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Raptors play for it all in Game 4 vs. Cavaliers: Preview, start time, and more

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The Raptors, with their backs against the wall, must put forth an outstanding effort to beat LeBron James, a master of closeout games.

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Game 3 was an encouraging game for the Raptors. Even when the Cavaliers made a tough basket or a couple of three’s, the Raptors came right back and played aggressive— something they didn’t always do in the two previous games.

Just as Dwane Casey signalled that Game 3 would be about pride, Kyle Lowry declared that tonight’s Game 4 will be about the “rumble”.

I don’t know, he just said rumble a lot. Kidding. Lowry is right. A win tonight would take an extra special effort because LeBron James is dominant in closeout games. James is 33-10 in close out games and 118-66 in all other playoff games — a 76.7% winning percentage versus a 64.1% one. Still, the Raptors are a confident bunch.

“Let’s keep this thing going, anything can happen, It’s not over. You know, I don’t get all into the stats, down 0-3, this, that. One game at a time,” DeRozan said after Sunday’s practice.

It could be the Raptors’ last game of the season. That always puts things in perspective. The Raptors have experience in elimination games versus the Cavaliers, losing the only two contests. James has never truly felt the Raptors in these situations, but tonight is an opportunity to buck that trend and force a Game 5 at home.

Where to Watch

TSN 1/3/4/5, 8:30 PM EST

Lineups:

Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Jonas Valanciunas

Cleveland – George Hill, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love

Injuries:

Toronto – None

Cleveland – None

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Underdog Spirit

Raptors’ and Celtics’ fans approach a playoff game with different mindsets. Celtics’ fans take on the underdog spirit, while Raptors’ fans desire security (i.e. a blowout is more enjoyable than a close game).

At the beginning of the Celtics’ season, after Gordon Hayward went down with injury, many fans and media members alike rationalized that their championship window was at least a year way. They figured to some degree that any playoff success was just a bonus, and a way to get young players playoff experience. So far, it has worked out, as the Celtics have enjoyed a happy-go-lucky playoffs, with the TD Garden being electric every game. Low expectations allows fans to get greedy for wins — a satisfying way to cheer.

Raptors’ fans have higher expectations, uncomfortable with anything that isn’t a 15 point lead. To be fair, the Raptors should have different expectations than the Celtics. The Raptors’ franchise stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, have played together for six seasons and made it clear they are looking to win a championship.

Even still, halftime at a Raptors’ playoff game is bleak. In Game 2, LeBron James hit a jump shot in the final seconds of the second quarter, cutting the halftime deficit to two points. The ACC crowd tightened up, gulping any wishful thinking left in the building. The thought of losing was scarier than the excitement of winning. Low expectations, and getting greedy for wins is far more pleasant than having high expectations, and dreading losses.

As fans look forward to Game 4, with the Raptors down 0-3, anything less than low expectations would be torturous. The Raptors can no longer be stunned by a loss, so they should play free. They can take page from the Celtics and summon the underdog spirit.

Appreciating Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry has been the most productive Raptor in a playoff series versus the Cavaliers. That’s something you couldn’t have said before. In the series, Lowry is barrelling to the rim relentlessly. 38% of his shot attempts have come within ten feet, up from his regular season average of 23.2%. Since the Cavaliers lack the rim protection to defend Lowry drives, he has been extra efficient, connecting on 92.3% of those attempts ten feet and in — a mightily impressive number.

Off the court, Lowry’s honesty with the media has been refreshing. When Lowry first came to Toronto, he was chippy with the media, revealing little personality (not a bad thing), and using generic speech to answer questions. That’s all changed this season. He no longer hesitates to crack jokes with his offbeat, quick sense of humour. When he is not goofing around, he is reflecting, calling situations like he sees them. At different points this season, Lowry has talked up Dwane Casey, earnestly considered whether he could play to 40, and artfully described the team’s pulse.

So, despite the Raptors’ struggles versus the Cavaliers, there is still room to appreciate the 32-year-old Lowry, one of the greatest Raptors of all time. In that sense, Game 4 should be fun.

Putting it Together

The Raptors have had standout performers each game this series. In Game 1, Jonas Valanciunas got everything he wanted, beasting as the roll man. In Game 2, Kyle Lowry continued his strong play, affirming his place in the playoff pecking order. In Game 3, Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby both turned in their best performance of the series. Unfortunately for the Raptors, they haven’t played a game when everyone was clicking simultaneously.

If it’s going to happen, the Raptors will have to rely upon defensive activity and star power. When those two things are happening, the secondary players can reduce their role, increasing their efficiency.

Firstly, when the Raptors’ big men are blocking shots and being active on the glass, it energizes the team and allows Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to play to their strengths and get out in semi-transition. Secondly, when the Raptors’ stars set the tone in the half court, the space opens up for secondary attacks and catch-and-shoot looks. The bench can’t change a game’s structural makeup like DeRozan or Lowry can. DeRozan will have to be better, though, coming off a poor Game 3. To his credit, he typically bounces back after poor shooting nights. You might recall last season versus the Milwaukee Bucks, when he bounced back from an 0-8 shooting night in Game 3 to drop 33 points in Game 4.

When Lowry, DeRozan, and one of Ibaka and Valanciunas play well, the Raptors usually win. It allows the secondary players like Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl to do less, and play to their strengths.