The 73-win Golden State Warriors, who employed the first ever unanimous MVP, blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
I don’t say this to be facetious or to make jokes, but to serve a reminder that nothing is literally impossible. Prior to the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back in that series, that deficit was considered impossible. If the Toronto Raptors can take Game 4 against those same Cavaliers, they’ll be in that same, previously impossible situation. It seems like such an enormous longshot, of course, but in the words of DeMar DeRozan, “give yourself an opportunity to have another opportunity” is the approach the team has to takes.
The odds are obviously against them. Teams up 3-0 in an NBA playoff series are 123-0 all time, the favorites are 101-0, and even if they won one, teams down 1-3 are still just 11-223 and 3-154 without home-court advantage. Those numbers aren’t zero. The Raptors can keep themselves alive with a win Sunday, and then they can try to keep themselves alive with a win Tuesday, and so on. These are the things they will tell each other. It beats rolling over and calling it quits.
In the great words of Kevin Garnett, anything is plausible. So whom tryna make some history?
The game tips off a 3:30 on ABC and TSN on TV and on TSN 1050 on radio.
Blake Murphy: Before the series, we poured a lot of time and energy into analyzing this matchup. Do you feel kinda dumb for it now? Maybe dumb is not the right word, but even with you picking Cavaliers in a close 5, did we talk ourselves into this being an actual series too much? I don’t really feel that way, myself. I think that on paper, the Raptors still look like they should have provided more competition than this, and that until the Cavaliers flipped the switch, we were justified in wondering how long it would take them to do so and how many games that may cost them. But you’re closer to that side. Should we have seen this coming?
Justin Rowan: I’m with you, I thought that it may take awhile for the Cavs to find their stride. I also expected more rust from them to start the series, which may have allowed Toronto to steal a game. With Irving struggling with his jumper so much, you would assume this would be a series Toronto could hang around in. But the Cavs bench has stepped up in a big way and LeBron is capable of doing this stuff against anyone.
Blake Murphy: In your opinion, what’s more disrespectful: Narrowly sweeping a team because you couldn’t bring yourself to get up to try really hard for a series, or trying hard and dominating a team in a sweep? I don’t mean this facetiously. I think you can make a case the way Cleveland treated Toronto showed they cared a bit more. But I’d also accept the answer that LeBron James was just annoyed that anyone had talked up the Raptors as competition.
Justin Rowan: Ummm… yes. I thought game three was the most disrespectful game of the series. Without Kyle Lowry, the Cavs just seemed disinterested. I had texted a friend suggesting that the Cavs looked like they realized they just need eight minutes of effort to close this game out. While it was fewer than eight minutes, the sentiment held true. They’re that annoying guy in college that only studies the night before the exam, walks out complaining to everyone that he failed, and winds up getting an A.
Blake Murphy: Semi-related to my last point there, who do you want in the next round, assuming the Raptors can’t make history and come back from down 0-3? Washington looks like a stiffer test and a better tune-up for where the Cavaliers will need to get to for the Warriors, but…the idea of the Cavaliers stomping on the Celtics to put them in their place is enticing, too.
Justin Rowan: Cleveland truly hates Boston, so it would be interesting to see how disrespectful they would get against a team like that. Both teams have flaws that make them easier opponents than Toronto in my eyes, so there isn’t a huge rooting interest. I fear Boston because they have dirty players that could hurt the Cavs title chances again, but I also want to crush them because they are Boston. Washington’s lack of depth and defense probably would be the path of least resistance in my eyes. So I’m still pulling for them.
Blake Murphy: The mumps were going around some of the King West bars in Toronto a few months back. Is a Cavs-wide mumps outbreak a potentially series-shifting epidemic, if a certain handful of players (Shmyrie Shmirving, for example) haven’t left the club the last 36 hours? Surely, you remember Game 3 last year.
Justin Rowan: “After it was all over, he took us to the house and served us margaritas… margaritas.” *Charlie Murphy voice* (RIP). Drake being in town may have been the curve-ball needed to extend this series to five games.
Blake Murphy: In all seriousness, the Cavaliers have proven they’re still a class above the Raptors. What Toronto can do in the short-term is kind of depressing, and a column for another time. Basically, they can stay this good or take a step back. There’s no means of drawing closer to Cleveland’s level, really. The question, I guess, also needs to be asked: Is there any reason to think the Cavaliers will come down a bit in the next year or two, doing their part to close the gap between themselves and the rest of the East?
Justin Rowan: I really don’t think so. Kyrie just turned 25 and showed a ton of growth this season. As he starts to enter his prime, I expect to see him take another step towards becoming one of the truly elite players at his position. It’s easy to forget how much younger he is than the rest of his peers, but he’s pretty good. Tristan Thompson is getting better, and LeBron seems to be getting better, which is silly. Plus they’ll trade Love and pieces for Paul George this summer, so that’ll make things wild (kidding, I think). But they also are getting an infusion of some young talent with Cedi Osman, which I think will help make a difference. The Raptors have played both the future and the present of the Eastern Conference in the Bucks and Cavs. I really don’t see an easy answer for what the next step should be.
The status of Kyle Lowry remains up in the air, and without shootaround on Sunday, there’s no real way of knowing if he’ll go. It doesn’t sound good, though – Lowry called himself “probably doubtful” at practice on Saturday and suggested he may have made things worse in trying to hard to be able to suit up for Game 3. He’ll go through the usual pre-game testing and make a call. Hopefully we’ll have an answer more than four minutes before tip-off this time around. It’s difficult to see him playing, given his words a day ago.
If Lowry can’t go, Cory Joseph will once again slide into his spot with Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet sharing backup duties. Elsewhere in the rotation, we can probably bet that Jonas Valanciunas will remain with the starters, and short of a P.J. Tucker-Norman Powell swap that would have nothing to do with Powell’s performance and everything to do with trying a different approach with LeBron James out of the gate, not much else stands to change (although who knows, really?).
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
Cleveland probably isn’t changing much here. The biggest questions will be whether they even show up or lay around waiting to turn it on late, which club they went to the last two nights, and whether Tyronn Lue will experiment with anything so that the Cavaliers can learn a bit about themselves heading into the final two rounds. The James-and-bench unit still hasn’t been great, and it might be too slow to get away with playing once they reach the Golden State Warriors. A James-Tristan Thompson-bench unit was very effective in the fourth quarter Friday, and maybe Lue will try some new combinations to see what might work.
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
Game 1: Cavaliers -6.5 (Series Raptors +375) (Cavaliers 116, Raptors 105)
Game 2: Cavaliers -7 (Series Raptors +650) (Cavaliers 125, Raptors 103)
Game 3: Cavaliers -3.5 (Series Raptors +1500) (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 94)
Game 4: Cavaliers -7
Series: Off the board (implied probability of extremely little)
Well, the market is more or less calling this one a wrap. The series is off the board entirely, because bookmakers don’t want to waste their time with incredibly long-shot bets (counter: they’re afraid of the Raptors pulling it off!), the Raptors are something like +30,000 to win the championship, and even for a single game, Cleveland is being treated like the home side in terms of the spread. What, was nobody at EFS last night to scout this matchup? The over-under is at 213. This may be your last chance to make money off of the Raptors for the year. Do it wisely.