Eastern Conference Finals Primer: Raptors vs. Cavaliers
Game 1: Tuesday May 17; 8:30 @ Cleveland on Sportsnet
Game 2: Thursday May 19; 8:30 @ Cleveland on TSN
Game 3: Saturday May 21; 8:30 @ Toronto on Sportsnet
Game 4: Monday May 23; 8:30 @ Toronto on TSN
Game 5: Wednesday May 25; 8:30 @ Cleveland on TBD
Game 6: Friday May 27; 8:30 @Toronto on TBD
Game 7: Sunday May 29; 8:30 @ Cleveland on TBD
While my brother and I watched the first round series versus Indiana, we were discussing which players were the “X-Factors” in the series. The conversation then turned into us mocking stereotypical basketball commentary by calling every player on either team’s roster an “X-Factor”. Kyle Lowry? X-Factor. Paul George? X-Factor. Miles Turner? X-Factor. James Johnson? X-Factor (#FreeJamesJohnson (Why do some Raptors fans feel the need to tweet this?)). Ty Lawson? You better believe he’s an X-Factor (also the MVP at every dispensary he frequents). Bruno Caboclo? He could be the difference. But despite the term “X-Factor” being a tired trope, I’m going to use it as a talking point to bring up themes, strategies, and key figures that have the potential to effect the series.
DeMarre Carroll’s Defense
It isn’t exactly splitting the atom to say that Lebron is the key to Cleveland’s offense. That isn’t even analysis, that’s just using your eyes. But I can’t stress how important it is for Carroll to contain Lebron in this series. Notice I said “contain” and not “stop”. That’s because Lebron can get his 25 points and the Raptors will still have a chance to win the game. They only have a shot if Demarre can defend Lebron without the use of a help defender. Cleveland was able to sweep a decent Hawks team because both Millsap and Bazemore had a tough time keeping Lebron in front of them. Once Lebron blows by you and draws a help defender, he will do one of two things: drive to the hoop, often times accompanied with a foul call, or whip a precise, cross -court pass to an open 3-point shooter. This offensive set has led to an unholy amount of threes in the Hawks series, which can be summed up by the 123-98 victory in Game 2 where Cleveland broke the playoff record with 21 three-pointers hit in one game. I feel Carroll has the right combination of size, strength and speed to give Lebron his first real challenge of the playoffs. Part of me wants to see Bismack try guarding Lebron because he is an absolute physical specimen. But as long as JYD 2.0 is healthy, Lebron will be his assignment.
Cleveland’s Small-Ball Lineup
Man, has Cleveland’s offense ever clicked so well? One of their most lethal line-ups sees their starting center and leading rebounder, Tristan Thompson, planted on the bench. With Love (at center), Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and J.R. Smith all draining threes at a high rate, it has given Lebron all kinds of space to maneuver at the power forward position. When this lineup is playing it will completely neutralize Biyombo’s rim protecting advantage and render him useless. Aside from Carroll, the second most important defender for Toronto is probably Patrick Patterson who will have the unenviable task of defending the white-hot Kevin Love.
It has already been announced that Jonas is not ready for Game 1 and is doubtful for Game 2. The sooner the Raptors get him back, the better. Once healthy (which is no guarantee), Jonas becomes a match-up nightmare for the Cavs. His blend of height, strength and finesse makes him close to unguardable by any Cleveland’s current rotation of bigs. In my opinion Timofey Mozgov is Cleveland’s most logical option to guard JV, but he has barely left the bench all season. But all of this is moot if Coach Casey, Demar and Lowry do not make the effort to involve JV in the offense. If JV isn’t getting touches, then his unwatchable pick-and-roll defense makes him a net-negative player on the court. Just let the big man work!
Weird rotations. Calls timeouts at wrong times. Bad offensive sets coming out of timeouts. It’s been tough watching Casey play checkers this spring while Kerr, Popovich, and (surprisingly) Donovan are playing chess. Just don’t get out-coached by a rookie Coach Casey!
Kyle and Demar
The Raptors will never be the Spurs. While the purging of Vasquez and Sweet Lou has helped the ball-movement some, this is a predominantly iso-heavy team. So by extension if All Stars Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan aren’t hitting their shots, then this series is over. Newsflash! Indiana and Miami are bad teams. The Raptors won’t win a 7 game series versus this Cavaliers team if Kyle continues shooting 36.6% with 28.3% from three, while Demar takes and misses a nauseating amount of deep-two pointers. Lowry was awesome in Game 7 torching the Heat for 35 points on 11/20 shooting, 8/11 from the line and 5/7 from three accompanied by 9 assists. Hopefully that was a sign of him breaking out of his funk and not just a flash in the pan. Demar also put up big points in Game 7, but his 28 points were on a very inefficient 12/29 shooting night while he continued to struggle to hit free throws. I want to believe that this backcourt will play well, because if they don’t show up, then this series will be an easy sweep for Cleveland.
TSN vs. Sportsnet
If you try and tell me that Leo Rautins is a better colour man than Jack Armstrong, then I will politely, yet firmly tell you to leave. For me, Jack Armstrong’s voice is synonymous with Raptors basketball. It’s a crime that he is only limited to half of the broadcasts because of his contract with TSN. For the most part I don’t mind Leo, but man he can say some dumb things. During the last series versus the Heat, Leo came on Sports Center for an “insider’s take” on the series. Leo then went on to say that “Joe Johnson is the one player in the NBA whose game resembles Lebron James.” I turned my TV off right there.
Players to Watch Out For
Corey Joseph is an awesome floor general for the Raptor’s crunch time lineup. Other players become more involved when he’s moving the rock.
Matthew Delladova may see some time defending Lowry in the series. He’s a better defender than Irving and was scrappy enough to affect Curry’s shot last spring.
Hopefully Norman Powell is the primary bench wing and not Terrence Ross. Ross has all of the athletic tools you could want in a player, but makes too many dumb mistakes for playoff basketball.
Iman Shumpert could see extended minutes guarding either Kyle or Demar as one of Cleveland’s best defending wingers.
You just know J.R. Smith is going to have at least one of his stupid 25 point heat check games where all of his bad shots fall.
Bruno Caboclo is always dressed to impress. The Brazilian Durant is a gamer and a grinder and will not fail to dazzle with his sharp suits that somehow cover his 7 foot 7 wingspan.
If you had asked me right after Sunday night’s game I would have yelled “Raptors in 4!” I’ve cooled down a bit since then and so my real answer is Cleveland in 6. Prove me wrong Raptors.