A complete disappearance from their starting power forward threw the Toronto Raptors’ rotations into chaos, and the Cleveland Cavaliers were all too eager to take advantage. A 128-110 beating later, and this series is all but over.
What the Hell Just Happened?
No, you didn’t imagine C.J. Miles spending extended possessions guarding Kevin Love. Or DeMar DeRozan (or Miles, sometimes!) guard LeBron James. Or James posting up Kyle Lowry!
Most of these matchups came as a result of Serge Ibaka being a complete no-show for the sixth straight playoff game. How much of a no-show? Ibaka caused a backcourt violation on the Raptors first possession of the game. He then proceeded to miss all four shots he took in the opening quarter.
It could only go uphill from there right?
Nah. He committed another turnover on the opening possession of the second half! Dwane Casey had no choice but to bench him, giving him the hook less than two minutes into the frame.
That led to the disastrous Miles-on-Love minutes and a blistering 18-5 Cavs run that obliterated a slim Raptors lead, and sealed the Raptors’ fate.
You can never blame a loss on one guy, of course. But damn, Serge. You gave your team absolutely nothing tonight, and that’s what you’ve given them for six straight games now. Time to show up, man.
LeBron James Simply Does Not Care
James is like Galactus, and the Raptors are the Fantastic Four, trying to punch him and throw fireballs at him, and it simply doesn’t register. The Raptors, for all their amazing abilities, are beneath his notice.
Two years ago, it was his “I’ve been part of of adverse situations, and this wasn’t one of them” statement after it took the Cavaliers six games to beat the Raptors in the conference finals.
Last year, it was spinning the ball in Serge Ibaka’s face, and pretending to drink a beer, during the Cavs’ sweep of Toronto.
Last night, it was his telling Toronto to “get off me” and then deliberately seeking out tough shots down the stretch, and hitting them, just to prove that he can. (And Kevin Love telling reporters after that LeBron “called those shots” in the shootaround.)
All those jokes on Twitter about LeBron owning Toronto? We deserve them, just like the Raptors deserve every single “hot take” that says “same old Raptors.” You are what your record says you are, and the Raptors are 2-10 against James in the playoffs and have lost eight in a row.
The Fantastic Four only turned the tide against Galactus when the Silver Surfer switched sides and the Watcher intervened. I don’t see anyone coming to the Raptors’ rescue in this one.
(You’ll forgive me nerding out, I’m practically traumatized here.)
(Also, there’s a Serge-Ibaka-as-the-Invisible-Girl joke just sitting there, that I’m not going to make... promise.)
Remember that Top-5 Defense? Me Neither
The Cavaliers averaged 94.9 points per game against the Indiana Pacers, and almost every offensive possession seemed like it required maximum effort to get a shot up. (Kinda reminded me of the Raptors in playoffs’ past, actually.)
In these two games, the Cavs are averaging 120.5 points against the Raptors, in Toronto.
Wow. The Cavaliers are getting anything they want right now. The Raptors have an average 106.7 defensive rating over their last 21 games (including the playoffs). Their top-5 defense from earlier in the season is long gone. The Cavaliers are making them look more like bottom-5.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) May 3, 2018
I wish I could explain what has happened to the Raptors defense. The Cavaliers shot 27-for-40 in the second half! The Raptors have forced nine turnovers combined through two games!! I can barely comprehend these numbers.
I don’t know what else to say. I don’t have the words. If you’re going to let Jeff freaking Green average 15 points per game against you on 75% shooting, you don’t deserve to win.
And that’s nothing new, either, is it?
What’s With the Raptors Turning Cavs Role Players into All-NBAers?
Two years ago, Channing Frye lit up the Raptors with a 14-of-24 shooting performance from 3-point range. Last year, Frye, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith combined to shot 28-of-52 from downtown.
This year, the Cavs role players looked completely washed up heading in to this series. But guess what? Smith, Korver and Jeff Green are shooting 18-30 from 3-point range.
It was just one week ago we were all saying that the Cavs’ roster was the weakest in James’ second Cavs stint, and that for Cleveland to win anything, James was going to have to shoulder a ridiculous load. And that was true against the Pacers! Against the Raptors? Nah. Toronto is where random Cavs find the fountain of youth, apparently.
And Kevin Love, who was struggling to get up and down the court against the Pacers, and who barely hit a shot in game 1 against Toronto? In game 2 the Raptors somehow allowed Love to score 31 points and collect 11 rebounds.
Here’s Love’s shot chart from last night:
He dominated inside. And here I thought the threat Love represented was from 3-point range! Credit Tyronn Lue for that adjustment—and of course, credit LeBron James, for his passing.
”Come at The King, You...” ah, You Know The Rest
You’re all familiar with that famous quote from the The Wire, right? (If not go and watch The Wire. It’s much more entertaining than watching the Raptors get massacred, I assure you.)
Well that quote sums up the Raptors right now. They had their chance to take down The King in game 1 and missed, and they won’t get another.
Remember that whole “the Raptors played really well in game 1, and only lost by 1 because of a couple bad bounces at the rim” narrative?
That was the wrong narrative. It should have been “The Cavaliers played really in game 1, and only won by 1 because LeBron shot the ball poorly.” That game gave the Cavs faith, and belief in themselves—that they can, actually, win, even when James is not superhuman.
That game 1 will turn out to be the one that cost the Raptors the series. Those turning-point misses? They were the turning point for the entire series.
Maybe it’s an overreaction to say a series is over after two games, but I can’t possibly imagine the Raptors beating Cleveland four times in five games. (And, historically, teams that go up 2-0 on the road go on to win the series 85% of the time.)
The Raptors might have the better, deeper team. They might be different from last year. They might play the right way, pass more, shoot more. They might be top-5 in offense and defense. All of that might be true, and none of it might matter against LeBron James, Devourer of Worlds.