Casey said he thought DeRozan needed to sit at the end of the third to rest; through three quarters the shooting guard had played nearly 34 of the 36 minutes. DeRozan said, “I could have kept going. I didn’t feel like I needed a blow. At this point in time, there’s no need for rest.”
Maybe Casey should have left him in the game: he scored one point the rest of the way. Maybe Casey should have used Valanciunas, despite the defensive jeopardy associated with him. But maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The Cavaliers went on an 8-2 run with DeRozan out, and a 12-1 run when he came back in. The Raptors were holding on by their toes. They competed, they played well. But you miss enough shots, it comes back to haunt you.
Look, the Cavaliers are the champs, and in Games 1 and 2 they finally tapped into their potential in consecutive games for the first time in months. It took that long.
“I want to say, physically and mentally, we feel whole,” forward James Jones said. “We had our challenges during the year, trying to manage the schedule, trying to navigate injuries, trying to mesh and find rotations.”
If they were bored they aren’t anymore, and the Raptors don’t look whole at all, because they’re not. When the Raptors won Game 3 and Game 4 last year, the series didn’t truly hinge on it; the Cavaliers won the next two by a combined 64 points. If they were arm-wrestling, Cleveland always had a bazooka in its back pocket.
The difference between DeRozan and James was that the Cavs’ star had help. When the game started to turn, he was on the bench. It was Kyle Korver, added by trade by the Cavs mid-season and whose career 43 per cent average from three trails only Steph Curry among active players, who swung the balance. The Raptors were trailing by one when he checked in for James with two minutes left in the third quarter. He hit three of his four threes in a 60-second span over the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, and the game began to split.
“We got stops, and Kyle got hot,” said James, explaining how the Cavailers finished on a 42-22 surge.
In contrast DeRozan, without Lowry, was a man on an island. He finished with three assists but should have had more, except you don’t get assists for hitting teammates with passes for open threes only to see them clang them right and left, never centre.
Toronto missed their first 12 three-point attempts and ended up just 2-of-18 for game while the Cavs shot 13-of-23. For the series, Cleveland is out-scoring Toronto 135-51 from three, while shooting 50 per cent to the Raptors 27.9, an insurmountable advantage.
“It’s tough. We couldn’t make no threes. When you see them knocking down threes left and right, getting to their spots, it’s kind of deflating. It’s tough to win a game when you only make two three-pointers,” said DeRozan. “We were in the game throughout the whole game, but shooting 11 per cent from the three-point line, it’s tough.”
He might as well have said impossible.
Matthew Scianitti and Josh Lewenberg break down two crucial errors that Dwane Casey made late in Game 3, and discuss if the Raptors stand a chance at becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from an 0-3 series deficit.
At the trade deadline, the Raptors seemed to add the kind of pieces that would make them playoff tough. They added the veterans Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. Both are known as defenders. But both can occasionally hit from three as well.
They made the Raptors better.
But a void existed. A void made worse when Kyle Lowry couldn’t play. A void evident in all 12 quarters of what has mostly been a one-sided series. Games 1 and 2 weren’t competitive games for the Raps. But Friday night the Raps played terrific basketball for three quarters, before running out of gas.
As the Raptors were picking up Ibaka and Tucker around the deadline, the Cavs brought in a three-point shooting specialist, Kyle Korver. Shooting threes is basically all he has done in his career. It’s really all that’s kept him in the NBA for 14 seasons.
At the end of a very tight third quarter, Korver hit two three-point shots. Cleveland led by two heading to the final quarter. He hit another three in the first minutes of the one-sided fourth quarter — and really in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, with Demar DeRozan on the bench, the Cavaliers took over the game.
The Raps had no answer and especially had no answer from the three-point line, cashing in on two of 18 shots. That’s 11.1%. That’s horrible.
The Cavs made 13 threes, shot 56.5% from the long stripe, outscored Toronto 39-6 in that area. Thirty freakin’ nine to six.
Turning Point — After a pair of lopsided wins in Cleveland, the Raptors were ready for a fight on Friday – with the contest featuring 10 ties and seven lead-changes through the first three quarters. Early in the third period, the Raptors took their biggest lead of the series – five points.
The game was tied at 71-apiece with 1:26 to play in the third when Kyle Korver drilled back-to-back bombs that put Cleveland ahead four and seemed to change the game’s entire momentum.
DeRozan hit a short floater with 1.6 to play in the quarter to get the Raptors to within a deuce – 79-77 – and it looked like the stage was set for a knock-down, drag-out fourth quarter.
But Korver unleashed the floodgates with another triple to start the final period and the Wine and Gold barely looked back the rest of the way.
”Man, (Korver) carried us throughout the second half,” praised J.R. Smith – who finished with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep. “He came out with big shot after big shot and then in the fourth he hit a big two. He did a helluva job and we know what he’s capable of, we just got to get him into a rhythm.”
The Cavs outscored the Raptors in the second half 66-42 and more than made up for their slow start. The Cavs also dominated the boards in this game, outrebounding the Raptors 49-25.
After going down 2-0 in last season’s ECF, the Raptors brought in Bismack Biyombo (who hadn’t played much throughout the entire season) as a last-ditch effort to try and make that series competitive, and it worked out better than they ever could have hoped. His stifling interior defensive presence, along with the frenetic energy of the home crowd, spurred the Raptors on to two straight victories to even that series at two games apiece.
Now back to this season. Bismack Biyombo wasn’t there to turn to when they needed him most, and the Raptors had no one waiting in the wings to fill his shoes. After getting shellacked in Game 1, the Raptors replaced Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll in the starting lineup with Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell, respectively, but the result was the same. With no Energizer Bunny and no surprise cameos waiting in the shadows to jumpstart the Raptors this time around, the Cavs took advantage of the Lowry-less Raptors late and now stand on the brink of a third straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
The Cavs will look to complete the sweep over the Raptors on Sunday at 3:30 ET (ABC) at Air Canada Centre.
Credit should go to DeRozan though. After a truly terrible Game 2, DeMar found his groove once again, pouring in 36 points through three quarters to keep the Raptors in it. Unfortunately, Casey opted to rest him to begin the fourth. “He needed that [break],” said Casey, which very well could have been true. But DeRozan managed only one more point in the game’s final ten minutes, and the Raptors offense crumbled. “I could have kept going, I didn’t feel like I needed a blow,” said DeRozan. “At this point in time there’s no need for a rest.”
But rest DeRozan did, and right after Kyle Korver had come alive to close the third (in Channing Frye’s place), hitting a barrage of threes to begin turning the tide against Toronto. The Raptors did what they could to keep the game ugly, but a LeBron-led team will run smooth eventually. The champ is the champ for a reason.
If we can isolate one discouraging thing then in particular, it would the Cavs’ relative lack of urgency as the game began. This is that lack of respect we’ve been hearing so much about as of late. For all the effort the Raptors were pouring in, the Cavaliers seemed almost lackadaisical in their approach. Somehow, they still out-rebounded the Raptors 49 to 25 anyway, and outshot them 51 percent to 43 (and 56 to 11 from three). Toronto’s frenzy was for naught.
After going just 2-for-18 from three-point range in Game 3, Nabil Karim and Nik Stauskas discuss the Raptors’ woeful shooting from downtown despite many wide open looks, and talk about how DeMar DeRozan carried the team through three quarters before losing his touch in the fourth.
After all of that talk, the Raptors mostly lived up to the promise in the opening half, forcing eight Cleveland turnovers and holding the Cavs to 40% shooting instead of the gaudy numbers they posted at home. Toronto also took open shots, but couldn’t make them. Almost any of them. The Raptors were 0-for-9 from three-point range in the first half, but plenty of inside scoring — and 21 first-half points from a resurrected DeRozan — gave Toronto a 52-49 lead at the break.
But all those missed shots, the punches of which Casey had spoke, loomed like something that would come back to haunt them. When the Raptors bounced back from an 0-2 hole with a win in Game 3 at home last year, they hit 12 three pointers to Cleveland’s 14, and the Cavs attempted 10 more than the Raptors. If there was ever going to be a way to hang with this collection of outside bombers guided by the exceptional all-around game of James, those bomb sights were going to have to be a tad off — and the Raptors would have to convert their open looks.
But even as DeRozan rebounded from his terrible five-point effort in Game 2 — he finished with 37 — there was that pressing question: would someone else on the Raptors hit a shot?
Not very often, it turned out. Norm Powell, who couldn’t miss from distance in the Milwaukee series, went 1-for-7 from three-point range. Serge Ibaka was 0-for-3 and Cory Joseph was 0-for-4.
James, meanwhile, authored another casual destruction of the Raptors. Despite aggressive, shadowing defence from Powell for long stretches, LeBron scored 35 points on 56% shooting and he got to the free-throw line 16 times. This time it was Kyle Korver who delivered the kill shot, with three straight three pointers at the end of the third and start of the fourth that ran Cleveland’s lead to five.
But there were so many other opportunities that it would be foolish to use Lowry’s absence as an excuse or even an explanation for what transpired.
Toronto made just two of 18 three-point attempts, while the Cavs were 13-for-23. The long-range shooting has been one of the most glaring differences in the series.
Yes, LeBron James is the most dominant player in the game but Kyle Korver made four three-pointers Friday, J.R. Smith made three and Kevin Love made the only one he tried.
Cory Joseph was 0-for-4. Norm Powell, 1-for-7. Serge Ibaka, 0-for-3.
“Our three-point shooters have to take them and make them,” Casey said before the game. The optimist says they got it half right.
“It’s something we’ve done, we’ve knocked down threes all year and for some reason it’s escaped us right now,” Casey said.
How do you even properly eulogize a team that meant a lot to a deprived fanbase, but embarrassed itself in the end? Even if you remove yourself from the disappointment of how shit has gone recently, at some point the roller coaster stops becoming a fun ride. 2014 was great, 2015 ended badly, 2016 was great, 2017 ended badly. That is exhausting. With free agency looming and stagnation staring us in the face, something is going to have to give.
There’s a bit comedian Hannibal Buress did about how sports form the goalposts around which he marks his memories. He talked about how a whole 20 years of his life’s memories use Kobe Bryant’s career milestones as landmarks. I started thinking about why this means so much, why it hurts to be disappointed, why are we disappointed in the first place, what are we so afraid of? Those are difficult questions to answer, but they served as a reminder to be appreciative of what we’ve had for these past 4 years.
There will be plenty of time to talk specifics and appreciate the entire era as a whole. But as we near the possibility of the end, I find that anger and disappointment are replaced with nostalgia and sadness — nostalgic of how good things were and sad that they will quite literally never be that way with this cast of characters again.
FOURTH QUARTER LET DOWN
Things went downhill quickly for Toronto in the final quarter as the team tried to give DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph a quick breather for the first couple of minutes of the fourth. The Cavaliers quickly turned a two-point lead into a 19-point advantage as the Toronto offence went ice-cold. After holding the Cavaliers to 49 points in the first half, Toronto’s defence fell apart in the fourth as they gave up 36 points to Cleveland on a ridiculous 79 percent from the floor and 80 percent (4-for-5) from beyond the arc. Cleveland opened the fourth on a 20-3 run. In comparison, the fourth was a struggle all around for Toronto. The Raptors shot 30 percent from the floor as they were held to 17 points.
How did the game get away from the Raptors in the fourth quarter? Nabil Karim and Nik Stauskas point to the Cavs turning up the defensive intensity and Toronto getting away from what made them successful through the first three quarters. Stauskas also explains how Kyle Korver was a difference-maker when Cleveland needed a spark.
Of course, the Raptors training staff is right. It’s a severe injury. Really, Lowry should probably stay out of action for at least a week, probably more. But there might not be games in a week. There is a game Sunday—one that, if the Raptors lose it, could be his team’s last for a very long while.
That’s why Lowry will do everything he can over the next 36 hours or so—ice, heat, ultrasounds, stem treatment, everything—to get his ankle recovered enough that he can be on the floor for tip-off Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. It won’t get anywhere near 100 per cent by then. It might not even be 50. But it just has to be good enough.
“That’s my goal. My goal is to be out there playing on Sunday,” Lowry said. “We’ll see. It’s tough because it’s a different type of ankle injury. If you look at how the injury happened, my ankle went in. You don’t usually have it go in. It was a football injury—an American football type of injury where a guy cuts down on you. It rolled in, not out. So, it’s a pretty different injury. If it rolled out, I’m sure I would play.”
That would help the Raptors immensely. Without Lowry on the floor Friday night, DeMar DeRozan had to carry a much heavier load, and the Cavaliers were able to throw more defensive attention at him whenever he had the ball. And when he didn’t, the Raptors were shooting woefully from beyond the arc, connecting on only two of their 18 three-point attempts. Lowry, unafraid to pull up from anywhere on the floor, led the Raptors in the regular season, shooting 41 per cent from three-point land.
The Raptors missed the first 12 three-pointers they attempted, not seeing one go down until Norm Powell took the lid off the basket with a make on attempt No. 13 by the team. That came midway through the third quarter and the Raps would get only one more the rest of the night.
It was in the fourth that James finally started to look like the King James from the first two games, pouring in nine points in the first six minutes of the quarter as the Cavs started to pull away for good.
James would finish with 35 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
For the game, Cleveland made 13 of its 23 three-point attempts meaning not even DeRozan’s big night made much of a difference.
Given the lopsided of nature of this series heading into play Friday, the Raptors were already running out of options. They’d tried lineup changes, and before this one coach Dwane Casey implored his team to punch back at the defending champs, perhaps throwing a “a couple below the belt.”
If the Raptors swung at all, they didn’t hit anything. They scored just three points through the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. When James left the floor with 3:27 remaining, the Cavs had outscored the Raptors 26-7 in the fourth, with 13 points from James.
The Cavs shot 11-of-14 in the fourth quarter to the Raptors’ 7-of-23.
Korver posted his 2017 playoff high with 14 points, shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Korver had scored nine points total in the first two games on nine shots.
The Raptors were miserable from the 3-point line, which is where, arguably, they lost this game. They shot 2-of-18 overall to the Cavs’ 13-of-23 (a 33-point disparity). Norman Powell made Toronto’s first 3-pointer with 3:09 in the third quarter — the Raptors were 0-of-12 up to that point.
DeRozan was amazing on Friday, but it may not answer all the questions about him. Twice in these playoffs, he had games where he was nearly a complete no-show — eight points on 0-of-8 shooting in Game 3 against the Bucks, and five points in Game 2 of this series. That’s hard to stomach from someone who’s supposed to be your best scorer and, depending on you feel about Kyle Lowry, best overall player. (Lowry wasn’t good this postseason, either. It’s a trend for both.)
The analysis about DeRozan that’s now growing boring is that his game doesn’t fit into the modern NBA. There is some validity to that, perhaps less in the way the play manifests itself and more in the way it allows defenses to limit him. Still, DeRozan did make crucial plays while having enormous games against the Bucks, averaging 24 points in that series.
DeMar DeRozan was aggressive and getting buckets, Norman Powell was playing solid defense on LeBron James and forcing him into tough shots, Jonas Valanciunas was using his size to score, and as a team the Raptors were attacking the Cavaliers in smarter ways. It was a two-point game entering the fourth, even with Kyle Lowry sidelined.
Then Cleveland found another gear — specifically, LeBron found another gear, but as a team the Cavs shot 11-of-14 and 4-of-5 from three in the fourth.
“We got stops and Kyle (Korver) got hot,” was how LeBron explained the fourth quarter.
The Raptors started the fourth 1-of-12 from the field. For the quarter they were 0-4 from three, for the game they were 2-of-18 from deep. That was their fatal flaw.
Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan did everything in his power to keep his team in the series during Game 3. He netted a playoff career-high 37 points, but with the absence of his backcourt partner Kyle Lowry (who was unable to play due to an ankle injury sustained in Game 2), the burden of carrying the team proved too great.
The fact the Raptors were crushed in the rebounding department and went just 2-for-18 from three-point range was a big factor, as well, and both Casey and DeRozan said if the numbers in those categories change, the odds of registering a win go up.
The Cavaliers eliminated the Raptors in six games during last season’s Eastern Conference finals and went on to claim the NBA championship. It appears the path to an attempted repeat will go through the Raptors once again, but ever the optimist, DeRozan said he’s not going to lay down and allow that to happen without a fight.
“We got another opportunity,” DeRozan said. “We can’t look at it like (what’s happened in the) history of teams being down 3-0. We got another opportunity to have another opportunity. That’s all that matters. We got to go up and play that way.”
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