The Toronto Raptors do not appreciate people saying they were dominated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Games 1 and 2. They also don’t appreciate off-window alley-oops, fake beer drinking, or balls being spun in their faces. They probably don’t care for Dahntay Jones stealing t-shirts, or even existing. These are all things that could and should fire them up.
The issue, of course, is that being fired up only does so much, and the Raptors will have to come out and turn that fuel into tangible performance to avoid being disrespected once again. A year ago, they did just that, rallying for two franchise-defining wins at home to pull what looked like an out-of-hand series even. That they ultimately lost, anyway, mattered little. They showed the requisite fight they’d so desperately clung to as an identity.
They’re supposed to be even tougher and more resilient this time around, and that’s going to be tested Friday night. What if they get down early? What if their star point guard can’t play? What if LeBron James plays with his jersey on backwards, throws a bucket of confetti on Drake, says “Bret screwed Bret,” prunes Lucas Nogueira’s hair into the shape of a maple leaf, and then dunks on him? How the Raptors respond to these things may not end up changing anything in the grand scheme of things – LeBron is LeBron, the Cavs the Cavs, ankle injuries ankle injuries – but they may, and until the series is actually over, it’s worth monitoring and measuring.
Tonight will say a lot about how much fight this team has left. And how much it matters.
The game tips off a 7 on ESPN and Sportsnet on TV and on TSN 1050 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are Mike Callahan, The Demon Kane Fitzgerald, and Bill Kennedy.
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 3, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.
- Game 2 recap, Game 3 preview.
- All of the practice/shootaround news & notes.
- Some feelings on the series so far.
- Over at The Athletic, Eric Koreen and I tried to sort through an 0-2 mess.
- Also at The Athletic, I broke down the potential impact of Kyle Lowry’s injury.
- Raptors Republic readers can get a 20-percent discount off of subscriptions.
- For Vice, I wrote about why the next few games still matter, even if you’re resigned to the Raptors’ fate.
It feels pretty fruitless to dissect what the Raptors starters and rotations may look like when we aren’t sure if Kyle Lowry is playing, or what the team may have been thinking with or without him. Lowry missed practice and shootaround due a sprained ankle, and he’ll be a game-time call based on his comfort and pain tolerance during pre-game workouts. Lowry wants to play, and the Raptors need him to, but they’ve been preparing as if they won’t have him just in case. As of Dwane Casey’s pre-game availability, a determination on Lowry’s status still hadn’t been made. He’s a true game-time call.
If Lowry plays, it’s unclear what the Raptors may do with the starters. A change may have been coming and Lowry’s status disrupts it, or maybe Lowry’s status forces a different change. The team played 21 games after the All-Star break with Cory Joseph starting in Lowry’s place, and Casey could opt to go back to a look the team has some familiarity with to try to avoid too much disruption. There’s an equally logical case for just throwing everything out and building the Game 3 plan from scratch, because there’s been so much turmoil, uncertainty, and ineffectiveness of late.
For what it’s worth, Michael Grange reported that Lowry intends to play, and that Jonas Valanciunas will return to the starting lineup for Patrick Patterson.
Check back closer to tip-off for Lowry’s status and a starting lineup. We’ll analyze it then.
UPDATE: Lowry took the court with the Raptors, in warmups, 20 minutes before the game. This would certainly seem to indicate that he’s playing. He’s moving pretty gimpily, if that’s a word, but he’s out there. He then headed back to the locker room limping.
UPDATE II: Cory Joseph is starting, but Lowry is active. That probably doesn’t say much positive about Lowry’s status. Jonas Valanciunas is also back in the starting lineup for Patrick Patterson.
PG: Cory Joseph,(Kyle Lowry), Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, P.J. Tucker
SF: DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carrol, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: Kyle Lowry
Once again, Tyronn Lue probably isn’t going to mess much with what’s working. Outside of his garbage-time lineups, pretty much everything he’s thrown out has passed with flying colors. If there’s a concern, it’s probably the LeBron James-and-bench unit, the lone group the Raptors have had any kind of success against. It’s an older, slower group, and the Raptors have outscored them by 41.8 points per-100 possessions over a 16-minute sample. That fivesome was a plus-18.1 against the Pacers but also got shelved for two games, and they were a -45.5 in three regular season appearances. Lue might have to make a tweak if Game 3 plays tighter.
PG: Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Kay Felder
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Dahntay Jones
SF: LeBron James, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, James Jones
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Edy Tavares
Pre-game news and notes
- Casey once again talked up the need to make the Cavs feel less comfortable, to the point that they can’t spin the ball around before shooting. But “It’s not hockey, where you can take your gloves off and do something about it.” Basically, don’t expect the Raptors to be taking cheap shots as a means of increasing the physicality of the matchup.
- On Valanciunas’ strong Game 2 performance on offense, Casey praised the job he did on Channing Frye. Frye rained threes, but Valanciunas “was assertive…rolled and finished with authority” to swing the matchup a bit. The context of Casey’s comments don’t really point in either direction in terms of starter/bench, but that the team was comfortable with the job he did opposite Frye suggests they’re not rushing to get him away from that matchup. Casey did concede starting Valanciunas is in the “back of our minds.”
- “Don’t count your minutes, make your minutes count” was another line Casey dropped about players changing roles. That’s a good one.
- “Play. Compete…You work all year to go against the champ,” Casey said of his message to the team from here. “You come out and go to the rope-a-dope instead of throwing a punch? To beat the champ, you have to throw punches. Whether they’re haymakers, undercuts, whatever, maybe a couple below the belt but you’ve got to box. You’ve got to fight, you’ve got to compete.”
- Ty Lue said the Cavs have also been talking up being more physical. “But we gotta be smart in doing that.”
- Most of what got asked pre-game was already discussed at practice or shootaround.
- On account of the weather, the tailgate party outside of the ACC has been cancelled for tonight.
- Edy Tavares is being presented with his D-League Defensive Player of the Year award before the game. The D-League Trophy is also in attendance, so there may be something for Raptors 905, too.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) May 5, 2017
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Game 1: Cavaliers -6.5 (Series Raptors +375) (Cavaliers 116, Raptors 105)
Game 2: Cavaliers -7 (Series Raptors +650) (Cavaliers 1250, Raptors 103)
Game 3: Cavaliers -3.5
Series: Raptors+1500 (implied probability of 6.3 percent)
Normally, we’d expect to see this line down around Cavaliers -1 or even a pick-em as the series moves from one arena to the other, but the casual dominance (non-dominance, sorry guys) of Cleveland in the first two games, plus the idea of Lowry at less than 100 percent (or at zero percent), have conspired to push this one in Cleveland’s favor, too. There’s not a lot of historical precedent suggesting the Raptors have any better a shot than the 6.3-percent implied probability of the series line, but all they can do is take care of a game at a time and try to nudge those odds. They’ll do so as underdogs here, and with a robust over-under of 213.