Cavs First Round: Swept Indiana 4-0
Raptors First Round: Beat Milwaukee 4-2
Season Series: Cleveland won 3-1
Game 1: Toronto at Cleveland, Monday May 1 at 7 p.m.
Game 2: Toronto at Cleveland, Wednesday May 3 at 7 p.m.
Game 3: Cleveland at Toronto, Friday May 5 at 7 p.m.
Game 4: Cleveland at Toronto, Sunday May 7 at 3:30 p.m.
Game 5: Toronto at Cleveland, Tuesday May 9 (If Necessary)
Game 6: Cleveland at Toronto, Thursday May 11 (If Necessary)
Game 7: Toronto at Cleveland, Sunday May 14 (If Necessary)
After a first round sweep of the Indiana Pacers, the Cleveland Cavaliers return to action for the first time in 8 days to play host to the Toronto Raptors tonight. This second round matchup will be a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, a series that the Cavs took in six games. This year’s matchup proves to be tougher for the defending NBA champs as the Raptors have some new pieces on their roster to challenge King James. Toronto’s acquisitions of big man, Serge Ibaka and the sharpshooting PJ Tucker should make for an interesting series. Cleveland jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first round against the Pacers. They quickly silenced any doubts about them “flipping the switch”, as the Cavs rallied from a 25-point halftime deficit to take Game 3 by a score of 119-114. Cleveland squandered fourth quarter leads in three of the four games against the Pacers, something that they can’t afford to do against a dangerous Raptors team. This matchup may arguably be the most difficult of any potential matchup the Cavs may face in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season. Shutting down Toronto’s superstar backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be key for the Cavaliers.
The matchup to watch for in this series is between point guards Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry. Lowry broke his wrist in late February causing him to miss 21 games. Toronto’s All-Star point guard is still trying to find his form again after averaging 14.3 points per game against the Bucks in the first round. He shot 43 percent from the floor and 28 percent from three point land. Lowry is most dangerous off the pick and roll and he can make you pay by drawing fouls on his way to the basket. Kyrie Irving has struggled on defense his entire career and it will be crucial to the Cavs success that he plays smart against Lowry. Irving played very well in three games against the Raptors this season. He averaged 24.7 points, 5.7 assists and shot 47 percent from three-point range. If that Kyrie shows up the Raptors will have their hands full.
Lansky’s Crazy Stat
The Cavaliers swept Pacers guard, Jeff Teague from the playoffs for the third year in a row. Cleveland also swept Teague when he was on the Atlanta Hawks in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals and the 2016 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. I can’t recall any other player being swept by a single team in three consecutive years in each round of the conference playoffs.
This year’s Cavs-Raptors matchup is highlighted by new additions for both teams. For Toronto, it’s Ibaka and Tucker who will both be used in different looks against LeBron James. Ibaka has proven to be a threat as he scored in double figures in four of the six games in the first round and he has the second most blocks in the Eastern Conference so far this postseason. For Cleveland, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver will both look to provide instant offense from beyond the arc. As mentioned earlier the key to beating the Raptors is to shut down DeRozan and Lowry. The best way to do that is to force them to make tough shots and keep them away from the foul line. DeRozan ranked fifth in the NBA this season for free throw attempts with an average of 8.7 times per game. Cavs guard J.R. Smith touched on DeRozan’s foul shooting this week saying, “If you can get out of the game with probably a foul or two, him shooting five free throws or less, that’s pretty good.” DeRozan averaged just 5.5 free throw attempts in last year’s conference finals, which proved to be effective. As bad as the Cavs defense has been, they have managed to average the third lowest opponent free throw rate in both the regular season and postseason. If the Cavs can force both Lowry and DeRozan to take contested shots down the stretch and keep them away from the charity stripe they will be in good shape. The Cavs once again showed how dangerous their offense is against the Pacers, but their defensive effort is still lacking. Cleveland became the first team since the 1995 Houston Rockets to allow 100 points in every game of a series sweep. The Raptors are a dangerous scoring team so it will be crucial for the Cavs to make stops and not blow fourth quarter leads. Cleveland has shown that they can “flip the switch,” now can they keep the switch on during crucial parts of the game? That question may define the remainder of the Cavs quest to repeat as NBA Champions.
The Cavaliers will win this series in 6 games.