For many fans, the Game 1 loss was a call to anger, a frustrating game that slipped away in the final moments. After a blowout loss in Game 2 however, anger no longer seemed appropriate. Our city was now being called LeBronto. One can not simply be angry in the face of LeBronto. That instead calls for despair. After all, LeBron James single handedly forced the Raptors to rationalize their season in a different light. As the Raptors now look ahead to Game 3, Dwane Casey has declared pride as the emotion of interest — somewhat of an annual tradition.
Casey on how to bounce back, channeling Coach McKay from D2: "One thing you have is pride to go into Cleveland and play for pride."— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 4, 2018
The Raptors will need to make adjustments for Game 3. Their defensive schemes have provided little resistance and their offense has been spotty. But more important than tactics is the desire to scratch and claw — something we have yet to see. To be clear, there is no shame in losing to LeBron James. The Cavaliers are a championship tested team. But there is shame in playing to less than your capabilities. The Raptors will have a lot of offseason questions if they don’t get back to playing their brand of basketball.
Every additional game in this series holds a new magnitude. If the Raptors win tonight, the odds are still stacked against them, and if they lose tonight, a series loss is all but a formality. No team has ever come back from 3-0 to win a series.
A friendly piece of advice: If the Raptors lose tonight, get off Twitter and tell somebody you love them.
Here are your details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 8:30 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Cleveland – George Hill, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love
Toronto – None
Cleveland – None
Playing with Pace
In the Raptors’ first regular season meeting versus the Cavaliers (and only victory over them this season), the five man bench unit played at a ridiculous pace, blowing the doors open early. Although, in the playoffs versus Cleveland, the bench unit has slowed to a halt, averaging 83.32 possessions per 48 minutes — down 10 possessions from their regular season average.
The bench needs to get back to their regular season roots. It’s not as simple as getting shots up earlier in the shot clock because the bench lacks the singular talent to do so efficiently. The bench must instead get defensive stops and streak out in transition. This presents a big challenge because the Cavaliers are a difficult team to run on. In this series, the Cavaliers have been shooting efficiently (49.5 FG%) which lowers Raptors’ rebounding opportunities, and kept turnovers to a minimum (three turnovers in Game 2).
A ripple effect of the bench’s slow pace has been the starters’ dwindling effectiveness. A lot of regular season success came from the flexibility of having two distinct playing styles — the starters, a more deliberate, calculated offence, opposed to the bench’s free-flowing, egalitarian offense. In this series, the starters and bench have morphed into a singular pace because, one, hybrid lineups are being used more often, and two, the bench unit has slowed right down, mitigating the overall transition advantage.
Rotations and Serge Ibaka
In the third quarter of Game 2, Casey played three unique lineups significant minutes before the Cavaliers even made their first substitution. That seems unimaginable. I understand the desire to search for answers when your team is down, but the sheer number of substitutions seems a bridge too far.
If Casey truly thought the starters were the best unit to compete with, to eventually end up three lineups removed from that seems crazy. It is impossible to know how Casey decides his rotations but the bet is he changes the starting lineup for Game 3. Serge Ibaka seems like the obvious player to move to centre, allowing OG Anunoby to slide to the four, but Ibaka has struggled mightily and done little to prove his playing time. He played 12 minutes and shot 0-5 in Game 2.
Belief and Existential Questions
Nearly all of the NBA community has written off the Raptors in this series. They are down 0-2 and heading into Cleveland, a place they have lost four straight. But it stills feels like the Raptors are scratching for their peak. Some Raptors even admitted they were playing soft. Serge Ibaka said he needs to play harder and Kyle Lowry urged the entire team to play harder.
This wasn’t always the Raptors way. You might remember when the Raptors battled back from 27 points down against the Golden State Golden Warriors. The regular season swagger went from the Raptors’ biggest strength to their biggest question mark. Will that urgency return?
It is too early to think about the summer, but it would be foolish to think the franchise isn’t disappointed. If the Raptors’ lose this series handedly, there will be a lot of questions. Can the Raptors compete against the Cavaliers? And if they can’t, who is most responsible for that? Does Masai call for another culture reset? Do any media members start laughing? Does Masai start laughing? These are the questions folks.