage of their superior size (more on that below), moved the ball (26 assists) and shot 3-pointers willingly (28 attempts).

But despite all that, it was a familiar sight—the Raptors’ inability (or unwillingness) to stay home on Cleveland’s shooters—that did them in.

J.R. Smith shot 5-of-6 from behind the arc. Kyle Korver went 5-for-12. Both hit threes in the first two minutes of OT.

LeBron James had his triple double and was typically brilliant. That’s par for the course. But the Raptors can’t let Smith, Korver and Jeff Green (4-of-4 from the field, 7-of-8 from the free throw line) beat them.

It may not be completely the “same old” Raptors but it was enough “same old” to choke away home court advantage. And that stings.

It was a Big Night for the JV Hive

Jonas Valancinuas was an absolute monster tonight. In the past two postseasons—heck, even in the regular season—Valanciunas was all but unplayable against Cleveland when they went to the their “LeBron+shooters” lineup. And that’s the lineup Cleveland started last night.

But this time things went the other way: Last night the Raptors took advantage of the mismatch. Valanciunas had 21 points and 21 rebounds and was simply dominant. He played Kevin Love right off the floor, and Green and Thompson didn’t have much success in him either. The Raptors kept going to him—a rare sight indeed—and time and again through three quarters, he made them pay.

Of course, it’s gonna be the shots Valanciunas didn’t hit that are remembered.

Gotta Hit the Easy Ones

All too often let night the Raptors missed open looks and, far more frustratingly, easy lay-ins and putbacks. How many did Valanciunas miss? He was 1-for-7 in the fourth, and I think the total distance of those misses was about 10 inches. What about the 3-pointer that C.J. Miles missed—the most open look he’s had the entire postseason—where Kevin Love scored a triple on the other end for a six-point swing? That was a backbreaker.

And then there’s the final sequence of regulation—an open Fred VanVleet 3-pointer that missed, followed by a missed DeRozan follow, then a missed C.J. Miles putback, then a missed Valanciunas putback.

This is how my Twitter feed responded:

About sums it up, right?

I’m OK With Freddy Taking Those Shots, But...

On the final shot of OT, DeRozan had a clean look. He didn’t need to pump fake it. He could have just floated it up and in.

That’s easy for me to say from the stands or in front of my computer. But he had Tristan Thompson beat and the shot was there.

But hey. It was a clean look for VanVleet. You can’t really ask for more and I’ll gladly take him in that spot every time. Of course, he also missed the aforementioned potential game-winner in regulation from the same spot, and as well all know, this Fred VanVleet is not whole. We all saw him grimacing in pain, we all saw the giant ice pack on the shoulder.

Could you have blamed Dwane Casey if he’d benched VanVleet for those moments? No. Then again, did you see him going after James after James shoved him in the second quarter? How could you blame Casey for putting him in? The man is all heart and toughness.

Like I said: I’ll take those shots. (And good on DeMar, too, for finding him.)

If the Raptors Can’t Win This One, Can They Win Anything?

Thus is about as dispirited as I’ve ever been as a Raps fan. I can’t believe they led for virtually the entire game and then choked it away, and with it, the most important potential difference in a series against Cleveland—homecourt advantage.

At this point my head and heart are in serious conflict. My head truly believes these aren’t the same old Raptors. They played a good game overall, stuck to their new principles, just a few too many turnovers and missed open looks. The D’ed up LeBron as well you could expect! The Cavs didn’t score in the final 2:20 of OT! These are all good things. My head believes these positives will win out, that it’s just one game and it’s a long series, one the Raptors can still win in six or seven games.

But my heart? My heart has lost all faith. This was the Raptors’ game to win and they couldn’t do it. They shot 10 more free throws than the Cavs! That’s not happening again. They “held” LeBron to 26. He’s gonna score 45 next game.

My heart says the Cavs are in the Raptors’ heads, James is too good, the Raptors just can’t guard their shooters. My heart doesn’t see them winning another game.

My head’s telling me it’s just one game. My heart doesn’t want to hear it.

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My head is also telling me: That was a pretty awesome basketball game. But my heart just wouldn’t let me enjoy it, and that’s a bummer. And now the Raptors have to win at least one game in Cleveland.

Gonna be a tall order.