Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
May 26, 16 Lowry makes All-NBA 3rd-Team, Raptors get sponsorship award, and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 26, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – Game 6ix Nick Reynoldson
May 26, 16 I guess we have to talk about this casino thing Blake Murphy
May 26, 16 Raptors get demolished by Cavs in Game 5, 116-78 Shyam Baskaran
May 26, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, May 26 Sam Holako
May 26, 16 LeBron didn’t believe this was an ‘adverse situation,’ and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 25, 16 Game 5 Post-Game Podcast: Was there a game today? Zarar Siddiqi
May 25, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 78, Cavaliers 116; Cavs Lead Series 3-2 Kiyan Sobhani
May 25, 16 Patrick Patterson available to return to Game 5 Blake Murphy
May 25, 16 Report: Bismack Biyombo could command $17M annually Blake Murphy
May 25, 16 Pre-game news and notes: Cavs could look to push the pace in Game 5 Blake Murphy
May 25, 16 Biyombo gives finger wag to ‘media bulls***,’ and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 25, 16 Breaking it Down: Cavs score on 14 straight trips, Lowry ends the run Blake Murphy
May 25, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Game 5, May 25 Blake Murphy
May 24, 16 Mutombo on Biyombo using Finger Wag: ‘Him and I need to talk’ Blake Murphy
May 24, 16 Valanciunas ‘hopefully’ involved in Game 5, maintaining a rhythm, and other off-day notes Blake Murphy
May 24, 16 Raptors keep on punching, keep on proving everyone wrong Blake Murphy
May 24, 16 WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE: Raptors even the Eastern Conference score in Game 4 thriller Michael Holian
May 24, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, May 24 Sam Holako
May 24, 16 Game 4 Post-Game Podcast: Kyle Lowry Over Everything Blake Murphy
May 24, 16 ‘We’re in it to compete for a championship,’ and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 23, 16 Quick Reaction: Cavaliers 99, Raptors 105 – Series Tied 2-2 Kiyan Sobhani
May 23, 16 Pre-game news and notes: Valanciunas active and available Blake Murphy
May 23, 16 Valanciunas questionable for Game 4, and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 23, 16 Breaking it Down: The last 5 (important) minutes of Game 3 Cooper Smither
May 23, 16 Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Game 4 – May 23 Shyam Baskaran
May 23, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, May 23 Sam Holako
May 22, 16 Dahntay Jones suspended, Dwane Casey fined Blake Murphy
May 22, 16 Valanciunas upgraded, Biyombo doesn’t have friends on the court, and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 22, 16 Game 3: An Understated Game from Cory Joseph Matt Shantz
May 22, 16 Raptors Send A Message In Game 3 Kiyan Sobhani
May 22, 16 Looking Ahead: 2016 NBA Draft forumcrew
May 22, 16 Morning Coffee – Sun, May 22 Sam Holako
May 22, 16 Game 3 Post-Game Podcast: Biyombo punks LeBron Blake Murphy
May 22, 16 The ‘amazing’ Biyombo, minor injury updates, and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 21, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 99, Cavs 84 – Cavs lead series 2-1 Sam Holako
May 21, 16 Bismack Biyombo sets Raptors playoff record with 26 rebounds Blake Murphy
May 21, 16 VIDEO: LeBron’s best acting since Trainwreck Blake Murphy
May 21, 16 Pre-game news and notes: Dellavedova will play, Scola starts again Blake Murphy
May 21, 16 Shootaround Notes: Dellavedova Questionable For Game 3 Kiyan Sobhani
May 21, 16 Outplayed and Hoping for Some Magic Matt Shantz
May 21, 16 Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Game 3, May 21 Tamberlyn Richardson
May 21, 16 Morning Coffee – Sat, May 21 Sam Holako
May 20, 16 Lowry explains leaving bench, Valanciunas doubtful, and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 20, 16 The Raptors Are Running Out Of Time To Figure Things Out Kiyan Sobhani
May 20, 16 Mid-Series Mailbag: Where the Norm, guarding LeBron, and more Blake Murphy
May 20, 16 Raptors Reality Check Continues with Game Two Loss Gavin MacPherson
May 20, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, May 20 Sam Holako
May 20, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra: Game 2 Post-Game Podcast Blake Murphy
May 20, 16 Lowry left bench ‘to decompress,’ and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 19, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 89, Cavaliers 108 – Cavs lead series 2-0 Sam Holako
May 19, 16 Pre-game news and notes: Scola starts, Kalamian interviews with Rockets, and ore Blake Murphy
May 19, 16 Toronto, A Hope That Remains… Matt Shantz
May 19, 16 Raptors need to have ‘short memory,’ potential brain drain, and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 19, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Game 2, May 19 Blake Murphy
May 19, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, May 19 Sam Holako
May 18, 16 ‘A fire when you get your ass kicked,’ and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 18, 16 There are no easy answers defending the Cavs Blake Murphy
May 18, 16 At least the Raptors started out well on offense Blake Murphy
May 18, 16 Raps dealt a dose of reality from Cavs in rout, 115-84 Shyam Baskaran
May 18, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, May 18 Sam Holako
May 18, 16 Game 1 Post-Game Podcast: The Cavs are who we thought they were Zarar Siddiqi
May 18, 16 Raptors pick the wrong poison, and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 17, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 84, Cavaliers 115 – Cavaliers lead series 1-0 Blake Murphy
May 17, 16 NBA Draft Lottery: Raptors will select 9th, 27th Blake Murphy
May 17, 16 Pre-game news and notes: ‘Nobody’s giving us a chance, so there shouldn’t be any pressure’ Blake Murphy
May 17, 16 Breaking it Down: Raptors-Cavaliers tactical preview Cooper Smither
May 17, 16 Raptors set another viewership record, keeping calm for Game 1, and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 17, 16 Cavaliers Scouting Report – Offense à la carte: 7 plays to break your soul Zarar Siddiqi
May 17, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Game 1, May 17 Blake Murphy
May 17, 16 Talking Raptors Podcast – We’re In The Eastern Conference Finals Nick Reynoldson
May 17, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, May 17 Sam Holako
May 16, 16 Raptors-Cavaliers Series Preview Q&A Blake Murphy
May 16, 16 Masai Ujiri will represent Raptors at draft lottery Blake Murphy
May 16, 16 Casey doesn’t foresee Valanciunas early in series, approaching the LeBron matchup, and other off-day notes Blake Murphy
May 16, 16 Patrick Patterson, The Unsung Game 7 Hero Matt Shantz
May 16, 16 Kyle Lowry leads the Raptors where they’ve never been before Blake Murphy
May 16, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, May 16 Sam Holako
May 15, 16 VIDEO: Game 7 highlights Blake Murphy
May 15, 16 Game 7 Post-Game Podcast: That All-Time High Feeling Zarar Siddiqi
May 15, 16 VIDEO: Raptors post-Game 7 interviews Blake Murphy
May 15, 16 Eastern Conference Finals schedule (updated with Canadian TV info) Blake Murphy
May 15, 16 Lowry and DeRozan: ‘We ain’t satisfied’ Blake Murphy
May 15, 16 Raptors turn focus quickly to Cavaliers Blake Murphy
May 15, 16 Dwane Casey: ‘We’re not done yet,’ no Valanciunas update, and other notes Blake Murphy
May 15, 16 Kyle Lowry ESPN Post-Game Interview – Looks ahead to Cavs Series Zarar Siddiqi
May 15, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 116, Heat 89 – Raptors Advance to East Finals Matt Shantz
May 15, 16 Eastern Conference Finals schedule Blake Murphy
May 15, 16 Pre-game news and notes: This is it, again Blake Murphy
May 15, 16 Throw out the percentages – this is Game 7 Shyam Baskaran
May 15, 16 Gameday: Heat @ Raptors, Game 7, May 15 Tamberlyn Richardson
May 14, 16 Raptors need to be better prepared for small-ball attack, and other off-day notes Blake Murphy
May 14, 16 The Raptors are still where they need to be Blake Murphy
May 14, 16 History on Hold: Raptors suffer Game 6 setback Michael Holian
May 14, 16 Game 6 Post-Game Reaction Podcast: White Knuckle Sunday Zarar Siddiqi
May 13, 16 Whiteside and Valanciunas out for Game 7, and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 13, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 91, Heat 103 – Series Tied 3-3 Kiyan Sobhani
May 13, 16 Pre-game news and notes: Carroll and Deng are both playing, Heat start Winslow Blake Murphy
May 13, 16 Breaking it Down: The final 5 minutes of Game 5 Cooper Smither
May 13, 16 Carroll and Deng game-time decisions, Valanciunas progressing, and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 13, 16 Quick D-League minicamp wrap Blake Murphy
May 13, 16 Could This Raptor Team Beat the Vince Carter’s Second Round Team? forumcrew
May 13, 16 Summer Smackdown: RR’s 3on3 Basketball Tournament Is Back – Sign Up Now! RR
May 13, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Heat, Game 6, May 13 Tamberlyn Richardson
May 13, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra, May 13 – Game 6 preview Blake Murphy
May 13, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, May 13 Sam Holako
May 12, 16 Hassan Whiteside out for Game 6 Zarar Siddiqi
May 12, 16 Luol Deng’s MRI reveals wrist bruise, no structural damage Blake Murphy
May 12, 16 DeMarre Carroll speaks: ‘If it’s not broke…,’ and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 12, 16 Looking at the center matchups in Raptors-Heat Blake Murphy
May 12, 16 Nando De Colo wins Euroleague MVP Blake Murphy
May 12, 16 DeMarre Caroll’s test come back clean, questionable for Game 6 Blake Murphy
May 12, 16 Another means of appreciating Kyle Lowry Blake Murphy
May 12, 16 Just be big: Stars find themselves as Raptors take 3-2 series lead over Heat Blake Murphy
May 12, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, May 12 Sam Holako
May 12, 16 Game 5 Post-Game Podcast: Let’s close this out in Miami Zarar Siddiqi
May 11, 16 Carroll and Deng updates, the $1,000 shoelace, and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 11, 16 Quick Reaction: Heat 91, Raptors 99 – Raptors Take 3-2 Series Lead Kiyan Sobhani
May 11, 16 DeMarre Carroll and Luol Deng both out for game with wrist injuries Blake Murphy
May 11, 16 Pre-game news and notes: All options still on the table Blake Murphy
May 11, 16 Raptors Offense without Kyle Lowry: Attack Joe Johnson Zarar Siddiqi
May 11, 16 Dragic given a tech, Lowry defends his play, and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 11, 16 Koreen: Playoffs may be ugly, but at least they’re revealing Eric Koreen
May 11, 16 Gameday: Heat @ Raptors, Game 5 – May 11 Andrew Thompson
May 11, 16 Play-by-Play Breakdown: Raptors Overtime Defense – Game 4 vs Heat Zarar Siddiqi
May 11, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, May 11 Sam Holako
May 10, 16 Casey ‘Sleeping like a baby, waking up and crying,’ Sunday schedule, and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 10, 16 Breaking it Down: End-of-regulation possessions, midgeting off Ram Stagger, and more Blake Murphy
May 10, 16 DeMar DeRozan on impending free agency: ‘I feel like I have nothing to worry about’ Blake Murphy
May 10, 16 Hassan Whiteside ruled out for Game 5 Blake Murphy
May 10, 16 Kyle Lowry finishes 10th in MVP voting Blake Murphy
May 10, 16 Shannon Scott replaces Davion Berry at D-League minicamp Blake Murphy
May 10, 16 Looking at some of Casey’s decisions in Game 4 Blake Murphy
May 10, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, May 10 Sam Holako
May 10, 16 Game 4 Post-Game Podcast: Casey and DeRozan Cost Game Zarar Siddiqi
May 9, 16 Lowry ‘pissed’ about loss, DeRozan icing hand, and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 9, 16 VIDEO: Alternate Game 4 recap Blake Murphy
May 9, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 87, Heat 94 – Series Tied 2-2 Sam Holako
May 9, 16 Pre-game news and notes: Stoudemire and Biyombo start at center Blake Murphy
May 9, 16 Breaking it Down: Sikma and split-cuts, Patterson’s Frye flare, and another 3-point defense collapse Blake Murphy
May 9, 16 Valanciunas hopes to be ready for next round, Whiteside out for Game 4, and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 9, 16 Did Drake just say he hopes the Warriors win the title? Blake Murphy
May 9, 16 Breaking It Down: Raptors Crunch Time Offense – Game 3 Zarar Siddiqi
May 9, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Heat, Game 4 – May 9 Shyam Baskaran
May 9, 16 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Game 4 Preview: A New Series is Born Zarar Siddiqi
May 9, 16 Morning Coffee – Mon, May 9 Sam Holako
May 8, 16 Wade meant no disrespect, ‘It’s going to be small ball’ now, ECF schedule, and more practice notes Blake Murphy
May 8, 16 Jonas Valanciunas is out for the series with an ankle sprain Blake Murphy
May 8, 16 Hassan Whiteside day-to-day with sprained right MCL Blake Murphy
May 8, 16 Surviving South Beach: Raptors withstand Heat in Game 3 to take 2-1 series lead Michael Holian
May 7, 16 Valanciunas and Whiteside updates, (K)LOE v Wade, and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 7, 16 Game 3 Post-Game Podcast: KLOE back, bigs hurt, DeRozan hurting Blake Murphy
May 7, 16 Quick Reaction: Raptors 95, Heat 91 – Raptors Lead Series 2-1 Kiyan Sobhani
May 7, 16 Jonas Valanciunas leaves Game 3 with ankle sprain, will not return Blake Murphy
May 7, 16 Hassan Whiteside leaves Game 3 with right knee sprain, set for MRI on Sunday Blake Murphy
May 7, 16 Pre-game news and notes: Screening infidelities, Patterson returns to starting lineup Blake Murphy
May 7, 16 Charles Oakley critical of Raptors’ offense: ‘If you’re off, do something else’ Blake Murphy
May 7, 16 Whiteside disagrees Valanciunas has been ‘the dominant big man’ Blake Murphy
May 7, 16 Gameday: Raptors @ Heat, Game 3, May 7 Tamberlyn Richardson
May 7, 16 Morning Coffee – Sat, May 7 Zarar Siddiqi
May 6, 16 Breaking It Down: Raptors OT Offense in Game 2 – Heat Switching Zarar Siddiqi
May 6, 16 Player Compilations: Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross Zarar Siddiqi
May 6, 16 Valanciunas fine with current workload, Carroll feeling like Carroll, and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 6, 16 Searching For Warm Spots Against The Heat Andrew Thompson
May 6, 16 Round 2: No Such Thing as a Moral Victory… Matt Shantz
May 6, 16 Addicts for dramatics, Raptors stay weird and ugly in series-tying OT victory Blake Murphy
May 6, 16 Morning Coffee – Fri, May 6 Sam Holako
May 6, 16 Valanciunas ‘definitely the reason we won,’ and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 6, 16 Game 2 Post-Game Podcast: Jonas Valanciunas saves series Zarar Siddiqi
May 5, 16 Kyle Lowry ESPN Post-Game Interview – Game 2 vs Heat Zarar Siddiqi
May 5, 16 Quick Reaction: Heat 92, Raptors 96 – Series tied 1-1 Kiyan Sobhani
May 5, 16 VIDEO: Dragic receives stitches, Heat get scares from Wade, Whiteside in Game 2 Blake Murphy
May 5, 16 Pre-game news and notes: All quiet ahead of Game 2, Raptors matching Red Cross donations Blake Murphy
May 5, 16 Christian Stoinev brings unlikely Raptors fandom to Game 2 halftime act Blake Murphy
May 5, 16 DeRozan’s thumb fine, Whiteside limited but playing, and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 5, 16 Breaking it Down: Raptors’ offensive possessions in OT of Game 1 Zarar Siddiqi
May 5, 16 Gameday: Heat @ Raptors, Game 2, May 5 Blake Murphy
May 5, 16 Morning Coffee – Thu, May 5 Sam Holako
May 4, 16 Raptors embracing national look-past, Bosh ruled out, Lowry stayed inbounds, and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 4, 16 Breaking it Down: Dragic’s crucial corner 3 Cooper Smither
May 4, 16 Trending Opposites: Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas Compilations Zarar Siddiqi
May 4, 16 Kyle Lowry searching for answers amid frustrating shooting slump Blake Murphy
May 4, 16 Raptors force OT, still drop peculiar opening clash to Heat Blake Murphy
May 4, 16 Morning Coffee – Wed, May 4 Sam Holako
May 4, 16 Game 1 Post-Game Podcast – No worries, we got this…I think Zarar Siddiqi
May 4, 16 Both teams like their resiliency in bizarre Game 1, and other post-game notes Blake Murphy
May 3, 16 Kyle Lowry delays media availability to get up shots in aftermath of Game 1 Zarar Siddiqi
May 3, 16 Quick Reaction: Heat 102, Raptors 96 – Heat lead series 1-0 Kiyan Sobhani
May 3, 16 VIDEO: Kyle Lowry hits half-court shot to send Game 1 to overtime Blake Murphy
May 3, 16 Hassan Whiteside returns to Game 1 after straining right knee Blake Murphy
May 3, 16 Pre-game news and notes: Powell starts over Patterson Blake Murphy
May 3, 16 Wright brothers set for bench-to-bench battle, Biyombo gets flagrant, and other shootaround notes Blake Murphy
May 3, 16 Raptors-Heat Series Preview Q&A Blake Murphy
May 3, 16 Gameday: Heat at Raptors, Game 1, Round 2 Matt Shantz
May 3, 16 Morning Coffee – Tue, May 3 Sam Holako
May 2, 16 Raptors turning the page quickly, and other practice notes Blake Murphy
May 2, 16 Powell and Richardson put their incredible, unlikely seasons head-to-head for Raptors-Heat Blake Murphy
May 2, 16 Raptors Weekly Extra, May 2 – Raptors-Heat preview Blake Murphy
May 2, 16 On To The Next One: Raptors vs. Heat, Round Two Preview Gavin MacPherson
May 2, 16 Round 2 Predictions forumcrew

Greetings once again from a Greyhound bus with shaky Wi-Fi, this time bound for Toronto. The trip was pretty cool, even with the unfortunate outcome, and I’ve got some Lucha Underground and NXT to catch up on to fill the ride (TM61!). The timing of the bus trip also means I wasn’t at the Toronto Raptors’ practice back at the BioSteel Centre on Thursday, so I couldn’t ask DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph whether they split their eights as they were tanking the team’s season. (I kid, of course.)

Here are some notes and quotes from the practice session.

Kyle Lowry Over (Almost) Everything

The NBA announced it’s All-NBA teams for 2015-16 on Thursday, and Kyle Lowry earned a Third-Team nod. I had him on the second team when I did my own (fake) ballot at the end of the season, writing the following at the time:

The Raptors have never had a player land on an All-NBA First Team, and Lowry’s got a shot. But like with the MVP voting, it’s a long one – Curry has a spot locked down, and Lowry’s left to compete with Westbrook, Paul, Lillard, Thompson, and James Harden for honors across the three teams. I’d be surprised if Lowry, an All-Star and the beating heart of a fringe contender, doesn’t make any of the teams, and I think he’s got a real shot at making the second team.

DeRozan’s had a strong statistical season, perhaps his best, and earned the second All-Star nod of his career. Unfortunately, these teams are loaded with candidates, and DeRozan doesn’t have the two-way resume of some of the names ahead of him. (He also doesn’t have the advanced-stats case, if that’s your style, as Win Shares likes him as a top-20 player but DRE and RAPM strongly disagree.) He’ll probably get a couple of third-team votes for the robust scoring with improved efficiency and playmaking.

Lowry becomes the first Raptor since Chris Bosh (Second-Team) in 2006-07 to make an All-NBA team and just the third Raptor overall (Vince Carter did it twice, once on the Second-Team and once on the Third-Team). He received no First-Team votes, 35 Second-Team votes, and 50 Third-Team votes, good for the 14th-highest point total among all players (which seems a little low but is hardly insulting). The guards finishing ahead of Lowry were Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, and Klay Thompson.

DeMar DeRozan received 26 voting points, as well, which would be enough for All-NBA Fifth-Team, if such a thing existed.

Raptors repeat as award winners

The Raptors repeated as the winners of the NBA’s Sponsorship Activation Award, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reported Thursday. Last year, the Raptors earned the honor for their Swiffer-related activation. I’m trying to confirm what they won it for this year, but my guess is either something related to Drake Night 3, or their Air BNB Air Canada Centre sleepover. It probably means nothing to most fans but the Raptors have continually received dap for their marketing department’s efforts, from the OVO swag to their sponsorship tie-ins to the great job they did with All-Star Weekend, and that kind of stuff is really important at the corporate level. It’s never a bad thing when the organization is doing well in any regard, even if it’s hard for most to get amped up about “sponsorship activation.”

The Raptors’ entire haul for the award season is as follows:

MVP: Lowry finished 10th in voting
Most Improved: Lowry received a vote
Defensive Player of the Year: Lowry received a vote
Sixth Man of the Year: Patrick Patterson received a vote
All-Defense: Lowry received three votes, Bismack Biyombo received one
All-Rookie: Norman Powell received three votes
All-NBA: Lowry named to Third-Team, DeRozan placed 21st
Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey placed fifth
Executive of the Year: Masai Ujiri placed third

Media Relations award: Raptors were a finalist
PBWA Rudy Tomjanovich award: Casey won
NBA sportsmanship award: Luis Scola won for Atlantic Division

D-League Most Improved: Axel Toupane won
D-League Sportsmanship award: Scott Suggs won

That’s a pretty respectable season up and down the organization. It’s truly been a remarkable year.

Raptors double-down on support for Carroll, Joseph

The obvious talking point from practice pertained to the report that DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph were out at a casino at nearly 2 a.m. the night before Game 5. I covered this in detail here – it’s nothing. The Raptors are saying as much in support of their teammates, too.


Wait, he stayed up that late for that garbage?


Man, DeRozan took the worst L of the night, for sure.

And further to the points I made in my column, Joseph was still able to get ample sleep (10-11 hours may be stretching it if the reporting that they were out until 2 is correct, given the 11 a.m. shootaround, but they still likely got a full night).

Carroll and Joseph were given the chance to respond and did as much. You’ll have to check the video at TSN.ca, as this whack WiFi won’t let me on to YouTube to post it directly here.

Maintaining confidence with series on the line

The Raptors seem to thrive with their backs against the wall, so it’s little surprise that they’re keeping calm and confident ahead of Game 6 on Friday.


Again, the Raptors don’t have a tangible feel for what the difference is at home and on the road, and so it keeps coming back to things like energy, physicality, and their favorite, aggression. Those factors are real, but I’m really at a loss for how their level of play swings so dramatically game to game.

We’ve written and talked about all of this stuff enough. The Raptors’ up-and-down play is perplexing, but they’ve repeatedly defied their premature eulogies and bounced back, showing a toughness and resiliency that makes it hard to write them off on any given night. They’re definitely in tough now, but they have a good chance to force a Game 7, and then who knows what could happen?

Assorted

*The Raptors need to find a way to respond to Cleveland’s trap-heavy approach from Game 5, something they failed to do in a similar spot last postseason but have managed around at times this year.

The return of Jonas Valanciunas should help, should the Raptors choose to use him as a pressure-release in those spots. Valanciunas went 4-of-4 for nine points in 18 minutes in Game 5, and while he was held without a rebound and had some rust to his game, the changes he could force on the Cavs’ defense were pretty obvious.

There’s not much else doing, although I guess this is now pretty long so maybe it’s not as light a day as it felt. Shrug. Hope you all have a wonderful day.


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Incredible highs and demoralizing lows. What a blessed and at the same time, seemingly cursed roller coaster this Eastern Conference Finals has been for the Toronto Raptors. With a looming game 6 at home, the boys with their backs to the wall, Nick and Barry get together for another episode of Talking Raptors. They collect their happiness and frustration, level out their elation and near depression and sit down to discuss:

-Raptors Fans vs. Cleveland Fans.

-Making a bet: The Raptors win the finals.

-The Referee Situation.

-Drake on Instagram.

-Demar and his Max Contract Status.

-Game 6 in the Six.

As always thank you for listening and we hope you enjoy!

Put all of your collective prayers and god thoughts into the universe everyone. The Raptors are playing in GAME 6 OF THE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS.

Lets Go Raptors.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can download the file or just listen below:


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Remember when everyone made a huge deal about Kyle Lowry taking a bathroom break, people who didn’t know him or the team began writing that he quit on the Toronto Raptors and his teammates, and then he responded by going off in back-to-back games and summarily shutting them up and making the whole thing seem a farce?

Well, here we go again.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun penned a column last night with the headline “Carroll, Joseph put reps on line with late-night casino visit.” The Cliff notes are that late Tuesday night, the night before Game 5 (or “early” Wednesday for the pedantic crowd, since it was “just before 2”), DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph were spotted at a casino in downtown Cleveland. He goes on to write that both players put their reputations on the line by doing so. He asks “what if it was symptomatic of something else? ” and “Players not necessarily prepared? Players not taking their jobs seriously?”

The column is problematic. It ignores a lot of realities about life in the NBA, asks some pretty broad questions based solely on what time players were in a certain place, and generally reads like a giant “I’m not saying, I’m just saying.”

It is, to be clear from the outset, not a great look. Like with Lowry choosing to say he was “decompressing,” Carroll and Joseph didn’t do themselves any favors being out late in a public place, and neither turned in particularly strong games Wednesday (although using that as a smoking gun of some impropriety means the other 11 Raptors who dressed were also out and up to no good). You could probably go as far as to say the players should have known better, to which I’d respond: Why?

There’s nothing wrong here beyond the unfortunate optics of them being noticed, and that sleuthing being used as a post-facto reason the team lost.

Look, I don’t know the NBA lifestyle, but there are some things we know about players from the outside. They have routines, for one. Most of them are night owls, as their work night often ends late. Putting those two things together, it stands to reason that players would want to stay up late on non-gamedays to remain in their routine (when I used to work night shifts as a summer student at a factory, for example, I would try to stay on the same sleep schedule on weekends). There’s also the matter of the game being at 8:30 p.m. the next day. Being up at 2 a.m. that day is the equivalent of Joe Lunchbox (not a fake name, he’s a friend) going for drinks after work the day prior. Can you do your job at 8 a.m. Friday if you play a hand of blackjack or have a beer at 5 p.m. on Thursday?

On top of that, these are adults. Carroll and Joseph have been through the grind of seasons and the grind of postseasons. They know their bodies and their sleep schedules, and with an 11 a.m. shootaround the next day, they still could have gotten eight hours of sleep, plus the very common game-day nap. The casino is attached to the team hotel, so they very literally could have been spotted on their way to getting a longer night’s sleep than I’ve gotten since the playoffs started. I’m not an elite professional athlete, of course, but Carroll and Joseph weren’t exactly burning the midnight oil relative to their work schedule. I’m sure other players do the same kind of things, they just aren’t out publicly or aren’t spotted.

Even that fundamental misunderstanding of an NBA player’s life and routine and the suggestion that a late night for a 9-to-5er has the same impact here is irresponsible enough.

What’s worse, Simmons’ entire premise is that Carroll and Joseph have staked their reputations. To the fans who maybe don’t think the way I do, or think much about it at all, or who take the word of reporters as truth, yes, Carroll and Joseph’s reputation may be harmed here. By the columnist, not the action.

We’re talking about Joseph, the Spurs-bred point guard who begged for D-League time to improve as a rookie, who constantly suits up for his country despite the rigors of NBA seasons, and who has genuinely become one of the most beloved and hard-working players on the team (the “last guy off the court” mantle on the team is a tough battle between Joseph and Norman Powell). In Carroll, we’re talking about a player who was shot in the ankle, diagnosed with liver disease, was cut multiple times, fought through myriad injuries, and still kept pushing to where he is today, one of the league’s best and toughest wing defenders. (And, if you want to talk reputation, we’re talking about a writer who’s always been kind and helpful to me but also has this and this and this and this on his ledger.)

The worst part? Simmons didn’t even bother to ask Carroll or Joseph for an explanation.”Deadline pressure meant neither Carroll or Joseph were available post-game to be asked about their indiscretion,” he wrote. Look, I’m hardly a veteran of the beat, but I’ve seen multiple reporters able to file on deadline, then add quotes for color after the fact (otherwise, what’s the point of post-game media availability?). Carroll spoke to media after the game. I saw both players before the game, and they were ostensibly available then, too. It wouldn’t have been difficult to double back to ask the question, or even ask it before the game (when, you know, you’d be calling the whole “was this an issue” shot in the air rather than after the fact, once there was a better story to tell).

“I didn’t know that,” Casey said when asked. “This has nothing to do with curfew. This isn’t why we lost…This is the NBA, they’re grown men. These are grown men. These things happen.”

Right. These are grown men. In the NBA. Who have routines and sleep patterns and work schedules that can’t just be assumed to be the same as the everyday worker. They have surely done this before. They know their bodies. And Carroll and Joseph, whose reputations suggest anything but what the column implies about them, probably want to, you know, win.

They were out late near the hotel with no indication they were drinking, with enough time to get eight-hour sleeps before shootaround, when their bodies are designed to peak a full 18 or 19 hours later. This is literally nothing, and I feel dirty for having to write it.


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Box Score | Quick Reaction | Post-Game Podcast

Ugly. That was it. No other word that can really summarize that game. While I knew ahead of time doing the recap of last night’s Game 5 would be pivotal, I had absolutely no idea it would be that disgusting. And so, while I was beginning to write this article, I split the narratives into quarters, and by the second quarter, decided to split it by half. And pretty soon after that, I was pretty much done writing. So, I apologize in advance for the quick-and-dirty nature of all of this, but really, there wasn’t much meaningful analysis to add here.

Quite honestly, every quarter was virtually the same, with the Cavaliers absolutely shredding the Raptors on offense, and playing an intense, fiery defense that completely stifled the Raptors in every facet imaginable. In an OKC-like assualt, the Cavaliers came out with a ridiculous amount of energy, overwhelming the Raptors, attacking their screen-and-roll, playing physical defense, and switching and closing out almost perfectly. And on the offensive end, the Cavs shot lights out fueled once again by the home play of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, who supported LeBron James with a combined 48 points. In a night where the top scorer for the Raps was DeMar DeRozan, shooting 2-8 for 14 points (and going -32), you just knew it was a recipe for disaster. A really really bad disaster.

The Raptors missed 14 free-throws, turned the ball over 18 times (majority of them being live-ball turnovers), gave up many more offensive rebounds to the Cavs than they could grab, missed OPEN jumpers (DeMarre Carroll went 0-4 from 3), missed basically every close-out, and over-helped constantly on defense leading to easy paths to the lane or open jumpers. Cleveland seemed to get to every 50/50 ball, attacked the Lowry pick-and-roll with ferocity, and even when the Raptors seemed to break the trap, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross or others could do absolutely nothing. By around mid-second quarter, it was crystal clear this one was over.

The Cavaliers finished with an insane shooting percentage – 57% for the night, and an absolutely ridiculous 66% in the first half!! Their field goal percentage for the game was just 3% shy of the Raptors free-throw percentage. Yes, the demolition was that bad.

The Cavs also got a thorough performance from their starting lineup. The big 3 scored 20+ each, Tristan Thompson was basically a double-double, and JR Smith, while quiet offensively, played smothering defense on DeRozan to start the game. And well, the Cavs never looked back after that scorching start. They were top-to-bottom better than the Raptors, and proved once again that at least at home, they are simply a cut above the rest; probably even against today’s Golden State Warriors (who would’ve thought, back in March, that it would come down to this).

A crucial element of the game was that it also allowed Cleveland to get more rest for their starters, particularly LeBron James who played a team-high 46 minutes in Game 4 in Toronto, and likely could play a similar type of role in a Game 6 if the series continues to favour the home team. Coach Tyronn Lue smartly started the fourth quarter without a single starter on the court (a 40 point lead doesn’t hurt).

In a dismantling of the Raptors, the Cavaliers also helped re-assure themselves of their championship calibre status, and may go long ways in providing this team with the confidence it needs going into a potential close-out game 6 in Toronto. One thing unfortunately for Raptors fans is for sure – a performance like last night from the Raptors will no doubt perpetuate the collective opinion (at least for the next 48 hours) that this series had absolutely no business going 6 games, especially from our friends south of the border. Having said that, the home court advantage seems to dictate most of what happens between these two teams, so perhaps this will all just be part of a 7-game ride. Regardless of anything that happens in a game 7, the season would be an even grander success if they can really push Cleveland to the brink that way.

Lookahead thoughts for Optimism (Reminder: We’re in the ECF, going into a Game 6)

For the Raptors, on the bright side, they saw the return of Jonas Valanciunas who seemed to be nimble and rather sharp for someone who hasn’t played a game in 18 days. The return of JV (while it had no real impact on the game) is at least a mildly positive sign as it allows the Raptors to go into a Game 6 with a realistic chance of getting a meaningful contribution from the big man. Given JV seems like the resilient type, and played some of the best basketball of his career less than a month ago, I’d bank on at least a reasonably good performance from him in Game 6.

Another encouraging, yet obvious, point to note for Toronto is that Game 6 is at home. While that wouldn’t necessarily be comforting in Rounds 1 or 2, in this round, it seems like that’s all that matters. Home crowds have been an enormous factor in the series, particularly for the Raptors who have rode the energetic vibe from their fans to the tune of 2 unexpected and thorough victories against the Cavs. The Raps also went 2-0 in their regular season games against Cleveland. Not to mention, Game 6 will potentially be the last home playoff game at the ACC, so you can bet your life savings that Jurassic Park and the ACC will be a wild madhouse.

While the Cavs will likely still be the favourite going into Friday, the Raptors will have to count on their offensive execution, defensive energy (hopefully fueled by the crowd), and will also have to hope for some Irving and Love misses to actually win it. The Raptors know they will be getting Cleveland’s very best shot and with visions of yet another NBA Finals appearance.


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Game 5 Post-Game Podcast: Was there a game today? | Raptors Republic

Was there a game today? There wasn’t a game today, was there? There was? Really? When? What happened? Lemme check. Oh…shit, that happened? Is that the really the score? Hmm..I guess there was a game today.

LeBron didn’t believe this was an ‘adverse situation,’ and other post-game notes | Raptors Republic

“They kicked our butts. That’s the bottom line,” Dwane Casey said to open his post-game availability.

He highlighted rebounding and physicality as reasons but didn’t have an answer for why this keeps happening in Cleveland but not Toronto. It’s not an effort thing, according to Casey, and he was quick to point out that the Raptors just won two big games.

“One thing about it, it’s 3-2,” he said. “It was 2-2, it was embarrassing the way we played tonight, but it’s one game…This series is not over.”

Casey kept returning to “the level of playing with force” and comments on the physicality. Again, it’s unclear what the difference is between home and road, and why that physicality (or whatever it is at the root of this weird phenomenon – Tyronn Lue didn’t have a tangible reason, either) wanes. “We’ve gotta figure that out, the level we’ve gotta get to in this building.”

They sure do, because even if they win Friday at home, they’re coming right back here Sunday with a berth in the NBA Finals on the line.

“We had an opportunity to come in here and do something special and we didn’t get it done,” Casey said. “I don’t know if we were ready for the train that was coming down the tracks for us tonight.”

Yeah, no kidding. The Raptors’ locker room was closed an exceptionally long time after the game, likely as they try to figure things out themselves. DeMar DeRozan said the team will worry about Game 7 in Cleveland once they’re through taking care of Game 6 in Toronto (probably the right approach), while Kyle Lowry was at an understandable loss.

For Raptors, there’s good news and bad news after Game 5 blowout: Arthur | Toronto Star

“A lot of things happened, all of them bad things,” said forward Luis Scola. “There’s no question we can win. There’s no question we can play better. . . . We reacted well those two home games. Maybe it’s a good thing for us, and we play a good game. We were always going to have to come back and play a good game here, which we haven’t done in this series. But we can’t worry about that yet.”

In this building, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving were giants — LeBron James is always a giant — and the Raptors, who are still learning how to navigate the highest mountain passes, are specks. Before the game, LeBron talked about being calm, and afterwards he said, “I’ve been a part of some very adverse situations. And I just didn’t believe that this was one of them.”

So now the Raptors have to depend on the empowering thunder of their home crowd, which has been a tangible contributor in the big moments of these playoffs: Game 5 and Game 7 against Indiana, Game 5 and Game 7 against Miami, Games 3 and 4 here. Every playoff game is different, and if the Raptors can adjust it doesn’t matter how they lost, not really. It was ugly and strange and vacant, but this Raptors team has spent over a month veering from bad to awful to good enough, with a couple stops on terrific. They were terrific against Cleveland in Toronto. They just need to do that again.

“We definitely missed a chance,” said Scola. “We had to win one game here, we had two left, and one is gone. We had no answer.”

Playing in Cleveland brings out worst in Raptors | Toronto Sun

As a result, this most magical of Raptors seasons is on life support. More home court heroics could extend it to yet another seven game finale, but Cleveland looks unstoppable at home (three wins by a combined 88 points, including this 116-78 annihilation) and might even be able to ride the momentum of a thrashing this thorough to finally seize a game north of the border.

“They physically pushed us around and took what they wanted,” Casey said afterward, pointing to huge edge on the offensive glass as one major difference.

“We knew they were going to come out like a freight train, they did. We didn’t meet that level at either end of the floor.”

The players repeated themselves several times in saying they don’t have a clue why the disparity between home and away is so large.

“We can’t play our game. We just can’t somehow, it’s crazy, we can’t find our energy and that’s just the bottom line,” said Bismack Biyombo, who had only four rebounds, a far cry from his dominance in Toronto.

“We’re a different team on the road. The way we play at home, we enjoy the game, we’re excited about the game. Once we’re on the road it’s a different story,” Biyombo repeated, taking ownership for the loss.

“I have to do a better job too, because we got outrebounded today pretty bad. They shot a really high percentage in the paint and I have a lot to do with that so I’ll take more responsibility on myself and get it done.”

The worrying signs started in Game 4, when the Raptors allowed the Cavs to score on 12 straight possessions and wipe out an 18-point lead. Though the Raptors ended up prevailing in that one, Cleveland saw how easy it could be and followed the blueprint in going on a 27-6 run in the second quarter, making 12-of-13 shots in that span to put the Raptors in grave danger.

Even if Raptors force Game 7, can they do anything in Cleveland? | Sportsnet.ca

It was so bad that ESPN loud talker Stephen A. Smith was considering apologizing to Americans for apologizing to Canadians as one wag on Twitter joked.

But once they were down by 20 with 10 minutes to go in the second quarter they made a stand of sorts. For about three or four minutes they kept the game at the farthest reaches of being within reach. It was for optimists-only territory, but still.

When Kyle Lowry cherry picked after a blocked lay-up and scored on a baseball pass, the Raptors were down just 21 with five minutes to go to the security of halftime. Force a turnover or two, make a few threes and they could imagine going into the half down 10 or less.

But then the dam broke and floodwaters rose. DeMar DeRozan got mad about a non-call and took a technical; Kevin Love hit a pair of free throws; and then Lowry turned it over leading to a solo fastbreak dunk by James. Bedlam. A couple of more scores and another James dunk. Madness. A Love three. More bedlam.

Kelly: The Raptors weren’t supposed to win Game 5, but they also weren’t supposed to lose this bad | The Globe and Mail

Problematically, it wasn’t LeBron James doing the damage. It was everyone else. In Toronto, Love and, to a lesser extent, Kyrie Irving, had decided to enjoy a dirty weekend instead of participating in a playoff series. Back in Ohio, they returned to duty.

James scored only four points in the first quarter. Love and Irving combined for 23. Cleveland won the frame 37-19. Toronto didn’t score its 37th point until a few minutes into the third.

As per Newton’s First Law, an object at rest (i.e. the Raptors) tends to stay at rest. An object in motion (i.e. the Cavaliers) will remain that way until it meets sufficient resistance. There was none.

Around the time they were introducing a professional wrestler named Dolph something-or-other during a TV timeout like he was the Pope, you knew it was over. That was halfway through the second quarter.

Then Casey put Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo on the court together. There are acts of desperation, and there’s whatever that was.

Despite the miserable occasion, Toronto has shaken off worse. We are past the point in this series where momentum means much. Home court rules.

Cavaliers never gave up on Love | Toronto Star

In Cleveland’s blowout 116-78 Game 5 win over the Raptors, Love came all the way back with 25 points, and two rebounds, assists and blocks. The combined 5-for-23 he shot in the losses in this series are long gone, replaced by a tidy 8-for-10 shooting night, including 3-for-4 from three, where the Cavs were 10-for-21 as a team, to the Raptors’ 3-for-17.

“Before we get started, I know Kevin didn’t play in the fourth quarter,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said as soon as he sat down at the post-game podium, making a joke that deserved more laughs than it got in a tough room after a blowout win. Love had sat out the fourth of the two previous games.

“His confidence never wavered. He knew exactly what he had to do. We talked about it (after Game 4) and (Wednesday) morning. I just want Kevin to be aggressive. I don’t care if he misses shots,” Lue said.

After two games as a nonfactor, Love’s first quarter was his redemption song. He made all four of his shots and helped lock down the Raptors’ big men. A mid-range fall-away attempt caught the rim, rolled up and dropped for him, a perfect moment in a perfect opening frame.

“He’s a force. He’s an offensive force down low,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of Love.

“We’ve done a good job on him the entire series. We have to meet his force with our force and do a better job with him in the low post and not just look at him at the three-point line. He has a game in the low post and we didn’t get a stop.”

Over-matched Raptors blown out by Cavaliers | Toronto Sun

If there was a positive for the Raptors in the game it was the opportunity it provided for Jonas Valanciunas to get some solid court time and perhaps get his game legs back under him.

Valanciunas wound up playing just over 18 minutes and finished with nine points but surprisingly not a single rebound.

The question now becomes can the Raptors get the series back to Cleveland for a seventh and deciding game?

Based on the way the three games have gone in Cleveland, the question must be asked, do they even want to?

The answer is of course they do. If this series has taught us one thing it is that every single game is different from the last.

The Raptors will get a chance to take one more crack at the Q but only if they can protect home court one more time.

Raptors crash in Game 5 of NBA Eastern final | Toronto Star

“I don’t know if we were ready for the train that was about to come down the tracks on us tonight.”

It was Cleveland’s clamp-down defence that was the difference when the game mattered. They got stops and forced turnovers that allowed them to operate at top offensive efficiency.

In the first half — and any statistics from the final two quarters were basically meaningless because the game was so far out of hand — the Raptors committed 11 turnovers that led to 20 Cleveland points. The Cavaliers had 26 points in the paint and 14 fast-break.

To a man, the Raptors had spoken between Monday’s Game 3 win and Wednesday about being ready for the predictable early-game onslaught from the Cavs and then did little to stop it.

Kevin Love, much maligned for his disappearing act in Games 3 and 4, made all six of his shots in the first half — three of them three-pointers — as Cleveland made it a point to get him involved immediately.

Hard to tell which team is ‘real’ Raptors | Toronto Sun

For the third straight time at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavaliers absolutely obliterated the Raptors — this one worse in both score and meaning — and now Cleveland is one win away from heading to the NBA Finals.

Game 5 looked like Game 2, which looked a little bit like Game 1. Homer stuff, this is. One-sided by geography.

So much for the momentum of two wins at home for the Raptors. Cleveland led 65-34 at halftime in Game 5 Wednesday night, after leading 62-48 at halftime in Game 2 here and 66-44 in Game 1.

It even translated to the players: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, so brilliant at the Air Canada Centre, were taken away by the Cavs trapping defence. They combined for 13 points in the half, after scoring more than 60 at the ACC.

Same teams playing: Different styles and diverse performances depending on where the games were played.

You know what might be interesting? A neutral-site game between the Cavs and the Raps. Less predictable, anyhow.

ECF Game 5: Raptors 78, Cavs 116 | Toronto Raptors

UNABLE TO BREAK THROUGH

The Raptors went into Game 5 talking about the importance of eliminating Cleveland’s runs and keeping things close in the first half. After finding themselves trailing by 31 at the break, the task of trying to come back from such a large deficit proved too much, particularly against a fired up Cavs team. Cleveland extended its lead to 40 points after three quarters. With a comeback out of reach, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey elected to rest his starters and give his bench extended run to close out the game.

Raptors’ evil twin shows up in Cleveland | TSN

After stunning the heavily-favoured Cavaliers, who had taken the first two games, by evening the series with a pair of inspired performances on home soil, the Raptors knew LeBron James and company would come out with that force Casey referenced. They did just that and after Toronto cut it’s deficit back down to four late in the opening quarter, they closed the half on a 45-18 run and never looked back. All of a sudden Kevin Love, who totalled 13 points in the last two games, was back. He scored 25 on 8-of-10 shooting while James and Kyrie Irving each chipped in with 23. They got what they wanted where they wanted whenever they wanted it. If it looked familiar it’s because you saw the same thing in Game 1, only this was worse and certainly a lot less expected.

HQ Overtime Post-Game Show: Let’s talk about that blowout | Raptors HQ

The Raptors got clean blown out in Game 5, losing 116-78. In a bit of an abridged show (sorry, but there’s just not a lot to discuss from this one), Russell Peddle and I will talk about the Cavs energy to start, the outburst from Kevin Love, and the funky rotations that Dwane Casey rolled out to try to spark his team.

The Cavs tame the Raptors ✋

A video posted by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

LeBron James’ confidence trumped adversity and the Toronto Raptors | cleveland.com

“I’ve been a part of some really adverse situations, and I just didn’t believe that this was one of them,” James said after Game 5.

Now, that quote can be taken any number of ways. Among them: James’ opinion of the Raptors compared to the Cavs is not high.

And after what’s gone down in this series at The Q – where the Cavs have won three games by 88 points – there’s some evidence to support his claim. He apparently feels it trumps what’s transpired in Toronto to date: the poor shooting from Love and (for a game) Kyrie Irving; the even-worse defense on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan; the 15-point loss in Game 3 and the 18-point deficit the proved to be too much in Game 4.

“It’s … understanding that our guys knew what we did and didn’t accomplish in Toronto,” James said. “I’m not taking away from the fact how big of a game this was, because it is – it’s a Game 5 on our home floor and the series tied 2-2.

“But from the very moment we lost Game 4, I was just very calm about the whole situation.”

Here’s where the history surrounding James starts to really stack up against the Raptors, even though they’ve won two elimination games at home in the playoffs this season.

James’ teams have never lost a series in which they led 2-0; they’ve won the last six closeout games; they’ve won at least one road game in the last 24 consecutive series.

The Raptors played so well at Air Canada Centre, and the Cavs so poorly, that a history defying win Friday night in Game 6 for Toronto is of course a possibility.

But then the series would return to Cleveland for Game 7, where the Cavs have dominated to the point of absurdity.

distraction king

A photo posted by @mffdjky on

Final Score: Cavs throttle Raptors 116-78, take 3-2 series lead | Fear The Sword

The Cavaliers looked sharp from the opening tip and got both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving engaged early. It was clear that both of the Cavaliers stars had brought their A game after a disappointing trip north of the border. Love repeatedly took advantage of being defended by Luis Scola and scored inside and out while playing locked in defense. Kyrie Irving fought through screens with gusto and also brought his usual offensive arsenal to the Q. By the end of the first quarter, the Cavs were up 18 and looked to be cruising to a 3-2 series lead.

Tyronn Lue inserted his trusty lineup of the bench unit plus LeBron to open the second and the gap widened. By halftime the Cavs had amassed a 31 point lead, the largest halftime lead in NBA conference finals history.

Things did not change after half time. The Cavaliers continued to outplay the Raptors in every meaningful way to close the third with a 100-60 lead and the game was effectively over.

Cavs Blast Raptors 116-78; Game 6 Goes Friday at the ACC | Raptors HQ

There was only one positive thing to takeaway from the game tonight as a Raptor fan, and that was the return of Jonas Valanciunas. Entering midway through the first JV quickly made an impact with a layup and mid-range J, while moving smooth and looking like himself and shaking off the rust during garbage time in the 4th.

Toronto Raptors demolished in Cleveland, now facing elimination | Raptors Cage

Defense: F

Again, embarrassing. The Cavs were getting basically anything they wanted and the Raptors allowed the slumping Kevin Love to go off on them tonight and get basically any shot he wanted. Love, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving scored a combined 71 points. Toronto only scored 78 as a group.The defense was just non existent tonight leading to 116 Cavalier points. Really, really disappointing effort on both ends by a team that was really rolling at the ACC.

Decompress Gate: On the sensationalism of Lowry’s bathroom break | The Defeated

Regardless, it reflects poorly on analysts to even entertain the idea of Lowry as a quitter and to pretend to read Lowry’s mind. It reveals a naivety of who Lowry is as a player. It stems back to how the Raptors are covered nationally — they’re virtually non-existent.
National outlets know exactly how to cover LeBron, Curry, Draymond, Westbrook, and Durant because they’ve been on them since Day 1. But who’s really paid close attention to the “Other” team, besides taking time to slap them in the face for having the gall to be a clumsy roadblock on the path to a fated battle?
Here’s what can’t be sensationalized and spun: Kyle Lowry never quit on his team, and because of that, the Raptors are two wins away from the NBA Finals. Maybe that’s not as juicy of a storyline, but it’s the truth. Imagine printing that.

Report: NBA execs think Bismack Biyombo will get $20 million | Fansided

“For someone like (Biyombo), I think when you look at a guy like Tyson Chandler and what he got from Phoenix last summer (four years, $52 million), that’s where you start for a contract,” one Eastern Conference GM told Sporting News. “But you factor in the cap spike and it’s probably going to be high, I’d say, $16-17 million. It’ll be a heck of a $17 million-per-year gamble.”

Who wants to overpay Biyombo? | For The Win

MAVERICKS

Dallas needs frontcourt help, and while Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban have traditionally tried to find value at the center position, this might be the year they just say “enough” and go get someone they know can rebound and defend the paint.

Don’t Break the Bank for Bismack Biyombo | TFB

While teams envision him as an elite rim-runner in the pick-and-roll due to his excellent screen-setting ability and long strides to the rim, he doesn’t have good enough hands catching the ball or finesse finishing once he has it to ever warrant full attention from the opposing defense. Given the fact that any time he’s not heading down the painted area, his defender can sag off and clog the lane, what Biyombo can contribute offensively is very limited.

Without a doubt, Biyombo is an elite defender and can be a valuable part of any NBA rotation for his contributions on that side of the ball alone. He’s earned a pay raise this offseason and has shown he’ll be around in this league for years to come.

I’d place the 4-year, $53M extension Orlando signed with Nik Vucevic (I’d argue a similarly one-sided player, albeit the side of the ball that gets more attention in his case) as the cap to where teams should be looking to reach for Biyombo’s services. Start to approach the deals of Tristan Thompson or Enes Kanter, and I think a team will go on to regret it. The Bismack Biyombo hype train is a very fun ride, but it shouldn’t serve as a daily commuter.

Are the Toronto Raptors Similar to 2011 Dallas Mavericks? | The Smoking Cuban

Toronto has had a similar route through the playoffs, somehow finding themselves as the underdog in each series. In the first round, the Raptors had a tough run-in with a very talented Indiana Pacers team led by Paul George. A close series with a nonexistent Lowry led people to believe in a Pacers victory. Raptors win 4-3.

Next up come the Miami Heat where Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside have put together a dangerous team that demands attention from any team that faces them. The lowly Raptors really had no shot but showed up to play anyways. Raptors win 4-3.

Now Toronto faces the Cleveland Cavaliers who looked untouchable 5 days ago. Almost anyone who had watched the Cavs at this point thought a sweep was in order and it would be a waiting game on who would come out of the West. Surely the Raptors wouldn’t be able to compete with this elite squad? Raptors tie it 2-2 after last night.

It is hard to imagine a scenario where the Raptors are capable of winning a title this year. With so many questions and concerns surrounding them the entire playoffs, its a wonder they are still in it. But the same thing was said about the Mavs just a few years ago.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com


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Well, that was hot garbage.

Honestly, though? The eight-hour Greyhound both ways, the mediocre Air BNB, the loss of two days and a lot of sleep, all for what’s probably the ugliest loss in franchise history? Worth it. I just covered a road game (a first) in the Eastern Conference Finals involving the Toronto Raptors. Some are going to want to get reflective and be-proud-for-this-much, others will want to be mad and wonder how they could turn in a performance this awful in such a big spot. I’m…oscillating between the two. We’ll see how I feel about it in the morning before writing my column for tomorrow.

Game 5. Let's get it.

A photo posted by Blake Murphy (@eblakemurphy) on

Until then, here are your post-game notes and quotes.

Butt status: Kicked

“They kicked our butts. That’s the bottom line,” Dwane Casey said to open his post-game availability.

He highlighted rebounding and physicality as reasons but didn’t have an answer for why this keeps happening in Cleveland but not Toronto. It’s not an effort thing, according to Casey, and he was quick to point out that the Raptors just won two big games.

“One thing about it, it’s 3-2,” he said. “It was 2-2, it was embarrassing the way we played tonight, but it’s one game…This series is not over.”

Casey kept returning to “the level of playing with force” and comments on the physicality. Again, it’s unclear what the difference is between home and road, and why that physicality (or whatever it is at the root of this weird phenomenon – Tyronn Lue didn’t have a tangible reason, either) wanes. “We’ve gotta figure that out, the level we’ve gotta get to in this building.”

They sure do, because even if they win Friday at home, they’re coming right back here Sunday with a berth in the NBA Finals on the line.

“We had an opportunity to come in here and do something special and we didn’t get it done,” Casey said. “I don’t know if we were ready for the train that was coming down the tracks for us tonight.”

Yeah, no kidding. The Raptors’ locker room was closed an exceptionally long time after the game, likely as they try to figure things out themselves. DeMar DeRozan said the team will worry about Game 7 in Cleveland once they’re through taking care of Game 6 in Toronto (probably the right approach), while Kyle Lowry was at an understandable loss.

“I don’t know,” Lowry offered. “They play very well here. They protect home….But, uhh, yeah.”


My thoughts exactly, in that I have no earthly idea how to explain it, either.

Swag status: Elevated

All day, the Cavs exuded a quiet confidence and calm about the matter at hand. Their belief in themselves never waned, and there was a strange energy around them about an hour before tip-off. It wasn’t necessarily cockiness or hubris, but it almost seems, in retrospect, that the Cavs knew this was coming.

It was telling, too, that Lue opened his post-game press conference in a light manner, cracking a joke before anyone could even get a question out.


That’s indicative of the swagger the Cavs carried themselves with all night and their own comfort level now that they have control of the series back with a chance to close out on Friday. That’s something Irving had already turned his focus to as he sat in the fourth.


“It’s just a business trip,” Lue said of keeping that momentum up for Friday.


“I’ve been a part of some really adverse situations,” James said of the confidence. “I just didn’t believe this was one of them…I’m not taking away from how big of a game this is…But from the moment we lost Game 4, I was just very calm about the situation.”

Well, there’s your whiteboard material for Game 6, if the game tape isn’t enough.

Lineup notes, finding Love

I keep trying to get the lineup data outside of what I have in my notes, and the NBA page is giving me this:

dumpster-fire

Seriously, though, there’s not much to unpack here. All of the groups were bad. Here are a few notables.

Starters: Toronto’s group was a -13 in 14 minutes. The Cavs were a plus-18 in 19 minutes.
Benchnik Termites: Cleveland’s lethal James-and-bench unit continued to kill Toronto, to the tune of plus-7 in five minutes. That pushes them to a plus-30 in 30 minutes in the series.
Valanciunas and Biyombo: The dual-center look was outscored 5-2 in a shade under three minutes.

No, seriously, the two centers played nearly three minutes together. That might be something I look more closely at for Friday, as it’s something I’ve been asked a lot about. In broad terms, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to play them together, but there are matchups against which it’s tenable, if the Raptors leverage the advantages well. They didn’t even bother to try to leverage those edges here.

And again, my biggest issue once blowouts are done is that we learn next to nothing. The plays, the coverages, the rotations, the execution, none of those things at the margins move the needle much when the outcome is decided by 38 points. We’ll look at them, as always, but when everything the Cavs do works and everything the Raptors do doesn’t, and every matchup is a decisive Cavs victory, there aren’t major lessons to glean. This was the case after Game 1, too, and it was only after Game 2 was a little tighter that we started to see what Toronto may be able to do differently.

There’s also this stat that just about sums up anything you need to know about lineups: James, Irving, and Love combined for 71 points on 27-of-44 shooting (55 possessions), while the Raptors as a whole managed just 78 points on 27-of-69 shooting (on roughly 97 possessions).

As for Love’s bounce-back game, Casey offered this: “He’s a force. he’s an offensive force down low. We’ve done a good job on him the entire series. We’ve gotta do a better job meeting his force with our force.”

“His confidence never wavered,” Lue said. He and Love spoke throughout the day and Love gave him an “I told you so” after his big night. And what the strong play of Love and Irving does in opening things up for James is obvious, and it’s downright deadly.

“We’ve gotta take one of them out of the game,” Lowry said.

Assorted

*Somehow, this is in play and not all that far-fetched:


Do you have any idea how difficult that is to do? To continually be outscored but win anyway, to get blown out in losses but manage tight wins? I have to go back and double check this, but there seems a reasonable chance that the Raptors would have the worst point differential of any team that’s ever won 10 games in a postseason. That is at the same time frustrating and incredible, speaking to their toughness and resiliency and lending a shred of hope for the series (or pessimism, depending on your outlook).

*Casey seemed generally pleased with the minutes Jonas Valanciunas was able to provide in his return. If nothing else, this game allowed him to knock the rust off some, and as the Cavs continue to trap the Toronto ball-handlers aggressively, the Raptors may need Valanciunas more to alleviate that pressure. The big man finished with nine points on perfect shooting in 18 minutes but was somehow kept off the glass, a team-wide issue.



*An interesting note: The Cavs have shot far fewer threes in their wins than losses, which speaks to either their own aggressive approach, Toronto’s defense, or a mix of both. It seemed Toronto had found the right middle ground, and they’ll need to find it in a hurry to avoid getting killed in the paint once again.

*James referred to the ACC as “that beast of an arena” when speaking with Doris Burke after the game. Game 6 could be the final home game of the season, and I’m really excited to see how the crowd one-ups itself after a strong season and an absolutely incredible playoff run that’s let the world know that any lip service paid to that arena and fanbase is rooted in reality. It should be a point of pride for the fans, as it is for the players.


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Was there a game today? There wasn’t a game today, was there? There was? Really? When? What happened? Lemme check. Oh…shit, that happened? Is that the really the score? Hmm..I guess there was a game today.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can download the file or just listen below:


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Toronto 78 Final
Recap | Box Score
116 Cleveland
L. Scola 15 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -13 +/-

Scored the first three points of the game, got abused by Kevin Love, and provided zero help on the glass when Cleveland was feasting on 2nd-chance points.

D. Carroll 27 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-4 3FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -25 +/-

Continues to shoot the ball very poorly. He was blown-by by Richard Jefferson.

B. Biyombo 21 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 3-3 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | -21 +/-

He was outworked by Tristan Thompson all night. Couldn’t stifle LeBron and protect the rim as well as he did in games 3 and 4.

K. Lowry 29 MIN | 5-12 FG | 1-4 3FG | 2-6 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 13 PTS | -25 +/-

FIVE turnovers. Struggled immensely getting out of double-teams.

D. DeRozan 31 MIN | 2-8 FG | 0-0 3FG | 10-12 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -32 +/-

Scored 14 points and somehow led the team in scoring. He couldn’t generate any offense – and that’s usually all he generates. Team-worst -32.

J. Thompson 12 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +2 +/-

Guarded Mozgov in 12 minute of 4th quarter garbage time.

J. Johnson 11 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -3 +/-

Got absolutely roasted by LeBron.

P. Patterson 19 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -24 +/-

Though he was an immediate upgrade when he came in for Scola in the first quarter, he was pretty subdued all night. At least he’ll be there for the game 6 gong-show.

T. Ross 21 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-3 3FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -13 +/-

Oh hi there.

J. Valanciunas 18 MIN | 4-4 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | -17 +/-

Efficient offensively. Thought he could have played more. If he’s on the bench because he’s a liability against Cleveland’s 5-out lineup, you’d expect the Raptors to, at the very least, not get massacred with JV on the bench.

C. Joseph 10 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-1 3FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | -20 +/-

He was a zero offensively and was blown away on the other end of the floor.

D. Wright 12 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 3FG | 2-5 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +2 +/-

Length of fourth quarter garbage time: 12 minutes.
He played: 12 minutes.
Coincidence: not.

N. Powell 13 MIN | 3-9 FG | 0-0 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -1 +/-

Did not have my eyes glued to the TV screen during garbage time. This was probably not the most enjoyable way for these guys to soak in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Dwane Casey

That could be harsh, but it probably isn’t. To an extent there’s only so much he can do off the court, but it’s on him to prepare the team mentally heading back into the hell-fire that is the Q Arena where the team was crucified twice already. Weird things: having both JV and Biyombo available but sitting both at the same time, and then playing both at the same time when you needed offense badly.

Mind-boggling that he hasn’t yet figured out Cleveland’s ‘death lineup’.

Five Things We Saw

  1. The defensive sets in the half-court to start this game were fine. What wasn’t – Cleveland eating up all the rebounds and enjoying an excessive amount of 2nd-chance points. That really set the tone for the Cavs to score 37 first quarter points, and the Raptors collapsed after that.
  2. Cleveland’s big three was unstoppable tonight, combining for 71 points. If Cleveland is that hot offensively, you’re probably not going to stop them, especially when your own all-stars completely lay an egg.
  3. So, this play continues to be a problem:

  4. Not only was the death lineup having its way offensively, but they also held the Raptors to 8 straight minutes without a single field goal. Defensively, they were suffocating.

    Homecourt advantage is a very real thing.


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Patrick Patterson is available to return to Game 5. He may not want to, though.

The Toronto Raptors power forward appeared to be in some discomfort before checking out midway through the second quarter, and the team sent him for a precautionary X-ray on his left hand as a result. He’s been diagnosed with a contusion after X-rays came back negative, and he can return if needed.

UPDATE: He returned in the third.

Down 31 at half time, the Raptors need all the help they can get if they’re going to mount such an historic comeback. Nobody played “well” in the disaster of a first half, and Patterson was a minus-13 in 12 minutes, knocking down a lone three and being held without a rebound.

If he’s limited, expect a heavier load on DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson as smaller fours, and perhaps extended run for Luis Scola. Or hey, maybe the Raptors go back to the weird Jonas Valanciunas-Bismack Biyombo look they tried for 2:37 in the first half.


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Enjoy this Bismack Biyombo playoff run. Soak it all in. Appreciate him now.

Because he probably won’t be here next year.

Rival executives believe Biyombo’s playoff surge has pushed him into the $16-17-million dollar range in free agency this summer, according to a report from Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. That’s a report that Zach Lowe can corroborate, or at least confirm that there’s chatter Biyombo could reach those levels on the open market.

The Biyombo free agency situation deserves a much longer analysis that doesn’t happen 10 minutes before the biggest game in franchise history, and that’s coming once the playoffs end. For now, here’s what you need to remember:

*Biyombo is an unrestricted free agent, so the Raptors don’t have the right to match offers he receives.

*The Raptors also don’t have Biyombo’s Bird Rights, which means they’ll have to use cap space rather than an exception to give him a significant raise.

*The Raptors won’t have the requisite cap space to pay Biyombo anywhere near that reported salary without renouncing the rights to DeMar DeRozan or unloading pieces (likely one of Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, or DeMarre Carroll).

Those points add up to this: If the Raptors are to retain Biyombo, doing so becomes their marquee offseason move. There are ways of retaining him – complicated cap machinations and ledger ballet, to be sure – and doing so would render the team less flexible and thinner. They’d be betting on a ton of further improvement from him, and that may be a reasonable bet, but it’s incredibly risky when losing DeRozan or Valanciunas is the cost.

It’s a major credit to Biyombo that these conversations are taking place. He’s been great in his backup role all season, and his play when thrust into larger opportunities clearly has rival teams looking at him like a starter. It’s a huge win for the Raptors that they found such a bargain and helped him develop his game so substantially (the Hornets didn’t even tender him a qualifying offer last summer).

Seeing him take the next step would hurt, but that’s the reality of being a great team. Sometimes, players are going to price themselves away, and when you find a complete stud for cheap on the market, it’s going to be really difficult to retain them long-term.

“Tyson Chandler, Ben Wallace, someone like that, that is what you hope he becomes next year,” an Eastern Conference general manager told Deveney. “He is never going to be a big-time offensive guy. But as much scoring that goes out to the perimeter, that would not matter on a lot of rosters. He can be a starter somewhere.”

Again, all of this requires a much thorough analysis when I’m not quite literally in my seat for Game 5. That’s coming after the playoff run, but at least now we can have these comment/twitter discussions with a real number in mind instead of hypotheticals.

But, yeah, maybe enjoy Biyombo over the next couple of weeks.


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The Toronto Raptors, accompanied by your boy, are back in Ohio to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unlike the first game, the Raptors aren’t entering with a sense of this being a formality. The underdog, sure, but this is no longer a sweep in waiting, with the Raptors simply attempting to win a game to show they belonged.

They never felt that way, mind you, but that was the general feeling, and that’s no longer the case. The Raptors were rolled by a combined 50 points over two games in Cleveland to start the series, only for the turn to Toronto to produce a pair of exciting, gutty, and impressive victories. The Raptors have revealed chinks in the armor of the Cavs, particularly on the defensive end, and an untimely team-wide shooting slump from long-range has rendered Cleveland unable to just bludgeon their way through it.

On Wednesday, Cleveland is unlikely to shoot or play as poorly, and Toronto may have taken something amounting to their best punch (save for a near-disastrous nine-minute stretch). Outcomes aren’t beholden to likelihoods and certainties, as the Raptors have shown here so far, and a smaller sample nudges things in the favor of the underdog. The Raptors don’t need how they win to be sustainable, they just need it to work, one game at a time.

At some point, it has to work on the road, either here or in Game 7 on Sunday. There’s enough evidence to suggest it won’t that Cleveland remains a prohibitive favorite. There’s enough evidence it just might that the Raptors are setting record ratings, sending hoards of fans to Cleveland for a week-night game, and making the Cavaliers as some difficult questions about how they can correct their seemingly pre-ordained course.

The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. from Quicken Loans Arena. ESPN has the game in the U.S., with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke on the call, while Sportsnet has the Canadian broadcast and TSN 1050 has radio rights. Mike Callahan, Ed Malloy, and Tom Washington are the officials.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 4, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

*I’ve got your full game preview here. Obviously, it’s nails, and you should start there. I supplemented it with a breakdown of Cleveland’s nearly game-changing run of 14 straight possessions with points.
*It’s a great time to be a Raptors fan, even for those of us who are happy to be wrong. The Raptors, though, aren’t finished yet.
*Dikembe Mutombo may not have given Bismack Biyombo permission to use the finger wag. Biyombo wants to cut “the media bullshit.”
*Jonas Valanciunas could be involved tonight.

The incomparable Zach Lowe wrote about how the Raptors have made a series of this, and it makes me mostly not want to bother trying to do the same. He’s so good. Looking ahead to the Raptors’ finals opponent, Lee Jenkins wrote a terrific piece on Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Lee is also in the “how can a writer be this good” camp.

This one’s just fun: Human Bed Bug Matthew Dellavedova has his own coffee, and my road-trip partner Alex Wong wrote about it for GQ.

Raptors updates
In the event you’ve been sleeping the last week (god, that sounds good), Jonas Valanciunas is edging nearer and nearer to a return. He was upgraded from out to doubtful to questionable between Games 3 and 4, and was then active and available Monday. Head coach Dwane Casey made the decision not to deploy him at the very intense point of the game that made sense beforehand, and the team’s hopeful he can get some run – and make an impact – in Game 5.

“We’ll see,” Casey offered before the game. “We hope to get him in and find him some minutes and get his feet wet.”

Expect him to be active and available off the bench once again. Valanciunas said he’s not 100 percent but getting close, and he’s ready to go whenever. Here’s what I wrote about his potential involvement earlier in the week:

A full-strength Valanciunas may be able to do enough damage on the offensive end to account for the downfalls of having to chase Love or Frye, but early on, it’s smart to try to use him where he can have the most success. In Game 4, the Cavaliers pulled Tristan Thompson early to get Frye and Love together, then brought Thompson back in for the bulk of the second. If they do that again, that’s probably the time to try to get Valanciunas work – there was a 4:21 stretch to start the second where Thompson was on the court (the majority of it as the lone big) and Bismack Biyombo was off of it, and while the Raptors went plus-5 during that time, matchup wise, it’s Valanciunas’ best target.

They should probably look to get him at least a few minutes, as Biyombo has played 80 minutes over the last two games. Given the intensity of his style and the energy required to play it, there’s a risk he hits a wall at some point. Or not, it’s Biyombo after all. In any case, he’s been a huge asset for the defense matching up against these stretchier Cleveland groups.

And to those suggesting he start, Casey said Monday that Valanciunas is the starter once he’s 100 percent, but he won’t be there yet. The combination of Biyombo’s rhythm and the difficulty the Scola-Valanciunas frontcourt has had defensively probably mean it makes sense to bring him off the bench selectively (and there are opportunities, as discussed within).

Then there’s the risk of bringing a regular starter off the bench against a less optimal matchup. Regardless of the matchup, Valanciunas may be called on if Cleveland traps aggressively like they did late in Game 4, too. So…yeah, none of this is easy.

Raptors projected rotation
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Delon Wright)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, T.J. Ross, (Norman Powell)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, (Bruno Caboclo)
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson
C: Bismack Biyombo, Jonas Valanciunas, (Jason Thompson), (Lucas Nogueira)

The question now becomes who loses out because of Valanciunas’ involvement. The easy answer is Biyombo, who is playing at the very maximum of his potential workload given his energy expenditure, but it could also mean a crunch on the wing (Johnson and Ross) as the Raptors go smaller less often. Otherwise, the rotation seems pretty set how it is right now, with the option to call on birthday boy Norman Powell to slow Kyrie Irving if he gets hot.

Check back before tip off to confirm the starters, but they’re likely the same.

Cavaliers updates
The Eunuch Maker Dahntay Jones returns from his one-game suspension and now faces a talent-imposed infinite-game suspension, barring some unexpected garbage time. The Cavaliers are good to go top to bottom, with Kevin Love (knee, ankle, shoulder) a little banged up but toughing it out.

“He’s fine,” Tyronn Lue said, before transitioning to Love’s struggles. “If you miss 10 or 11 shots, so what? you’ve gotta take them with confidence…I’m not really too discouraged about Kevin missing shots.”

Cavaliers projected rotation
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, (Mo Williams)
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, (Dahntay Jones), (Jordan McRae)
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, (James Jones)
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, (Timofey Mozgov), (Sasha Kaun)

The Cavs will probably be reactionary when it comes to Valanciunas’ minutes, and both sides may prefer the Valanciunas-Thompson matchup. Thompson hasn’t played much late in games, and while part of that is that Biyombo has been winning their battles of late, part of it is just strategic based on the matchup.

“Tristan’s been great,” he said. Asked why Frye’s been playing more, Lue offered it’s to “Get Biyombo out of the paint. I thought it worked early in the first quarter and it also worked in the second half.”

Frye would also serve to draw Valanciunas out of the paint, but both Frye and Love would present an opportunity for Valanciunas at the other end, as covered. Timofey Mozgov may need to be dusted off if Valanciunas plays well, but that’s a win for Toronto’s offense. Whatever happens in the post, it’s probably going to be a matter of a few possessions here and there as Valanciunas works his way back in.

Elsewhere, Lue could call on veteran Mo Williams in order to help further push the pace. Williams has been only a rumor in the series, but if he sees a few mintues at the expense of, say, Iman Shumpert in second-unit groups, he adds additional ball-handling and shooting to make that attack even deadlier (preventing help from the strong corner on Cleveland’s primary pet play). It sacrifices defense, though, and the Raptors have the guards to attack him and the wings (Carroll, primarily) to post him (or Irving, when they hide him) up or hurt him with duck-ins and cuts.

“I like Mo’s pace. I like the way he pushes the basketball,” Lue said.

Lue confirmed there are no changes to the starters.

Pre-game news and notes
*”We enjoy when people count us out. I think that fuels us,” Casey said of being written off so far. “We’re a program that’s trying to get where Cleveland’s been.”

*”No pressure,” Lue said of returning home at 2-2, pointing to the home-court advantage they still enjoy. “The first team that wins on the other team’s floor now has the series,” Casey said.

*Lue acknowledged that the Raptors are doubling James in the post and urged him to “stay aggressive,” but (correctly) noted that James is making the right passers through that. He thinks James could take a few more of the shots the Raptors are daring him to take.

*The Cavs want to push the pace, and that’s part of the reason Williams could see time. Lue also thinks it’s a solution for the Raptors “loading up” on James. The Cavs’ killer run late in Game 4 was a mix of transition and dead-ball looks, but it was the attacks off of turnovers and stops that raised a shrug when trying to suggest how to defend them. The Cavs have too much speed and too much shooting, so the Raptors will have to continue to be diligent in beating the Cavs back across half.

*In terms of defensive adjustments, expect J.R. Smith to be more physical with DeRozan in this one. The sense I got was that the Cavs really don’t want DeRozan getting comfortable early, and Smith seems to prefer playing a more physical defensive style than sink-and-wait. Lue wouldn’t tip his hand, while Casey said the team is prepared for Cleveland to make changes. “It won’t be anything he hasn’t seen before,” Casey said.

Assorted
*No Raptors made an All-Defense Team. Kyle Lowry received nine first-team votes and 43 voting points overall (essentially, he would have been Third Team, if such a thing existed), while Bismack Biyombo received a single second-team vote. Neither had an elite case for a spot, given the competition at their positions and, in Biyombo’s case, his limited role (keep in mind that playoffs don’t matter here). So Raptors have now received votes for Executive of the Year, Coach of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Rookie Team, and All-Defense Team. Expect Lowry’s name to show up on one of the three All-NBA Teams.

*The Raptors continue to smash viewership records with this playoff run.


Even if it’s not matching, say, the station-owned baseball team on its own historic run a few months ago, it’s still awesome that more people are watching the Raptors now than ever before.

*Here’s your Game 5 swag update:

Oh we here.

A photo posted by Blake Murphy (@eblakemurphy) on

The line
Game 1: Cavaliers -10.5 (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 84)
Game 2: Cavaliers -11.5 (Cavaliers 108, Raptors 89)
Game 3: Cavaliers -5.5 (Raptors 99, Cavaliers 84)
Game 4: Cavaliers -6.5 (Raptors 105, Cavaliers 99)
Game 5: Cavaliers -11.5
Series: Cavaliers -1000 (90.9% implied win probability)

The market sure is confident in the Cavs in this one – the line’s pushed from Cavs -10 at open all the way to -11.5 here 80 minutes before tip off. The Raptors, if they know such things, are surely happy, and it’s further ammunition for those fans who are keeping the faith.


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Greetings once more from this spotty-WiFi on a Greyhound bound for Cleveland. The bus ride has reached hilarious heights – Alex Wong, the 21-year-old college basketball player beside me I just met, and I were all looking at the same meme at the same time. The internet is a beautiful place.

Even more important than the trip for Game 5, though, is that I’m about two hours away from sneaking on to the Fast 8 lot and finally kick-starting my overdue career as a low-rent henchman in action movies.

And yes, the “two hours” part means I’m not making it in time for shootaround. The Raptors and Cavs both had availability this morning ahead of Game 5 (8:30). Here are your notes and quotes from those sessions.

Biyombo responds to Mutombo

Dikember Mutombo caused quite a stir when he told TMZ that he never officially passed along the finger wag to Bismack Biyombo. The two are close, and Mutombo didn’t really seem bothered in the interview (to me, anyway), so I originally thought this was all in good fun. As happens, though, it made it’s way through the aggregation mill (guilty here), and now it’s a story.

Our man Josh Lewnenberg of TSN caught up with Biyombo to get his response:

And if we can end it there, that would be great. Because Biyombo’s going to keep blocking shots, and he’s going to keep wagging that finger, especially at home, where he’s had the Air Canada Centre eating out of his hand all playoffs.


The following table is unrelated to the wag, but I was curious about how Biyombo’s 2015-16 stacks up to Mutombo’s same-age season (or his closest – Mutombo wasn’t a rookie until 25) and how this playoff run stacks up to Mutombo’s deep run with the Sixers.

biztombo
Biyombo leads the NBA in total rebounds in the playoffs, by the way. The Raptors have played the maximum number of games, of course, but it’s still awesome for a backup forced into starting duty and still averaging less than 30 minutes. Bismack forever.

Valanciunas ready but can’t put a percentage on it

Jonas Valanciunas is ready if needed Wednesday. The center was active and available Monday, the next step in his recovery from an ankle sprain, but head coach Dwane Casey opted not to deploy him based on the situations that presented themselves. Two days later, he should be in even better shape, and the Lithuanian sounds like he’s feeling good.

Unrelated, Valanciunas was asked about his improving range and revealed this nugget.


He told me early in the year that he would hit threes “next year, definitely,” and adding that to his arsenal would be a fun tweak. The Raptors wouldn’t lean on it a ton – he’s too valuable inside to have him roam the perimeter – but it opens up some pick-and-roll options, gives a defense an additional weapon to think about, and could be a useful asset in transition, when Valanciunas is often the trailer and winds up with the ball at the top for several seconds waiting for a ball-handler to appear.

As for tonight, we covered off his potential role and usage in the preview. And to those suggesting he start, Casey said Monday that Valanciunas is the starter once he’s 100 percent, but he won’t be there yet. The combination of Biyombo’s rhythm and the difficulty the Scola-Valanciunas frontcourt has had defensively probably mean it makes sense to bring him off the bench selectively (and there are opportunities, as discussed within).

Assorted

*Casey is enjoying his own battle more than Warriors-Thunder. You really can’t go wrong between the two, and this unique Warriors drama (and the overdue ascension of a Thunder core I’ve been behind, on a personal level) is making for great viewing. But, yeah, the last two Cavs-Raptors games, plus, you know, the Raptors being here, give the East the win around these parts, too.


Despite the excitement and “now it’s a series!” sentiment, the Cavs remain unflinching in their confidence.


Also confident in the Cavs? Bookmakers, who give them the best odds of winning the NBA Championship right now.

*More fun randomness from Mazz:

*Today is Norman Powell’s 23rd birthday. So, obviously, he’s going to dunk on LeBron tonight.

*The Raptors are expected to begin bringing in prospects for pre-draft workouts next week. Most teams have already gotten started but those teams aren’t in a conference final.


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The Toronto Raptors won Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That much is true and can never be taken away from them. Whatever variance happened within – torrid shooting from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, frigid shooting from Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, any fortuitous bounce or call here and there – can’t be changed now. For the “don’t complain in a win” crowd, the tiny samples of a playoff series that’s now essentially down to three games is the necessary justification to live in the present.

At the same time, they very nearly didn’t win that game. They blew what was once an 18-point lead, and they’ll need to do a better job at the defensive end if they’re going to come back home with a chance to close out early. This isn’t to disparage an excellent effort and a really fun game, but it’s kind of hard not to write about a stretch that saw the Cavs come away with points on 14 consecutive possessions and hit on 11 field-goal attempts in a row.

Those aren’t exaggerations. With 51 seconds to play in the third quarter, the Raptors led by 11. Kyrie Irving hit a mid-range shot, and from then until Kyle Lowry spectacularly blew up a play with 4:11 to go in the fourth, the Cavs didn’t come away empty-handed. They scored 31 points on 14 possessions, a rate of 221.4 PPC, compared to 90.7 PPC for the rest of the game. What’s more, they did it primarily running the same action, one the Raptors kept trying to adjust to only to run into counter after counter. The Raptors eventually slowed it enough for Cleveland to go away from it (or the Cavs just had mercy), and I’d bet anything that the bulk of the film work Tuesday centered on these sets.

Let’s have a look at the entire set. We’re going to speed through, just because it will get really repetitive otherwise. And then we’ll hit on Lowry’s awesome single-handed snuff-out to end the run. (I won’t break it down due to time constraints, but I’ll point out that the Raptors’ defense over the final four minutes was borderline terrific.)

The prelude

Lineup: Irving-Smith-James-Love-Thompson
Time: 0:51
Start Score: 76-65
End Score:78-69 (-2)

The Cavs haven’t gone to their core group yet but they build a bit of momentum late in the frame (did you know the Raptors struggle to end quarters?) thanks to a pair of Irving jumpers. There’s nothing wrong with the first, as Irving simply hits an off-dribble 17-footer in isolation after the Raptors snuff out the initial action.

Coming back down, the Raptors get set quickly enough to prevent a two-for-one, and so it’s once again on Irving to hit a very tough shot.

Notice how stagnant the offense is around Irving on these two possessions? That’s been an issue for Cleveland at times in this series, and the Raptors seemed more willing in Game 4 to let him go one-on-one without much help (away from the rim) in order to keep the others out of the flow.

The Benchnik Termites

Lineup: Dellavedova-Shumpert-Jefferson-James-Frye
Time: 5:21
Start Score: 78-69
End Score: 89-88 (-8)

This is the Cavs’ lineup that’s really hurt the Raptors during this series. It may look odd on paper, but the blend of secondary ball-handling, shooting, offense, and defense, plus the chance to use James as a de facto point guard despite him playing the four, can be deadly. In the series so far, they’ve played 23 minutes together, outscoring the Raptors by 25 (by far Cleveland’s best lineup). They’re shooting 67.6 percent overall, 9-of-14 on threes, and they’ve assists on 17 of 25 field goals. We’re about to see why.

On the second play. The first play is a bit of a “what can you do,” as the Raptors defend well in semi-transition, force a James pass, snuff out a Jefferson attack, close out on a shooter…and then Patterson gets beat by Jefferson for a layup that Jefferson has no business hitting.

The next play first shows the issue of Frye. The Cavs run off a miss and push to Dellavedova in the corner while Frye trails the play. Johnson comes down some because he’s the rim protector in this lineup, and Patterson is preoccupied with a cutting James and unable to help when the pass comes up to Frye.

frye 3

I’m not sure if you’ve been paying close attention, but Frye is pretty deadly at the top left alone.

The Raptors finally get to defend off of a dead ball, and the Cavs go to the primary play from this set (#1). This is how they’ll initiate a lot of the next few plays.

james right elbow

Dellavedova feeds James in the high post on the right side in a HORNs formation. From there, he’ll set a down-screen for Jefferson, then come back up for a hand-off from James. The Dellavedova-Jefferson action doesn’t do a ton here, but the Dellavedova-James hand-off forces the Raptors into a tough spot. Johnson drops back and Lowry goes over the James screen.

play 2

James delays his roll as the Raptors load up on Dellavedova. They’re fine on the strong side, but the way they’re set up, there’s nobody to bump James on the dive or protect the rim…unless Patterson comes off of Frye.

play 3

Patterson begins to show that way, so Dellavedova instead makes a great pass right to Frye, cutting out he middle man.

Already, the lead’s down to one, and Casey calls a timeout. DeRozan returns for Ross, but the real point here is to get Biyombo back in for Johnson (not that Johnson hasn’t done a good job on James, but Biyombo’s their best defensive big). Somewhat curiously, though, Biyombo guards Frye. He can do that, but Biyombo’s biggest value is at the rim and on the glass, and asking him to chase Frye takes him out of those roles and shifts them to Patterson, who’s less adept. Whether it’s hiding on Shumpert in a help-safety role or guarding James, where he did well coaxing him into jumpers, Biyombo on Frye isn’t optimal

The Cavs run the same initial action (#2), this time the Dellavedova-Jefferson produces a Jefferson cut (DeRozan, not Joseph, is on Jeffferson now). Biyombo is caught between helping at the rim and staying on Frye.

bizx

And, yeah, again, Frye is too good to have looks like this.

Next time down (#3), the same play call results in a Dellavedova lob to James.

Notice how that time, Frye came up from the corner to the wing, adding an additional wrinkle and leaving Biyombo in an impossible spot.

biz

The Cavs did the Raptors the favor of going away from this on the next play so James could attack one-on-one in semi-transition.

In the words of Fabolous, do me a favor, don’t do me no favors.

They don’t, going right back to the action (#4) top produce a James post-lob for Jefferson. That’s made possible by the Dellavedova down-screen, which causes Joseph and DeRozan to switch the action.

The next time down (#5), the Raptors defend the pet play about as perfectly as they can. Joseph and DeRozan don’t have to switch, Jefferson doesn’t have a cut lane to draw Biyombo away from Frye, Patterson does well to drop back against Dellavedova (since the Raptors no longer care about James in the mid-range or outside the arc, as a matter of strategy), and Biyombo keeps a good space around Frye’s flare.

delly

And so of course, Dellavedova hits a tough contested runner.

Are you tired of seeing that play yet? Imagine how the Raptors felt. Every tweak, and the Cavs had a counter. Luckily, a Cavs timeout lends a reprieve, and the introduction of Irving back in for Shumpert will prove paramount for the Raptors keeping pace while Cleveland’s rolling.

Irving returns

Lineup: Irving-Dellavedova-Jefferson-James-Frye
Time: 2:28
Start Score: 89-88
End Score: 96-96 (-1)

In theory, these same sets with Irving in place of Shumpert should be even better offensively. Even if he were just the strong-corner spot-up threat, he’s a much better shooter than Shumpert, and he’s going to draw a better defender than Shumpert in most cases in the event he puts the ball on the floor.

Instead, they have Irving trail through a James screen and then drift tot he corner (bumping Jefferson up toward the wing), as James comes up to screen for Dellavedova. Patterson drops back, and it initially looks like Biyombo is going to tag James, so Patterson gives Dellavedova a bit more attention (attention that should probably be coming from DeRozan while Patterson recovers to the rim). Again, Frye’s gravity is obvious.

biz frye

Dellavedova swings to Frye, with Biyombo timing off of James well to recover. Meanwhile, Patterson scurries back to defend James on the block, while Joseph gets ready to help at the rim and DeRozan zones up the weak side.

james attention

Unfortunately, the threat of James passing to either the corner or Jefferson allows Jefferson an edge, and he cuts for a dunk.

We get a break on the next play, as Patterson fouls James after having the ball taken from him.

On the next play, the Cavs run a similar action (#6, though it’s not exactly the same), with Irving passing James in trailing and drifting to the corner while Dellavedova and James engage in a pick-and-roll.

pnr

Lowry and Carroll guard the initial action fairly well, but James is able to cut past Carroll into the paint (Carroll may have been expecting a re-screen?), and Biyombo can’t help from his position on the perimeter on Frye. That’s an easy James dunk.

Again, we see the lost value with Biyombo on Frye instead of in a corner (although it’d be tougher against Irving than Shumpert) or James (who, again, he’s seen spot duty on and done well with).

Out of a sideline out of bounds, the Cavs go back to that pet play (#7), this time with the roles of Irving (Shumpert) and Dellavedova reversed. It’s Irving who enters to James at the right elbow, then sets a screen for Jefferson. Jefferson, ever the veteran, notices Patterson try to jump the action and doesn’t bother to wait for Irving to turn into the down-screen, instead taking off for the rim (and a terrific pass from James).

“They fell into a play that we had trouble with,” Casey said in an understatement after the game. “They fell into a play that we had trouble with. They just started running the options off of it. It’s something we will figure out.”

Despite the onslaught, the Raptors’ offense was able to keep up, and that last Jefferson dunk only put the Cavs up two.

“I definitely thought we had finally got over the curve of how we want to play here in this building,” James said. “But you’ve still got to get stops.”

KLOE

So after all of this, Cleveland went back to it once more, and the Raptors finally stopped it. Nearly nine minutes without a stop, ended, thanks almost entirely to the singular efforts of Lowry, all over the floor on the possession. You’re probably bored and annoyed of reading about the same play over and over again, so imagine how Lowry felt getting beat by it.

Look at the whole thing together first.

Lowry is in Joseph’s normal defensive spot from the start of the quarter (Lowry was in DeRozan’s place primarily), and his first impact is to drop under the Irving-Jefferson screen to prevent the Jefferson cut, and then recover quickly on to Irving as he comes up top, eliminating the chance for a pick-and-roll with James.
lowry1

He then sprints the lane, arms in the air, to prevent an Irving cut from producing anything.

lowry2

Irving continues his route into a pick-and-pop with Frye. Lowry and Biyombo switch, and Lowry does well to deny Frye the ball in the post.

lowry3

And then he was able to contest the late-clock corner three.

lowry4

“We got one stop on it, which was big,” Casey said. “We found a way at the end of it on the last possession after a timeout to kind of talk about it, and we got a stop and they went away from it. It’s something that they kind of fell into, and when you’ve got LeBron James as your point guard at the elbow, they executed pretty well. We finally found a solution for it at the end, but it was almost too late.”

Almost too late is right, and Casey has continually mentioned the need for the Raptors to score during these Cleveland stretches, implicitly acknowledging that they’re going to happen. The Cavs may have done themselves a disservice going away from something that worked so well – was 14 scores in 15 possessions really that bad?

“They didn’t stop it, no,” Tyronn Lue said. “They had one stop, I think, throughout the course of that whole transition. But we came back and tried to run something similar. We went to the handoff and tried to go backdoor and we turned the basketball over, and it kind of seemed to get momentum going the other way.”

He’s right (obviously). The Cavs did go back to something similar once more (flipped a little, and with a preceding action before the James elbow entry). And once more, Lowry made an impact.

So, hey, it’s great to see that the Raptors were at least adjusting and trying different things against this set, to varying levels of effectiveness. From there, their defense was much better. It’s unclear if they can stop that five-man bench unit, but there are still a few tweaks they can make, specifically how they use Biyombo, and they’ve shown that they can really score when Irving or Love are on the floor if not.

This series is so much fun. I really can’t wait to see how Game 5 shakes out.


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Greetings, from a Greyhound bus somewhere just outside of Buffalo on the way to Cleveland. For the first time, your boy is hitting the road to cover a game. It probably doesn’t make sense from a content-creation perspective, but how many opportunities am I going to have to be covering a conference finals? If you’re hitting the road for the game, too, hit me up on Twitter and let me know – despite the mid-week game, the short drive should allow for a fair contingent from The North.

And damn, is this game ever big. Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the series tied 2-2. At some point, the Raptors have to win a road game if they’re to punch a ticket to the NBA Finals, and honestly, there’s a chance. There was always a chance, but after turning in two terrific performances in a row, that chance seems a lot more realistic now. And yes, they still have to win two more games, and do so on three tries, but they just took two. It’s entirely doable, however unlikely that has and will continue to seem to those outside of Toronto.

Their skepticism will be founded, of course. The Cavs will bounce back and likely won’t play as poorly as in Game 3 or shoot as coldly as in Game 4. They’re at home, too, which has proven to be big all year when these two teams meet. LeBron James looms, playing exceptionally well but yes to completely take over (and sounding like he could be due for a statement game after saying he was happy about his own individual performance in Game 4, a not-so-subtle real-life subtweet of his frigid-shooting teammates).

The Cavs can adjust, they can play better, and they can lean on James and their home crowd. And like in Games 3 and 4, the Raptors can overcome again.

The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. from Quicken Loans Arena. ESPN has the game in the U.S., with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke on the call, while Sportsnet has the Canadian broadcast and TSN 1050 has radio rights. Mike Callahan, Ed Malloy, and Tom Washington are the officials.

What happened in Game 4

Raptors 105, Cavaliers 99 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Podcast

Key to the game: There was a bit of the unsustainable at play, with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan shooting 21-of-30 on contested shots and the Cavs shooting 8-of-29 on “wide open” threes over the last two, but those things don’t get erased by the small sample. Lowry and DeRozan were smart in picking their spots and securing the matchups they want against the Cavs’ defenders, and both proved willing to keep the ball moving. They were terrific, and while Lowry always gets credit for his defensive effort, DeRozan has really stepped up in that regard in the last two games, too. Defensively, the Raptors finally seemed to find the balance between leaving defenders alone on a James island and over-helping, limiting Cleveland to 20 points in the paint, coaxing James into jumpers, and forcing shooters to beat them. Said shooters responded by going 10-of-29 on uncontested threes, an attempt number that’s too high but a clip Toronto can certainly live with.

Recap: This thriller brought out the feels. And yeah, I was wrong on “Cavs in 5,” but I couldn’t be happier about it.

Turning point: More on this in the 11 am slot today, but the Cavs scored on 14 consecutive possessions over a nine-minute stretch from the late-third to mid-fourth. That initially cut Toronto’s lead from 11 down to one (it was once 18), and eventually erased it. It was Toronto’s ability to keep up and score with the Cavs during this stretch that kept them afloat, and the defense was able to lock in for the final four minutes and close things out.

Reason for optimism: The Raptors have found an offensive rhythm and a defensive confidence. The Cavs, meanwhile, are left searching inside themselves for answers for the first time. Lowry and DeRozan are cruising, Bismack Biyombo is playing great, and Jonas Valanciunas could return to provide an additional wrinkle. God hates Cleveland.

Reason for pessimism: The Cavs probably won’t continue to shoot so poorly over large samples of threes, and the Raptors simply have to chase them off the line more. The Raptors also don’t have an answer for a pet set Cleveland’s James-and-bench unit runs. Lowry and DeRozan are terrific but they (and Cory Joseph) may not be able to hit the same arrays of difficult shots with as much effectiveness. The last time I was in Cleveland is a very bad memory, so the city would probably like to double down on that.

Mid-series Q&A with Fear the Sword

To help re-calibrate with a Cleveland perspective, we reached out to Justin Rowan of Fear the Sword.

Blake Murphy: Well, neither of us expected to be here. I thought the series would be headed to Cleveland with a chance for the Cavs to close out, and you thought I’d finally be getting a break right now. That’s equal parts variance and unexpectedly poor Cleveland performances and an unexpected bounce back to their peak for the Raptors, and any number of other factors. But what’s stood out the most to you? In other words, what did we miss when setting the series up?

Justin Rowan: Math is undefeated. The Cavs had historically great shooting through the first two rounds of the playoffs, but even in games one and two their shots really weren’t falling from the outside. The Raptors gave them an uncontested rim in the first two games and credit to Dwane Casey in making the proper adjustments. The Cavs missing open jumpers has caused them to go away from their ball movement and look a little disjointed. Kevin Love has been especially terrible, but until they start hitting again, this will continue to be a tightly contested series.

Blake Murphy: Are you concerned about Kevin Love? Kyrie Irving had a poor night in Game 3, J.R. Smith in Game 4, but Love’s slump is a little extended now, and he looked pretty uncomfortable in Game 4.

Justin Rowan: Yes. He hurt his right shoulder early in the series and appears to be guarding it/struggling to play through it. Having him playing like himself and knocking down shots is really important to what the Cavs do and contrary to popular belief, he’s a strong post up defender and will be needed with Valanciunas returns. I’m not super concerned about his ankle injury in game four, but it’s another thing you can add to the list right now.

Blake Murphy: What can the Cavs do to slow down Lowry and DeRozan? LeBron James is seeing more time on DeRozan, but it seems the Cavs are only able to stop one of them at a time. Could James draw Lowry for stretches? Is this suddenly a huge Dellavedova series? What’s the adjustment here?

Justin Rowan: In Game 4, Lowry and DeRozan went 21-30 on contested jumpers (when the defender is within 3-½ feet of the shooter). I thought the adjustment of LeBron on DeRozan was a wise one, but credit to them in both making tough shots down the stretch in Game 4. I expect to see more trapping in the remaining games, similar to what the Heat and Pacers did. In the Cavs’ Game 4 comeback, they started trapping and were able to get the ball out of Lowry’s hands at times. That forced Biyombo, Carroll, Patterson, etc., to make read and react plays instead of their All-Star guards. Testing their composure, especially in the hostile confines of Quicken Loans Arena, seems to be the logical next step.

Blake Murphy: Are you still confident in Cleveland taking care of business here?

Justin Rowan: This isn’t going to make me any fans here, but yes. Game f4 to me felt like Game 3 of last year’s NBA Finals, except on the other side. After the Cavs went up 2-1 in the Finals I remember immediately emailing people saying we weren’t going to win a game. The Cavs made tough shots, were playing way over their heads and it didn’t feel sustainable. Toronto is obviously a much better team than the leftovers of the Cavs team that made it to last year’s Finals, especially now that Lowry and DeRozan have started playing like themselves again. But it felt like Cleveland started to figure some things out in game four and I expect them to make the appropriate adjustments moving forward. The Raptors finally look like the two seed for the first time in these playoffs, but I still feel confident that LeBron and the Cavs figure it out.

Game 5 updates

The only note on either side is that the Raptors “hope” to get Valanciunas involved. He was active and available for Game 4 but wasn’t used due to the intensity of the environment. Here’s what I wrote yesterday about how to deploy the big man:

A full-strength Valanciunas may be able to do enough damage on the offensive end to account for the downfalls of having to chase Love or Channing Frye, but early on, it’s smart to try to use him where he can have the most success. In Game 4, the Cavaliers pulled Tristan Thompson early to get Frye and Love together, then brought Thompson back in for the bulk of the second. If they do that again, that’s probably the time to try to get Valanciunas work – there was a 4:21 stretch to start the second where Thompson was on the court (the majority of it as the lone big) and Bismack Biyombo was off of it, and while the Raptors went plus-5 during that time, matchup wise, it’s Valanciunas’ best target.

They should probably look to get him at least a few minutes, as Biyombo has played 80 minutes over the last two games. Given the intensity of his style and the energy required to play it, there’s a risk he hits a wall at some point. Or not, it’s Biyombo after all. In any case, he’s been a huge asset for the defense matching up against these stretchier Cleveland groups.

Further to that, Cleveland has occasionally gone on runs when the Raptors go without a true center, and while James Johnson and Patrick Patterson are both playing well, Valanciunas could see time at the expense of that undersized frontcourt duo. (And yes, it kills me to say that, given I’ve wanted to see that pairing all year long.)

Raptors projected rotation
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Delon Wright)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, T.J. Ross, (Norman Powell)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, (Bruno Caboclo)
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson
C: Bismack Biyombo, Joans Valanciunas, (Jason Thompson), (Lucas Nogueira)

Outside of the Valanciunas adjustment, there probably won’t be too many changes here. Casey seems to have settled on his nine-man group for this series. Valanciunas makes 10, so there would be a crunch somewhere, likely with Johnson (Scola’s already playing about the minimum he can as a starter, just enough to let Casey deploy Patterson how they like) seeing fewer minutes. Then again, Casey also seems to be in a “try him out, see what he has today, give him a quick hook” mode with T.J. Ross, and if spacing isn’t at too much of a premium (Johnson is 4-of-6 on threes and has attacked well off the bounce), maybe it’s Ross who loses out in favor of bigger bench-heavy groups.

This is probably going to be the most interesting game in the series in terms of rotation chess. Valanciunas’ return raises questions and forces adjustments for both sides, and the Raptors still need to find a solution for the James-and-bench group that’s killed them through four games (maybe Valanciunas gets some late-third minutes so Biyombo can rejoin the early-fourth Lowry-and-reserves group?).

Cavaliers projected rotation
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, (Mo Williams)
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, (Dahntay Jones), (Jordan McRae)
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, (James Jones)
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, (Timofey Mozgov), (Sasha Kaun)

Some of the same questions face the Cavs, but the biggest one may be the Frye-or-Love decision late in games. Love hasn’t played in back-to-back quarters and Frye has outplayed him, and I’m not sure Tyronn Lue trusts the deadly James-Love-Frye trio as a defensive unit late in games. Beyond that, I wonder if he gets more aggressive with the bench-heavy group and the minutes of Dellavedova in particular, looking to slow Lowry and DeRozan.

And then, of course, there’s how he handles Valanciunas. Timofey Mozgov lurks as an adjustment, but it’s a big win for Toronto’s defense if Mozgov is on the floor. Frye and Love are a little underrated as far as defending the post is concerned, but those are both wins for Toronto’s offense. Thompson splits the middle and is probably what both sides would prefer until they’re forced to try something else. The playoffs are so much fun.

The line
Game 1: Cavaliers -10.5 (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 84)
Game 2: Cavaliers -11.5 (Cavaliers 108, Raptors 89)
Game 3: Cavaliers -5.5 (Raptors 99, Cavaliers 84)
Game 4: Cavaliers -6.5 (Raptors 105, Cavaliers 99)
Game 5: Cavaliers -10.5
Series: Cavaliers -1000 (90.9% implied win probability)

Once again we see the market staying strong on Cleveland. After Game 1, the Cavs were given an implied probability of 98 percent to win the series. The line came off the board entirely after Game 2, and despite the Raptors winning back-to-back games, the Cavs are still being given a 9-in-10 chance. And maybe they should, given the cumulative score through four, the signs that suggest things may swing back in Cleveland’s direction, the presence of LeBron James, and home-court advantage. Still, 91 percent? At 2-2? The Raptors may be the underdogs, but if you’re a gambler, a 10-to-1 payout sure seems a worthwhile roll of the dice on these guys, right? Put some respek on my name.

(For what it’s worth, the line implies the Raptors are roughly 1.4 percent more likely to win here at 2-2 than they were at 0-0.)

As for the game line, it’s right in line with the first two games (and continues to suggest a somewhat muted home-court edge in this series). Nearly 60 percent of the action is coming in on Toronto now that the line’s been bid up from Cavaliers -10, and I could see the line pushing back there. I doubt very much the team looks at these kind of things, but if they do, it’s some nice fuel for a team that thrives on being slept on or written off. And it’ll be even more ammunition for the fans and commenters who won’t stop Biyombolieving if the Raptors come out on top again.


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Sometimes, we have to pass along stories that are really non-stories but are making the rounds as stories. It’s a whole thing, the content aggregation game. On the off chance this is off interest to some, though, here we go.

All’s not well in Raptorland.

Dikembe Mutombo is claiming that he never gave Bismack Biyombo permission to use his patented post-block Finger Wag, saying he doesn’t remember the supposed conversation in which he supposedly gave the OK for gimmick infringement.

“Him and I need to talk,” Mutombo told TMZ. “I don’t know when did that conversation took place.”

For his part, Biyombo recently explained after a game that Mutombo gave him “the license,” though it was on the condition he land in Atlanta. Biyombo has been using the wag a ton in the postseason, because he’s been swatting away shot after shot. Mutombo seems to be having a good time in the interview – it certainly doesn’t seem he’s mad or bothered by it – but a discussion is forthcoming.


“I will see him in the Congo this summer so him and I will talk back home with nobody around us,” Mutombo concludes.

Mutombo, by the way, said he’s Biyombo’s “big brother” in an interview with Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star earlier this season. Biyombo echoed those sentiments earlier this week.

Don’t let this ruin the Biyombo fun. His finger wag ain’t going anywhere.


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With the Toronto Raptors headed back to Cleveland locked at 2-2 with the Cavaliers, there was no player media availability on Tuesday. Instead, as has become custom on travel days, head coach Dwane Casey was made available on a conference call.

Here are your relevant notes and quotes. I apologize that I may paraphrase by a word or two in some spots – the connection on the call wasn’t great, but I think I managed to get them cleanly.

Not getting too high

Casey isn’t going to let his charges get too high after winning a pair at home, though he did allow that it’s let the team find a rhythm. He declined to concede the team has “grown up” or any number of other cliches, but again, the term rhythm came up, specifically with respect to the groove that DeMar DeRozan finds himself in right now. (That, by the way, included a late-night shooting session on Sunday in anticipation of LeBron James moving over to guard him.)

“It’s a make or miss league. he’s just playing with a great rhythm right now and knocking down those shots,” he said. “It’s good to see.”

He’s been really, really good over the last couple of games. It’s been great. Now, whether that can carry back to Cleveland for him and the rest of the team is yet to be seen. The Raptors think they’ve figured something out about the matchup and the right rotations to use, but they still nearly fell victim to one of their Games 1 and 2 issues in Game 4 – big Cleveland runs in which the Raptors can’t score.

“One thing we gotta do is cut down on the runs. The games that we lost there, it was probably…that really did us in both games,” Casey said. “If we can sustain our defense against their runs (and then) we’ve gotta respond offensively. Hopefully, we have it figured out, their rotations, their personnel…to cut down on those runs.”

I’ll have a breakdown of that 14-possession stretch a little later, or possibly tomorrow, depending on how the day goes. There are some things the Raptors can do better and some things they did well, the reality is just that LeBron James is very good, and that’s going to cause problems even if you’re playing perfect. So yes, Casey’s right that sustaining offense during those runs is going to be paramount.

Jonas Valanciunas ‘hopefully’ involved in Game 5

The Raptors activated Jonas Valanciunas for Game 4 but opted not to play him. Casey said after the game that there was a time he thought about subbing him in but decided the intensity level of the game was too high. The Raptors want to be careful about how and when they deploy Valanciunas, who will come off the bench so long as he remains limited.

“Hopefully we can get him involved,” Casey said. “Again, it depends on the lineup they have on the court. I know he’s our starting centre but it’s tough to put him out there if they’re playing Channing Frye big minutes at the five.”

A full-strength Valanciunas may be able to do enough damage on the offensive end to account for the downfalls of having to chase Love or Frye, but early on, it’s smart to try to use him where he can have the most success. In Game 4, the Cavaliers pulled Tristan Thompson early to get Frye and Love together, then brought Thompson back in for the bulk of the second. If they do that again, that’s probably the time to try to get Valanciunas work – there was a 4:21 stretch to start the second where Thompson was on the court (the majority of it as the lone big) and Bismack Biyombo was off of it, and while the Raptors went plus-5 during that time, matchup wise, it’s Valanciunas’ best target.

They should probably look to get him at least a few minutes, as Biyombo has played 80 minutes over the last two games. Given the intensity of his style and the energy required to play it, there’s a risk he hits a wall at some point. Or not, it’s Biyombo after all. In any case, he’s been a huge asset for the defense matching up against these stretchier Cleveland groups.

“The thing about it is with our five-man, it helps us when we have to switch, especially when they’re playing Love at the five or Frye at the five,” Casey said. “It gives us the flexibility to switch Bismack. It’s a luxury that we have that.”

Last Two Minute Report

The NBA released it’s Last Two Minute Report for Game 4 on Tuesday afternoon, and as expected, there were a few errors. Gasp! Here’s what we’ve got:

  • 0:23.9, 4th – Biyombo should have been called for an offensive foul for holding Thompson and preventing him from defending (I believe this is called The Bogut).


And…wait, that’s it? Yup, that’s it.

Assorted

*The Vertical has a really good piece up from Woj on Lowry, and how he pulled the Raptors from the brink. How could someone not root for this guy?

*On the Raptors eliminating the lead and the pressure, Channing Frye told ESPN, having been in that situation, that you “feel like the weight of the world is off you.” Of being on the other side of things, Frye offered, “It’s not a good feeling.”


*Kevin Love told ESPN that he tweaked his knee and ankle stepping on an official’s foot in the third quarter of Game 4. He’s also dealing with a shoulder issue from back in Game 2. Still, Love says he’ll play in Game 5, and Tyronn Lue said Monday that the decision to have him sit the fourth quarter was a strategic one, not an injury-related one. As for Love’s struggles, Casey was asked if he seems “rattled,” to which the coach offered: “No, i don’t think so. I just think that Channing Frye is shooting the ball extremely well. Love missed some open shots. Channing Frye’s a hot player right now and I think that’s trumped.”


*On the Biyombo foul call on LeBron – the Raptors agree with the refs. They’re in on the fix.

*Along with yesterday’s Snapchat filter, you can now get a Biyombo Is My Father t-shirt from LOYAL to a TEE. I feel like our commenters had a hand in this.

*This is kind of weird:

*This is kind of weird:

*This dude actually fried his cellphone because the Raptors won two games. Way to stick to your word, man.

*I’m off to Cleveland tomorrow. Pretty excited about that.


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The Toronto Raptors love proving people wrong.

That much has been clear all season long, with head coach Dwane Casey consistently pointing to slights real, perceived, and imagined in order to motivate his team and continue to put them opposite the popular opinion. It makes sense. It fits the organization’s marketing ethos, with the Raptors branded as the other, the lone northern outpost and a team for those without a team. It fits the roster, which is full of guys that were given up on, passed over, declined qualifying offers, or doubted at every turn. Casey, himself, is unfairly on the receiving end of calls for his job after each loss and each season. If there’s a group and a fanbase that’s going to be riled up by being written off, it’s this one.

In that sense, maybe we all did the Raptors an enormous favor.

Because the Raptors were written off, full stop. Down 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Final series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, having lost by a combined 50 points in the first two games, Vegas took the series off the board, deeming the odds too insurmountable to be worth paying out so many pennies on bets on the favorite. Even before they fell into that hole, few but the most unguardedly optimistic were predicting a series victory. Hoping, absolutely. But predicting? The common refrain was that the Raptors had accomplished their primary goals, and if they could simply show well in the series, that would be a moral victory and a nice feather in this season’s black and silver We The North snapback.

“Nobody gives us a snowball’s chance in you know where to beat Cleveland,” Casey said after Monday’s win. “But we’ve just got to keep on churning, keep on working, keep on grinding to try to continue to win.”

This isn’t a strawman, either. I was guilty of this, personally, insomuch as there can be guilt for just being wrong. “I’m saying Cavaliers in 5, sadly, but I think those five games will be really competitive,” I wrote in the series preview. I doubled down on that same prediction after Games 1, 2, and 3, thinking the entire time that the Raptors would give the Cavaliers a fight, take one at home, and ultimately call it a season, the best one in franchise history.

“We’re in it,” Casey said of that same sentiment being shared in the media. “Someone mentioned that we were in it just to win one game, and I disagreed with them. We’re in it to compete for a championship. We’re here. That’s why we went through the season is to try to go as far as we could.”

I was wrong. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be wrong. I couldn’t be more happy that the Raptors probably love having proved me wrong (or some nonspecific version of me).

I also don’t feel all that bad for having been wrong. Like how you don’t want to evaluate teams and players and coaches by results alone over process (“Call it in the air”), I still believe in my thinking behind the prediction. The Raptors were entering the series tired, worn out, banged up, and having really not played their best basketball over the first two rounds of the playoffs. Cleveland, meanwhile, is a more talented team that came in well-rested and firing on all cylinders. Toronto was only one game worse in the regular season standings, but Cleveland never really had their foot on the gas, and now that they did, they looked mostly unstoppable. Through two games, I still figured the Raptors would take one, because the team has too much drive and too little quit to go out flat. After Game 3, I thought the Raptors had taken their best shot, that Cleveland wouldn’t play so poorly again, and that Toronto probably couldn’t ratchet it up even further. I still think those were reasonable ways of seeing things.

One of the hardest things about my job is trying to find a balance between being a fan, a blogger, an analyst, or whatever you’d describe what I do as. Raptors Republic is a fan site, with a smart, rabid, optimistic community that largely believes in a team that’s given them every reason to believe in them. When I made the prediction, I expected a bit of backlash and, as I wrote, would be waiting on the we-told-you-sos with open arms were they to come. It’s tough to want the team to win but watch the tape and analyze the matchup and not think they will. It’s tough to put analysis over rooting interest, particularly when I’m keenly aware that the latter is “better” from a self-interest perspective here. To paraphrase the global ambassador, “Tell me, am I wrong for what I’m saying? Is it wrong of me to tell these (readers) what they wanna hear?” In the end, I try to put my objective opinion above cheerleading. There’s no joy that comes from being pessimistic and correct. I’d rather be wrong and more pleased with the outcome. But again, I try my best to be objective, even if I don’t like what my objectivity suggests.

What it suggested in this case was that it wasn’t reasonable to think the Raptors could fight off fatigue and a fresh Cavs team. It wasn’t reasonable to just assume DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry would suddenly bounce back from their respective shooting slumps against a decent defensive team, particularly when both looked banged up. It wasn’t reasonable to expect them to shoot a combined 21-of-30 on contested shots in Game 4, or to expect Bismack Biyombo to grab 26 rebounds in Game 3, or to expect Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to go ice cold in Game 3, or to expect Love to stay frigid and be joined by J.R. Smith in Game 4 (to the tune of a combined 5-of-16 on uncontested shots). After how the Raptors looked in the first two series and the first two games of this one, it didn’t look like they had much of a chance.

But if the Raptors had a dime for every time they got knocked down this season and didn’t get back up, they would have zero dimes. The Raptors took their two losses, they dusted themselves off, and they came back swinging.

“They hit us first,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said of Game 4, and it could have just as well have been about Game 3. “They executed every time we made a mistake.”

The Raptors struck first, and the Cavs struck back. The Raptors bent. What was once an 18-point lead was whittled down to nine at the end of the third, to one less than two minutes later, and was traded between sides for the bulk of the fourth. With every push the Cavs made, the Raptors pushed back, the crowd right there with them in one of the most incredible in-arena experiences in Air Canada Centre lore. The Raptors wouldn’t back down, in part because their fans wouldn’t let them, but mostly because they couldn’t, and because it’s not in their DNA.

“When they punch, we punch back, and if they punch three times, we punch four times,” Lowry said. “We’ve got to continue to understand that they’re not going to lay down. They’re going to continue to go, push push push push.

“We ain’t laying down either.”

So no, you can’t expect things like unsustainable contested shooting nights or untimely opponent cold streaks or the team turning in back-to-back 90th-percentile performances, once again becoming the best versions of themselves, the versions that have been unfamiliar for large stretches of the playoffs until absolutely necessary. But you hope for them. You hope Kyle Lowry goes full KLOE in back-to-back games, that DeMar DeRozan wages war on his impending free agent price tag, that Bismack Biyombo becomes the stuff of legend, that this team just keeps finding a way.

“You know, honestly, we’ve been playing with our backs against the wall,” DeRozan said. “We never cared what anybody else thought. It was a challenge for us every single day. We’ve been counted out, and we like that challenge.”

It’s what they did all year, after all. After the fifth game of the season, I went off-brand a little bit and wrote a pretty emotional piece about buying in fully to this team, about all the reasons I thought they could be different than the 2014-15 version. They added pieces on defense to win when the offense wasn’t there. They added toughness and experience. There was a genuine sense – yes, that early – that there was a resiliency in this group, finally shaped in the image of its coach, of its general manager, and, corny though it sounds, a fanbase that has rarely given up on a team that’s often begged to be given up on. Through injuries, through rotation changes, through the highs of All-Star Weekend and Lowry’s game-winner against Cleveland to the lows of a late-season malaise and Lowry’s elbow injury, and through two grimy, difficult, beautiful playoff series, the Raptors kept finding ways.

It perhaps wasn’t reasonable to expect them to continue to do so as the odds got stacked even higher, the difficulty ratcheted up even further, but here they are, doing it again. That they’re doing it in these circumstances makes it all the more impressive, contrasting against the backdrop of narrative and expectations, the cognitive dissonance flowing colder than the new Chance introduction music, because how could you have doubted the team you spent all year learning not to doubt?

None of this needs to be sustainable. This series isn’t 82-games long, nor is it repeated over 1,000 simulations. Once the win is recorded, how it got there only matters for helping shape how a team tries to get the next one. Biyombo might not grab 26 rebounds again, but he did, and the series was 2-1. Lowry and DeRozan might not shoot 70 percent on contested shots again, but they did, and now the series is tied 2-2. Something else on the extremes of a normal distribution may happen in Game 5, and if it does, and the series is 3-2, well then that will have happened, too, and it doesn’t have to happen again.

“I always told this guy when we were struggling, it’s not about now,” DeRozan said of he and Lowry. “As long as we’ve got an opportunity to keep playing, we’ve got an opportunity to make up for this. And I think that’s where we’re at. Everything happens for a reason.”

The series is now a three-game sample on the biggest stage this franchise has ever been on, and no matter what happened before it or how they got here, it’s a chance to do something special. The Raptors are still underdogs here, an few will pick them to advance to the NBA Finals. Vegas has Cleveland as a -1000 favorite, and like the Raptors could remain confident after a 2-2 split with home-court advantage in the last two rounds, so, too, can Cleveland here. But winning two games in this series at all seemed improbable a few days ago. It only takes two more.

“People have their own opinions,” Lowry said. “We go and do what we do and that’s all we’re focused on is our team and what we believe.”


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Cavaliers 99, Raptors 105, Series Tied 2-2 | Quick Reaction | Boxscore | Post-Game News and Notes

With the adrenaline rush Game 3 provided, it wasn’t hard to get excited over what Game 4 had in store. And if you lost your voice during Saturday night’s euphoria, you’re not alone — otherwise known as: WORTH EVERY VOCAL CORD!

Though to paraphrase Dwane Casey’s comments when asked if he could tell whether or not his players were ready to play: If your fandom needs an extra push to get amped for a Conference Finals matchup, you’re in the wrong business.

It is understandable, however, if you hopped on the pessimistic bandwagon beforehand. After the Raps were bullied in Games 1 and 2, it became increasingly difficult to defy that temptation. But as Game 3’s statement was reinforced with Monday night’s edge-of-your-seat performance, a little more faith in what this team is capable of should have taken place.

The past couple of days turned out to be a holiday party for the ages. And whatever happens the rest of the way, you can officially book the May 2-4 weekend of 2016 in this franchise’s history books. One that not only gave new meaning to fireworks on Victoria Day, but also represents a point in time where this team formally silenced their critics — Well, who am I kidding, the “no chance in Cleveland” narrative is bound to make a mainstream appearance, if it hasn’t already. But this homestand provided confidence to a team that was searching to reclaim it. And confidence is a dangerous opponent no matter where the game is being played.

Better yet, enough with giving the naysayers a spotlight they don’t deserve. This is supposed to be a celebration, after all. I would even go as far to say that despite the episodes of inconsistencies exhibited over each of the first three rounds, the backbone displayed by the Raps, which was needed to get back in this series, now has this playoff run on par with the show the Blue Jays put on last October. Games 3 and 4 were this organization’s bat flip — with the final outcome still having a chance to reach the league’s final stage. Hell, even Casey’s approval rating has never been this high.

But yes, it’s not lost on me that there’s still plenty of work to be done. And the fear of what a refocused Cavs’ squad can accomplish is very much alive heading into Game 5 the same way it was heading into Game 4.

Should we be surprised by the Raps’ resilience, though? Should that defeatist attitude even entered this fan base’s psyche in the first place — at least before the Raps’ got a chance to defend their own home court advantage?

Let’s not forget the moments of adversity that took place before this series even began. Just because instances of gameplay can be described as “ugly” doesn’t mean they can’t be depicted as “hard fought” or “earned” at the same time. Let’s not forget how the supporting cast kept this team afloat while its leaders struggled. If it wasn’t clear coming into the playoffs, even with Lowry and DeRozan leading the charge, any postseason success was going to stem from a team concept — the comparisons to the 2004 Pistons are valid and becoming very real.

In that same breath, let’s also not forget that there was always going to come a time when K-Low and DeMar needed to take over in each of the past two rounds — moments in which they rose to the occasion when they had to.

Each part of the equation has played a role in catching up to Cleveland, especially the latter. But Lowry and DeRozan can’t be singled out without including another player, who much like Jonas Valanciunas did before his injury, is cementing his status as part of this team’s core. And you guessed it, I’m referring to Bismack Biyombo.

NBA Playoffs

Has DeRozan regained the money he had “previously lost” throughout this postseason? Is that even a question anymore? Actually, let’s save the contract talk for another day. The DeMar-Bismack-Ross triangle can wait until the offseason. For now, the moment calls for us to bask in its glory, not debate its future.

The difference between the Conference Finals and the previous two series has been the fact that Games 3 and 4 had no margin for any inconsistencies to continue. Lowry and DeRozan had two choices: Step up or step off. Even though DeRozan has been solid throughout this series, the minute Game 3 began both had to be on the same page at the same time. And they picked up right where they left off as Game 4 got underway.

Both were hitting daggers all night long. Lowry from deep, DeMar from midrange. Their lines were nearly identical going a combined 28-43 from the field (65% for 67 points), 8 boards, 8 assists, 7-8 from the free-throw line, and 4 steals. All the while creating for others in the process.

But if were talking about true moments of clutch: After the Raps’ 16-point halftime lead dwindled all the way to a 3-point deficit, and with fans having visions of being down 3 games to 1, the duo took matters into their own hands even further. Responding to Cleveland’s 3-point onslaught with remarkable poise throughout the 4th quarter was a thing of beauty.

Though to give credit where credit is due, Cory Joseph does deserve a special shoutout. In the rare moments when K-Low and DeMar couldn’t save the day, CoJo knocked down some fearless drives to the rim. Add in Patterson’s habit for timely offensive rebounds — like clockwork, kudos must go to the supporting cast’s contributions.

As for Bismack: He may not have duplicated his record-setting 26 rebounds, but he was once again his game-changing self. While his highlight-reel rejections have become folklore, it’s his overall rim protection that’s paying off the most. His motor on the glass in undeniable, but his ability to alter shots has become an art form. And Biyombo has changed the Cavs’ original intentions when attempting to drive the lane on a regular basis.

The Cavs have been 3-happy for most of the playoffs. But the correlation between the presence of Bismack and back-to back games with 41 attempts from behind the arc is far from a coincidence.

Considering Biyombo was, and still is, a Flagrant-1 away from receiving a one-game suspension, the smart money was on the Cavs attempting to bait Bismack for the entire game. On one hand, Cleveland missed a golden opportunity. On the other, Biyombo’s court intelligence just keeps shining. Something tells me he wouldn’t have fallen for the trap.

It wasn’t all cause for a party atmosphere, though. And this is where Casey’s aforementioned uptick in approval rating might hit a snag:

Why was Biyombo checking Channing Frye for so long? It’s not that Bismack can’t guard the perimeter, he’s proven that numerous times over. But when the paint is opened up for an extended period of time and you make life easier for your opponent — especially on LBJ screen-and-rolls or straight up drives to the rim — all the while during a 4th-quarter run where your squad is living and dying by every mistake, that’s a thought process that should come into question. At the very least, it’s a concern moving forward.

Speaking of concerns:

Last But Unfortunately Not Least: The Whistle Blowers

It’s a shame that this has become a storyline but it’s seemingly one that’s here to stay. Now, I usually abide by the belief that blaming the officials for the outcome of a game often times implies that you’re using a cop out excuse. But there comes a time when errors become too egregious not to take issue with.

This complaint, for the most part, doesn’t stem from the 73-46 disparity in fouls drawn (in favor of Cleveland) coming into Game 4. I can live with that considering committing an excessive amount of fouls was at times the only way to slow down the Cleveland Freight train. Especially over the course of the first two games where it became an automatic reaction to the Cavs’ relentless pace.

My grievance, like many of you, I’m sure, is over the “superstar factor.” Why it takes place, other than keeping the faces of the league on our TV screens for as much time as possible, I will never want to understand.

It’s wishful thinking to picture a world without it, but is it too much to ask for a professional basketball game to cater to what’s actually being earned on the court regardless of who’s on what team? Can one really argue that LeBron isn’t profiting from preferential treatment? I’d love to hear an opposing viewpoint.

The league didn’t do itself any favors by somehow choosing to give Draymond Green a free pass while suspending Dahntay Jones for a similar infraction. How Adam Silver and the rest of the higher-ups didn’t think that would be suspicious to the public is beyond me. Or am I being naive to the fact that the commissioner’s office is simply that willing to be openly biased? Well, considering that advertisements on jerseys are about to take the league by storm, I guess the answer is fairly obvious.

The calls did even out in the second half and ultimately resided in favor of T.O. (17-16 total), but that doesn’t take away the outrageous fact that the Cavs weren’t called for a defensive foul all the way from late in the 3rd quarter of Game 3 to just under 9 minutes left in the 2nd quarter of Game 4. That’s shocking even under normal circumstances.

Nevertheless, regardless of any whistle blown or not,

One can’t call into question whether the Raps earned their last two victories. And with the notion of JV being deployed (hopefully) in Game 5 (rather than existing as a decoy) promises to throw another wrench in Cleveland’s program. With LeBron and company surely out for blood on home soil, it couldn’t come at a better time.

Until then: To players, coaches, and fans alike: let’s live in the moment. #WeTheOther? Nah, more like #WeDeserveThis!


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Game 4 Post-Game Podcast: Kyle Lowry Over Everything | Raptors Republic

Don’t pinch yourself, you’re not dreaming: The Toronto Raptors are two games away from the NBA Finals after taking down the Cavaliers 105-99. William Lou grabs the mic to show love to the team, and to break down some key coaching decisions that lay ahead.

‘We’re in it to compete for a championship,’ and other post-game notes Raptors Republic

”He’s made shots. I think he’s been aggressive,” Lue said of his mentee Lowry’s big game and the change from the first two games to the last two. “He made some early baskets that gave him some confidence (that) carried over throughout the rest of the game.” Casey said basically the same about some of tough shots the Cavs made – he suggested they might have to “get in the jersey with them” to do a better job – and wants the Raptors to do an even better job closing out on their shooters, perhaps committing less to the roll-man.

Both Casey and Lue were asked about the set the Cavs kept running to fuel their comeback, with both saying the Raptors only got one stop. Casey was adamant they’ll find a solution. “We finally found a solution for it at the end but it was almost too late,” he said. More on this tomorrow.

The crowd was incredible again tonight. Everyone spoke highly of their impact again, and I really can’t wait to see what the atmosphere will be like in an elimination game on Friday.

Dahntay Jones suspended, Dwane Casey fined | Raptors Republic

The NBA has fined Toronto Raptors head coach $25,000 for public criticism of officiating following the team’s Game 3 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.

In his post-game press conference, Casey initially appeared to be trying to bite his tongue, but he reached a point where he apparently decided it was worth the hit to his wallet to unload. And unload he did.

The Raptors had his back, with several players also complaining about the refereeing (as well as every person on Twitter). Nobody was willing to talk about it on Sunday, though.

Raptors took LeBron’s best shot and won: Arthur | Toronto Star

Well, in the biggest game in franchise history the Raptors, for one of the only times ever, lived up to what you wanted them to be. I asked Lowry when he allowed himself to believe that this is possible. “I believe every day,” said Lowry. “I believe every time I work out in the summertime. I never don’t believe.”

“We’ve been counted out, and we like that challenge,” said DeRozan.

Here’s what these two games showed: Cleveland is mortal, and Cleveland can be beaten. Kevin Love tweaked his knee stepping on a referee’s foot and is a mess right now. At times, all of Cleveland’s bad habits were there: Kyrie Irving taking contested jumpers, J.R. Smith taking contested jumpers, LeBron taking jumpers at all. Per basketball-reference dot com, LeBron shot .361 from three to 10 feet this season, .348 from 10 to 16, .404 from 16 to the three-point line, and .309 beyond that. The Raptors wanted LeBron to play weightless basketball, alone.

For a while, he did. On some shots they left LeBron wide open, and didn’t bother running with the scrambling ferocity they had displayed all half. He missed. LeBron finished with 29 points on 16 shots, and six assists, but he didn’t deliver at the end. Lowry and DeRozan did. The Raptors believe they can beat this team. Jonas Valanciunas and his sprained ankle were active for the Raptors, but he just sat and watched one hell of a show.

“When they punch, we punch back, and if they punch three times, we punch four times,” said Lowry. “We got to continue to understand that they’re not going to lay down . . . we ain’t laying down either.”

There are cracks to the Cavaliers, and the Raptors are finding them.

Jonas Valanciunas wants to help in any way he can | Toronto Sun

DeMar DeRozan might be playing his best basketball as a Raptor and he’s doing it in the conference finals.

He’s enjoying it after he and the Raptors were written off down South and after his poor play earlier in the playoffs made him the butt of headline and copy rip jobs in Canada as well.

“I mean, that’s what it’s all about, especially when you see things and headlines and things being said, and you really sit there and wonder, where did we get this from, where do these people get these suggestions, allegations from,” DeRozan said, thinking specifically of the embarrassing furor over Kyle Lowry taking some time to decompress during Game 2.

“It’s crazy just to see it sometimes because people don’t understand how sick or upset we are after a loss, especially after how we lost the first two games. We felt embarrassed. We knew that wasn’t us.

“To see things like that is definitely frustrating, and the only way to shut it up is to go out there and play.”

DeRozan was also bothered by the talk of Cleveland being some sort of a superteam.

“It’s not like we’re playing against a Dream Team of players,” he said.

“Anybody is capable of being beaten, and we showed it all year, being resilient, and you know, we’re always going to — as long as we have an opportunity to go out there on that court, we feel like we can beat anybody.”

Cavaliers face serious questions in wake of Game 4 loss to Raptors | Sportsnet.ca

“I thought at the start of the game, they hit us first,” said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue. “We still continued to react until I think late in that third quarter when we got aggressive, started blitzing the pick-and-rolls, just having trouble guarding at the point of entry one-on-one, attacking us one-on-one, taking the challenge defensively one-on-one.”

The poor start and porous defensive play were the post-game focal points for the Cavaliers as their performances in Toronto stood in stark contrast to their dominating efforts at home in two lopsided wins to start the series.

Those blowout victories created a sense that the Raptors would be fortunate to pull out a single victory in the best-of-seven, but then they shot 46 per cent on Saturday and 54 per cent on Monday in cutting up a defence that had totally shut them down.

Asked what was happening on the defensive end Monday, Frye replied: “Obviously nothing. They shot 54 per cent. We’ve got to look at the film and do better, that’s some bull****.”

Biyombo’s hard work lifts Raptors and wins fans | Toronto Star

“He was huge because one, he’s creating situations where they’re committing two or three people to boxing him out and creating alleys for us,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of Biyombo. “I know Pat (Patterson) got a big offensive rebound because they’re worried about Bis, as they should be.

“He’s such a good offensive rebounder. He’s one of our best screeners. He didn’t make his free throws — he was 1-for-4 — but he’s been making his free throws (in other games). He’s huge for us.”

With Lowry and DeRozan carrying the scoring load, Biyombo continually found ways to make huge non-scoring plays. He met Kevin Love at the rim and sent the Cavs star’s dunk attempt back. He was fearless in the second quarter, putting his outstretched body between James and the rim on an alley-oop. He was whistled for a foul on the play, but it sent a message: There’s nothing easy in the paint, not with the six-foot-nine, 245-pound Biyombo waiting, ready to send anyone’s shot back at them.

Bismack Biyombo a beast once again for Raptors | Toronto Sun

Funny how things work out. Biyombo had a huge month filling in for an injured Valanciunas in the regular season and now has come up with a number of monster outings in the playoffs, particularly the last two against Cleveland as the Raptors squared the series.

Biyombo collected 14 more rebounds in 41 minutes of action, never once looking tired. He was so good, that a now healthy Valanciunas wasn’t even called upon. Biyombo blocked three shots, the biggest an unbelievable job on J.R. Smith who was trying to take a three-pointer. How many centres can guard out there, can move their feet and come up with a huge defensive play? The list is a small one.

Biyombo is now in Cleveland’s heads. He has blocked LeBron James at the rim twice and who does that? Forget that he got called for fouls each time, they were both clean. All Biyombo could do was laugh at the one on Monday. He was shown on the big screen at the ACC — the loudest crowd ever to witness a Raptors game in the 21-year history of the franchise howled with delight. Later, when Biyombo went to the free throw line, they chanted “M-V-P.”

He was a beast, Toronto’s newest folk hero.

“He’s playing great, he’s feeling very confident, he’s helping us big-time, we’re winning in the conference final, 2-2, we’ve totally changed the momentum in this series,” fellow starting big man Luis Scola told the Toronto Sun.

How Bismack Biyombo Has Turned Into A Playoff Monster | The Sports Quotient

Biyombo played within himself throughout the entire game, which has really been his saving grace during these playoffs in place of Valanciunas. He understands that he’s not a creative offensive weapon, and he doesn’t try to do too much. He has freakish athletic ability and a nose for the ball, despite being a somewhat undersized 6-foot-9 center.

Overall, Biyombo’s effort and play has been surprisingly impactful in the playoffs. He is in the top 10 for rebounds (9.4 per game), ahead of players like Draymond Green (9.3), Tristan Thompson (8.5), LaMarcus Aldridge (8.3), and Enes Kanter (7.1).

The statistic that shows his versatility and athleticism best, though, is his average rebound distance. This tracks the average distance that each player travels in order to get a rebound. Biyombo’s ARD is currently 4.0, which outranks fellow centers Dwight Howard (3.3), Andrew Bogut (3.6), Timofey Mozgov (3.3), and even Valanciunas (3.1).

This was best displayed recently in Game 3 of the Cavaliers-Raptors playoff series. On the brink of going down an impossible 3-0 in the series, Game 3 was an absolute must-win.

Biyombo did not disappoint.

His monstrous game of 26 rebounds and four blocks completely overshadowed his humdrum statistics (3-for-6 from the field, seven points). To put that in perspective, Biyombo had two fewer rebounds than the entire Cavaliers starting lineup. He single-handedly matched the offensive rebounding total of the whole Cavaliers team. Biyombo also had just one fewer block than the Cavaliers.

But what about Cleveland’s low-post gems?

Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, with contracts in excess of $33 million, combined for three points shooting 1-for-10 with 12 rebounds. Biyombo, his own contract a little over $2 million, more than doubled their points and rebounds.

More than that, Biyombo finally brought a much-needed swagger and confidence to the Raptors team.

Lowry, DeRozan guide Raptors to Game 4 victory over Cavaliers | Toronto Star

With Kevin Love still in a shooting funk, the Cavs simply went to the next shooting big man on the list and Channing Frye made three three-pointers in a row.

Biyombo was playing with the spectre of a one-game suspension hanging over his head after the NBA upheld an official’s call Saturday that saddled him with a Flagrant 1 foul. After reviewing the incident from multiple video angles and interviewing some of the participants, the league made no change to the original call.

It left Biyombo with three flagrant foul “points” after being assessed a retroactive Flagrant 2 in Game 7 of Toronto’s first-round series with the Indiana Pacers.

Biyombo was once again the energetic force he usually is — not the tune of 26 rebounds like Saturday — and a deterrent at the rim.

He had what looked like an astonishing block of James at the rim in the dying seconds of the first half but was called for his third personal foul on the play and laughed while racing back down the court to the Raptors bench.

Toronto did have its full complement of players available, as injured centre Jonas Valanciunas was active for the first time since spraining his ankle in Game 3 of the conference semifinal. He did not get into Monday’s game.

It’s Cavaliers turn to sweat after losing two to Raptors | Toronto Sun

The bad is how little resistance was being exerted on Bismack Biyombo, who followed up his career night in Game 3 with a 14-rebound night in Game 4.

The most impactful sequence came late when he retrieved a miss.

And yet it was early in the evening when the Raptors set the tone.

“I thought at the start of the game, they hit us first,’’ said Lue. “I though we still continued to react until I think late in that third quarter when we got aggressive, started blitzing the pick and rolls.

“Just having trouble guarding at the point of entry one on one, attacking us one on one, taking the challenge defensively one on one.”

One on one, Kyrie Irving was supreme, making big shot after big shot when there was a hand in his face.

Irving was woeful in Game 3, but he rebounded in a Bismack way in Game 4, drilling 11 of his 21 attempts and dishing off six assists.

LeBron James had it going, scoring 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting, hauling down nine rebounds and recording six assists.

Toronto played off James, almost pleading for him to attempt a three.

He took three, making one.

Cleveland still controls this series because it has home court, but the Cavs have now been extended to at least six games, perhaps even the distance.

Raptors refuse to graciously exit NBA’s velvet-roped party | Sportsnet.ca

Heading into Game 4, with James complaining about the physical way the Raptors were playing him in the series — “I will protect myself.” — the expectation was that he would spend most of the game at the free-throw line. That didn’t quite come true, but he did seem to be playing with some kind of force field around him. He and the Cavaliers could do no wrong.

For the first time in more than six years, the Raptors didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half. Meanwhile, when Biyombo met James at the top of the square to block an alley-oop just before halftime, he was called for a very shaky foul — the second time in as many games Biyombo got the whistle after a seemingly clean block on James.

Twitter thought the fix was in.

Things turned around in the second half — the Raptors shot 19 free throws to nine total for the Cavaliers — but Cleveland is still plus-25 from the line in the series, a margin that likely won’t get smaller as they head back home.

You don’t even have to believe NBA commissioner Adam Silver is trying monitoring your WiFi to see why.

The Raptors in the NBA Finals represents three more weeks of bad television ratings, stateside at least. You could almost hear the broadcast execs, tugging on their ties: “We have enough cute shots of Jurassic Park to last a lifetime, how about some star power!”

The Raptors themselves are smart enough to claim not to hear the noise, or feel the doubt.

Raptors, Cavaliers stars rise to occasion in Game 4 | Toronto Star

DEMAR DEROZAN

It was Lowry’s night most of the way, but DeRozan played very much within himself while Lowry starred offensively and Bismack Biyombo had another outstanding game defensively. The Raptors’ most tenured player let the game come to him, scoring on comfortable mid-range shots and layups. With Cleveland whittling away at what was an 18-point Raptors lead in the fourth, DeRozan continued to chip away with timely shots, racking up 32 points with 12 coming in the fourth. GRADE: A

Raptors earn another home date with Game 4 win | Toronto Sun

The best of Kyle Lowry came out to play in Game 4 against the Cavaliers. You can tell Lowry is at his most aggressive best when there’s a certain bounce in his step, a quickness in taking the ball to the hoop and a certain confidence to hit the threes that isn’t always apparent on his off nights.

As the Raptors went out to a 16-point lead at the half, Lowry had 20 of the Raptors 57 points as Toronto led 57-41 at the half. He was good on eight of 11 shots, four of six from three-point land.

The Raptors backcourt of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had 30 halftime points, 65.

Raptors eye NBA draft during playoff run | Toronto Star

Ujiri and his staff have found ways to combine workouts with the playoff run in several ways. When they were at the Chicago camp, they could jet off at any point to catch workouts on playoff off-days. They took in a workout for an unnamed client of agent Rich Paul in Cleveland in between Games 1 and 2 the conference final. They have months of knowledge gleaned from scouting during the regular season to rely on; they are not blind to the possibilities, just busy balancing the longest post-season run in franchise history.

It would be different, perhaps, if the Raptors simply had their own late-first round selection because that would limit the possibilities. But having a lottery pick brings a whole new group of players into the mix.

“Everyone talks about (the ninth pick) and yeah, it feels great, but now we have to make the pick,” Ujiri said. “Now we have to do something with it. Whether that is make the pick or trade the pick or whatever it is, I think this is a good, good asset for our organization and something else to add to what we already have.”

Belief is back in the Raptors | Toronto Sun

“Someone mentioned we were in it to win one game. (More than one person said that.) I disagree with that. We’re in it to compete for a championship. We’re here. Again, that’s why we went through the season, trying to go as far as we could.

“We’re not there yet. Right now, we’ve found something. I still say we’re a young up-and-coming team. Got to stay hungry. Got to stay humble. Continue to compete with poise. Nobody thought we were going to be here. Nobody you know gave us a snowball’s chance in you know where to beat Cleveland.

“We just have to keep on churning. Keep on working. Keep on grinding.”

They are now going to a minimum Game 6. This is a heady place for Toronto. That’s as far as the Blue Jays went last October — Game 6 against Kansas City. The Maple Leafs haven’t been this far since they blew the series with Carolina 14 years ago.

This doesn’t happen often in Toronto. This kind of unlikely run. This brilliant display by the Raptors’ biggest names. And now here they are, saying hello to the NBA, introducing themselves as contenders. Who knows what happens now and how this series ends. But this much they know now: The Raptors are on the basketball . They are a factor. They are a team of consequence. They have never been anywhere near this place before — and now a spotlight upon them like they’ve never before known.

“Honestly, we’ve been playing with our backs against the wall,” said DeRozan. They weren’t really against the wall in Round 1 against Indiana because they were expected to win that round. They weren’t against the wall in Round 2 versus Miami. But this is different. This is Cleveland. This is LeBron and Kyrie Irving. This was two blowouts at Quicken Loans Arena. This was a Cavs side that was everyone’s pick to go the NBA Finals. The Raptors have made the Cavaliers notice and now they’ve put them on notice.

“If they punch, we punch back,” said Lowry, who scored 35 to DeRozan’s 32 points. “If they punch three times, we punch four times. We can’t win laying down.”

ECF Game 4: Raptors 105, Cavs 99 | Toronto Raptors

GRINDING OUT IN THE FOURTH

The Cavaliers came out firing in the fourth and didn’t miss a field goal until there was 4:12 remaining. After a layup from Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye connecting on back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to open the quarter, the Cavaliers took a one-point lead with 10:16 remaining. The two teams traded leads until DeMar DeRozan sank a pair of free throws to put Toronto ahead by two with 3:59 remaining, and then Frye finally missed a shot as DeMarre Carroll went to the line and made a pair of free throws to put Toronto ahead by four. Cleveland wouldn’t get any closer than two points the rest of the way as Toronto stayed calm under pressure, stepping up its defence and executing offensively.

Raptors even series with gutsy effort against Cavaliers | Toronto Sun

Fouls continue to be a big story line in this series.

The first foul on the Cavaliers came 3:04 into the second quarter and the crowd was waiting on it, letting crew chief Monty McCutchen and his staff know they were keeping score with a round of mock cheers as soon as it came.

It made one wonder if the $25,000 fine Casey incurred following the Game 3 win for his criticism of the officials was worth it.

Biyombo’s third foul, which came on a textbook block of LeBron James, is one of those the league is going to cringe over. Biyombo, rather than argue his case, just sprinted to the bench with a huge smile on his face, all the while encouraging the fans to raise the noise level a little more.

They didn’t need much encouragement.

The Raptors owned the early minutes of the game opening up a 13-5 lead, eventually giving it most of it back on the wrong end of a 12-5 run by the Cavs. A decent finish to the quarter at least had them with a three-point lead.

The second quarter was by far the Raptors’ strongest as the home side outscored the visitors 30-17 and opened up a 16-point lead at the half.

Now it’s back to Cleveland and Casey has the recipe for success.

“We got to (go with) the same intensity level and focus that we had here,” Casey said. “We can’t have as many droughts. We’ve got to cut those down and make sure we keep our poise in those segments. Match their scoring in those segments and not let them get on those runs.”

HQ Overtime Post-Game Show: Let’s talk about the insanity of it all | Raptors HQ

I’m still not quite sure how it happened, or how I’m still conscious, but the Toronto Raptors are taking the Eastern Conference Finals back to Cleveland tied at two games a piece. They won tonight 105-99, and I’m joined by Daniel Hackett to discuss the fourth quarter response, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s dual supremacy, and just what it’ll take to win a game in Cleveland.

InstaCap: Raptors 105, Cavs 99 (Gutwrenching Loss) | Cavs: The Blog

Despite scoring on 14 straight possessions, largely out of the same offensive set featuring LeBron James, Richard Jefferson, Matthew Dellavedova, and Channing Frye, the Cavs were unable to stop Kyle Lowry (70% shooting) or DeMar DeRozan (60% shooting) at any time.  Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson were completely and utterly a net negative on the team, and Kyrie Irving phased in and out of impressive shot-making Kyrie / want to gouge out eyeballs Kyrie.

LeBron played an efficient game but was kinda owned by DeRozan all night.  He had to carry a heavier-than-2016playoffsusual load and played 46 minutes so I understand the need to conserve energy, but he went under almost every screen on DeRozan or just lazily switched.  J.R. Smith the defense wonder was short lived.  Iman Shumpert has been useless.  If not for some spirited play by Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye this would have been a blowout as well.  Cavs have three games to win two.

Toronto Raptors tie the series at two, beating Cleveland Cavaliers 105-99 | cleveland.com

However, the momentum shifted late. Frye stayed on the floor down the stretch, leaving Cleveland’s best rebounder Tristan Thompson on the bench. Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo pulled down a pivotal offensive board with the Cavaliers down four with less than 50 seconds remaining in the game. Toronto called timeout. It was a huge rebound because when play resumed, Lowry drove right by Smith for a layup to go up six with 22.5 seconds left. The Cavaliers would go the next possession and miss two threes and it was Biyombo who gathered the board.

That sealed the deal.

Irving contributed 26 points and six assists. Kevin Love was 1-for-9 with four rebounds in Game 3 and did not play in the entire fourth quarter. To get him back going, Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said before the game there would be a heavy dose of Love on this night.

Maybe that dose was NyQuil, because Love was asleep at the wheel again. He went 4-of-14 from the field, including 2-of-7 from deep.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was fined $25,000 for his Game 3 postgame rant criticizing the officiating and the foul call disparity. The officials apparently didn’t get the message. Cleveland wasn’t called for a foul until three minutes into the second quarter. And the Raptors’ first free throws didn’t come until midway in the third.

Raptors hang on in Game 4, beat the Cavaliers 105-99 | Raptors HQ

The Cavaliers had a part to play in all this, I should add. Despite scoring a meagre 41 points in the first half, Cleveland began inching back into it in the third, before making a serious run in the fourth. The Cavs scored on 14 straight possessions in that final frame to take a lead and put a scare into Toronto. Cleveland was trapping on pick and rolls up top, and trying to force the ball handler, usually Lowry, to make a play. It seemed like the wheels were on there way to coming off. But the Raptors answered back. DeRozan made some impossible shots, Patterson and Biyombo grabbed some huge boards, and Lowry directed the symphony as he has all year.

You want more excitement? DeRozan got horse-collared on a break by J.R. Smith, Kevin Love apparently hurt himself by rolling his ankle on the ref, Lowry stole the ball late from LeBron and drew the foul as James charged into his behind, Channing Frye looked like he’d never miss, the Raptors almost rolled out a returning Jonas Valanciunas, Drake was up and cheering like a maniac, Chuck Swirsky called for the salami and cheese in the first half, and the Raptors proved a host of doubters wrong.

We should have believed Lowry and DeRozan when they said they’d make plays. We should have believed the Raptors would come back in this series. We should have believed it would not be a sweep, that it would be closer than we thought, that it could only ever be one thing.

Raptors keep their cool and stun Cavaliers | TSN

Lowry and the Raptors flipped the script, they took control of the narrative and stunned the NBA universe, including their heavily-favoured opponents. They were supposed to be the worst team to ever advance to the Conference Finals and the Cavs were supposed to cruise to the next and final round. It was supposed to be quick and painless. The Raptors had already exceeded all expectations, making it further than they ever have. They were just supposed to be happy to be there. They weren’t supposed to take one game let alone two and now, just like that, we have a brand new series.

The Raptors had your attention, but they want your respect.

“We’re not there yet,” Casey stressed after his team tied up its best-of-seven series with a 105-99 Game 4 victory at home. “Right now we’ve found something, but again, I still say that we’re a young up-and-coming team that’s got to stay hungry, got to stay humble, and continue to compete with poise, because again, nobody thought we were going to be here.”

“Nobody gives us a snowball’s chance in you know where to beat Cleveland, but we’ve just got to keep on churning, keep on working, keep on grinding to try to continue to win.”

America in shambles as Toronto Raptors storm back to even series | Raptors Cage

Offence: A

35 efficient points from Kyle Lowry and 32 from DeMar DeRozan was the story of the night. This has to be the greatest duo performance in Raptor playoff history. The Raptors ability to continue to pour on points every time Cleveland made a run was incredible. Lowry was amazing, as he went 14-20 from the field and 4-7 from 3. DeRozan managed 14-23 and was monstrous when it mattered. Him and DeMarre Carroll finished with the highest +/- impacts with +11 each. Carroll also chipped in 11 points and Patterson nine. Corey Joseph managed 8 including a pivotal drive against LeBron James to give the Raptors back the lead when the teams were exchanging baskets in the fourth. It was a well rounded performance led by the two All-Stars in Lowry and DeRozan.

Is This Reality? DAMN RIGHT IT IS!! | TRAP’D Since 95

Something special is happening here. I said it when we signed Jason Thompson and I still believe it. This team is one road win and one home win away from the NBA Finals. Let that sink in Raptor fans. We are almost there. Whatever happens this team has exceeded every expectation from even the hardest of hardcore fan.

Eastern Conference Finals: Toronto Confident? | King James Gospel

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both had better games, especially DeRozan, can they keep it up?

The only complete game the Raptors have played this post-season was the clincher against Miami. Otherwise, every game has produced a different result, including several games where both our All-Stars were dreadful. Yet here we are, still with a pulse.

It would be a brave man or woman who would predict whether tomorrow’s night Raptors backcourt will resemble Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.

How to eat like Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry | Toronto Star

“On game day, we’ll do egg whites and gluten-free pancakes — just to get the carbs in there — turkey sausage, avocado, fruit. We’ll do a big breakfast, so I can burn the calories all day. Once game time comes, I’m already fuelled and ready to go.”

That’s what the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry told us a while back, when we asked what he eats for breakfast. And now, ahead of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, we’re uncovering the secrets of this breakfast of a champion.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com


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In the aftermath of a Game 4 victory, I am trying to think of a more important Toronto Raptors game, a bigger Toronto Raptors victory, or a better Toronto Raptors performance. From bell to bell, the Raptors kept swinging at the Cleveland Cavaliers, tying up an Eastern Conference Final that few thought they had any chance of making competitive. They bent in the fourth quarter, but they kept swinging, and by the end of the night, the series was 2-2.

That means it’s back to Cleveland, it means one more home game, and it means this is now, incredibly, anyone’s series.

Here are your post-game notes and quotes.

This was just so awesome

Kyle Lowry was terrific. DeMar DeRozan was terrific. Bismack Biyombo was terrific. Everyone was beautiful.


“It’s one game,” Dwane Casey tried to drive home. “We’re in it. Someone mentioned we were in it just to win one game and I disagree with them. We’re in it to compete for a championship.”

Damn right they are. And here’s something that means nothing but is a fun note, and something I pointed out after they were down 0-2:


“We’ve gotta meet the same intensity level, the same focus,” Casey said of how to carry over these home wins to Cleveland. Specifically, he noted their inability to score during long stretches when Cleveland went on runs. He’s not going to offer a tangible solution publicly, of course, but he did say “we figured out a little bit” over the last two games.


“It’s a cakewalk for me,” DeRozan said of how his job changes when Lowry is also going. They didn’t offer much else about what was different, but they’re both much better quotes after losses than wins, anyway. Neither lets himself get too high. (DeRozan was actually a pretty good quote, just not about his own performance.)


Part of their performance probably wasn’t sustainable, but damn was it every impressive.


“Everybody have their own opinions,” Lowry said of the belief that they were going to get swept. He continued on, and the same question was asked of DeRozan. “Same,” he offered with a smirk.

A big help may be how aggressive the Raptors have come out in the last two games. The Cavs don’t sound as if they’re comfortable playing from behind, and when the Raptors got rolling and the Cavs missed some good outside looks, the Cavs were left scrambling.

“It wasn’t enough because we got off to a horrible first half,” LeBron James said. “We’re not starting off games the right way. The second quarter has been really bad for us here…We can’t dig ourselves a big hole where every possession feels more intensified.”

James seemed happy with his own performance, and he definitely should be. “My individual gameplan was pretty good.” Now, if that’s a real-life subtweet at some teammates or just a concession that the Raptors were better despite that, he’ll need more help, particularly from his shooters.

Injury updates – Valanciunas and Love

The big note on the Raptors’ side is obviously that Jonas Valanciunas was activated and available but didn’t play. Casey said he nearly put the big man in late in the second but thought the intensity of the situation, on a defensive possession, bringing him in cold just made it too tough. He’s expected to practice tomorrow and should be in the mix for Game 5.

“It’s going to be good to get JV back,” Casey said after going on for some time about all the excellent things Biyombo’s been providing in his stead. Specifically, Casey pointed out how much Cleveland will have to change their defensive approach between the two centers. It should also help keep Biyombo fresh, as he plays an incredibly high-energy game and has played 80 minutes over the last two.

On Kevin Love sitting the fourth quarter after a weird fall late in the third, Ty Lue offered this: “I’m not sure of his health, but there’s no concern” (about his play the last two games). It doesn’t sound like there’s much here but keep an ear out over the next two days.

Lineup notes

The Cavaliers “Benchnik Termites” (no, I’m not letting that name go, it’s perfect) were death to the Raptors once again. They were a plus-8 in five minutes and keyed the fourth-quarter push. Lue opted to bring Kyrie Irving in for Iman Shumpert after that, ostensibly for even more shooting, and that group was a minus-4 over four minutes. The Cavs’ starters, meanwhile, were a minus-6 in 21 minutes.

The would-be deadly James-Love-Frye frontcourt was a plus-3 in seven minutes and could have been much better if they didn’t go 2-of-8 on mostly open threes during that stretch.

On the Raptors’ side, the starters were a minus-2 in 14 minutes, while that same group with Patrick Patterson in Luis Scola’s place was a plus-9 in 17 minutes. This isn’t another Scola-Patterson argument, don’t worry. Just descriptive. And yes, Patterson once again looks much more comfortable coming off the bench, and Casey looks more confident in his usual rotations.

Assorted

*James’ memory and recall of plays and sequences and situations immediately after games is unbelievable. The way he rattles off specific details without having watched the tape back makes you realize that his greatness isn’t entirely to do with the physical. I could listen to him talk after games forever…especially after losses.

*Lue said he thought the Cavs had control of the game in the fourth once they went up three but credited the Raptors for locking in and closing it out. He also acknowledged the Raptors hit them first and they never bounced back until late in the third quarter. “They executed every time we made a mistake.”


*On the 19-2 second-half free-throw disparity, a reporter tried to bait Lue into getting a fine complaining about the officials. “I don’t take a page out of nobody’s book,” he said.

Biyombo wasn’t willing to bite when asked about his foul on a near-block on James, either.



*”He’s made shots. I think he’s been aggressive,” Lue said of his mentee Lowry’s big game and the change from the first two games to the last two. “He made some early baskets that gave him some confidence (that) carried over throughout the rest of the game.” Casey said basically the same about some of tough shots the Cavs made – he suggested they might have to “get in the jersey with them” to do a better job – and wants the Raptors to do an even better job closing out on their shooters, perhaps committing less to the roll-man.

*Both Casey and Lue were asked about the set the Cavs kept running to fuel their comeback, with both saying the Raptors only got one stop. Casey was adamant they’ll find a solution. “We finally found a solution for it at the end but it was almost too late,” he said. More on this tomorrow.

*The crowd was incredible again tonight. Everyone spoke highly of their impact again, and I really can’t wait to see what the atmosphere will be like in an elimination game on Friday.



*This was hilarious to me.

Good night, everyone.


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*Recap generator glitchy, we’re rolling with the raw version of QR tonight.

DeMarre Carroll: C+
He had an awful shooting night, missing a lot of open looks. Great energy though, and defensively he did a nice job on LeBron when posted up, and dared him to shoot on the perimeter.

DeMar DeRozan: A+
Just put the team on his back in a really remarkable way. His offense tonight was a nice bag of drives and pull-up jumpers – both his bread and butter. He’s become an absolute assassin in the mid-range.

Kyle Lowry: A+
This was a superstar performance if I’ve ever seen one. Like DeRozan, he stepped up in an immense way, and he was hitting threes like they were layups. Also, just hit big shots, in particular a great drive to the rim with 22.5 seconds left on the clock.

Luis Scola: B
He was fine. Zero points in 14 minutes, but here’s an underrated thing: he’s played really nice defence on Kevin Love.

Bismack Biyombo: A+
Bismack for president, prime minister, mvp, commissioner, and anything else with a prominent title.
He altered shots, that’s true, but he also came up with a couple crazy blocks – including one emphatic rejection on Kevin Love, and one clean (wrongly called foul) on LeBron. The latter was one of the best blocks I’ve ever seen in an NBA game.


On, and this was a treat:


Note, he struggled a bit in the fourth due to Cleveland’s 5-out lineup, but that’s not on him (more under Dwane Casey).

Patrick Patterson: A-
Denied entry passes defensively, brought energy all around, did great passing out of double teams. Solid.

Terrence Ross: B
Surprisingly short leash, but he hit a three and had a nice steal which led to a transition dunk in 7 minutes.

Cory Joseph: B+
Did a nice job defensively on Dellavedova (whatever) and Kyrie Irving, the latter hit some tough shots over CoJo despite some good defense.

James Johnson: B
In 6 minutes, he played sound man-to-man D on LeBron and got to the rim with a nice drive.

Dwane Casey: A-
That was a crazy-tight rotation with heavy minutes for the starters, particularly Kyle Lowry (44). But hey, this was a must-win game and this is the time to do it. I need to rewatch that fourth quarter though to really understand what was going on. I was baffled at how long he let the Cavs roast the Raptors offensively on the same play. They pulled Biyombo out on the perimeter to guard Frye and either A) Got Frye a great look or; B) Got it inside to Jefferson to take advantage of the lack of rim protection.



A few things we saw..

1) That was best atmosphere in ACC history, right? Just incredible stuff from the fans.

2) Can’t emphasize this enough: When the all-stars step up, they can break some backs. Lowry and DeRozan were unstoppable tonight. They were hitting shots that I’ve seen Raptor killers like Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce induce nightmares in us over the past few years. Huge performance from the backcourt, really impressive.

3) The Cavs opened the third quarter on an 11-0 run – Raptors responded. Then the Cavs opened the fourth on a 8-0 run – the Raptors responded again. Huge character shown. The Raptors are alive, and they look like their regular season selves, which is the best possible scenario heading back to Cleveland.


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Is anyone else still on high from Game 3? The Toronto Raptors turned in a terrific and spirited performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers, preventing a sweep, proving they belong in the conference finals, and making it a series once again in the process. The obituaries some took to writing were just a little premature, and the Raptors sense a real opportunity to put the pressure on the Cavs if they can take Game 4 at home on Monday.

That change in energy, the buzz around the city during a beautiful long weekend, and the holiday-capping night game should all make for a raucous environment. And maybe a tipsy one. Expect that to be a factor, as both teams – and Toronto’s earlier opponents – have all paid lip service to the impact the Toronto crowd is having on each game. That’s awesome to hear, and it should be further fuel for a crowd that really hasn’t needed any additional motivation to get loud. (Now if GameOps could just chill and let the noise make that impact organically…)

None of that is to say Game 4 is a forgone conclusion or will be anything close to easy. The Raptors took one of their best shots at Cleveland on Saturday, and the Cavs responded with a dud. There’s little chance Cleveland plays that poorly again, and Toronto may have to be even better to take a second in a row. They’ll need the role players contributing in meaningful, game-changing ways again, they’ll need their All-Star backcourt duo scoring efficiently again, and they’ll need to set the tone early in terms of aggression and physicality again. They can do those things. They haven’t consistently, but they’ve shown they can. They have to Monday.

The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. from the Air Canada Centre. ESPN has the game in the U.S., with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke on the call, while TSN has the Canadian broadcast and Sportsnet 590 has radio rights. Monty McCutchen, David Guthrie, and Derrick Stafford are the officials.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 4, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

*Shyam has you covered with the full game preview. The Cavs will be without the suspended Dahntay Jones, and the Raptors could get Jonas Valanciunas back after he was upgraded from out to doubtful and then from doubtful to questionable.
*The Raptors sent a message last game, thanks in part to a huge game from Bismack Biyombo. Cory Joseph was a major contributor who may have flown under the radar.
*Cooper broke down the stretch of play where the Raptors locked the game up.

Unrelated to the series, friend of the site Andrew McNeill has launched a Kickstarter for a quarterly print basketball magazine that I’m really excited about.

Raptors updates
Jonas Valanciunas was moved from out to doubtful to questionable since Game 3, a pretty major development. He participated in shootaround and the team was going to see how his sprained ankle responded in the afternoon. he’s still been dealing with soreness, but he’ll test the ankle before the game and make a determination from there. If he can play, Dwane Casey said he’ll be limited.

If he can’t go, it speaks well for his potential Game 5 status on Wednesday.

If he’s good to go, expect him to come off the bench (Casey said he’s still the starter once 100 percent, but he won’t be that Monday). Not only will Valanciunas likely be limited, Casey probably won’t want to disrupt Bismack Biyombo’s rhythm right now, and Biyombo’s shown he can hold down the spot. What’s more, the Valanciunas-Luis Scola frontcourt would be untenable against the Cavs’ attack. Playing Valanciunas against either Kevin Love or Channing Frye is risky defensively if his mobility isn’t all the way back, but if he’s coming off the bench, Casey can better pick and choose his spots with the Lithuanian. With the Cavs toying with more Frye-Love combo pairings, that could mean more Tristan Thompson with second-unit groups, which would represent good times to deploy Valanciunas.

“I’m sure they will,” Casey said of the Cavs attacking Valanciunas if he can go. “It’s tough because his best matchup is probably Tristan Thompson, and when they go to the second unit, they space the floor out a little bit.”

Whatever the rotation iterations, Valanciunas would be a boon to the offense and present a bit of a challenge for the Raptors defensively when the Cavs are stretchy. He’ll be a net positive overall, but those hoping for the Valanciunas who was peaking at both ends of the floor before the injury may want to temper their expectations just a little.

UPDATE: Valanciunas is active and available.

Raptors projected rotation
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Delon Wright)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, T.J. Ross, (Norman Powell)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, (Bruno Caboclo)
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson
C: Bismack Biyombo, Jonas Valanciunas, (Jason Thompson), (Lucas Nogueira)

Their may not be many rotation changes if Valanciunas isn’t back. Casey seems comfortable with Scola starting, and it seems like it’s gotten Patrick Patterson going again a little bit. So long as Scola’s stints are short at the beginning of each half, it’s not the end of the world, though his leash should be short in the event he plays closer to Game 2 (middling) than Game 3 (admittedly effective against Love).

“Luis is probably the most decorated player on our team,” Casey said. “He’s been there before. The moment’s not gonna bother him. He gives us a lot…It’s not a mystery he’s starting. There were some matchup issues (with IND/MIA), and he has a better matchup in this series.”

And yes, Terrence Ross probably stays in the rotation ahead of Norman Powell. Casey’s shown he’ll limit his minutes if necessary, but the team values his shooting too much to not see what he’s got night in and night out.

The more important thing for the Raptors than rotation changes is sticking to the schematic tweaks from Game 3. They found the middle ground between their Games 1 and 2 strategies in terms of guarding James post ups, finally started backing off of him and going under screens, and when they managed to force the ball out of his hands, they sent heavy pressure at Irving on the ball and had their fours body up Love physically. Those same strategies may not work against a team with that much talent – sometimes, guys are just going to beat a good defense – but you’d rather the Cavs be trying to beat you with 15 J.R. Smith 3-point attempts than the type of looks they were getting in the first two games. Who am I kidding? I just want Earl to shoot for the 3-point attempt record (18).

Check back before tip off to confirm the starters.

Cavaliers updates
Other than Jones getting suspended for punching Biyombo in the unmentionables, the Cavs are ready to roll. Matthew Dellavedova seems over his ankle issue, Kyrie Irving has his “wind” back, and everyone else is as healthy as guys can be in late May.

Cavaliers projected rotation
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, (Mo Williams)
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, (Jordan McRae), (Dahntay Jones)
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, (James Jones)
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, (Timofey Mozgov), (Sasha Kaun)

Other than the aforementioned Love-Frye pairing (and those two with James should be deadly), the Cavs may not change a whole lot. They were bad on Saturday, but that was more a matter of execution and a team-wide (less James) malaise rather than anything fundamentally wrong with how they approached the first three games. Frye and Love playing together changes their bench units, and it may make it tricky to play the Benchnik Termites (Dellavedova-Shumpert-Jefferson-James-Frye) as much. It’s probably worthwhile still – the James-Love-Frye trio terrifies me, and it’s seemed like something Ty Lue is keeping in his quiver until absolutely necessary. (Take it as a sign of respect, then, that they may deploy it here.)

Check back for an update on the official starters.

Pre-game news and notes
*Casey once again stressed the importance of keeping an even keel and not getting too high after a win. “We’re going to get their best punch,” he said. As for managing energy, Casey would “rather say whoah than giddy up,” so expect some energy early.

*He also pointed out that the Raptors tried to limit Irving, and while he thought some of the schemes were effective, he also conceded that he missed some good looks. I rewatched the tape for the third time today and some of the Irving/Love/Smith misses were of the how-are-they-that-open variety. The Raptors missed a lot of those same looks in Games 1 and 2, and like Toronto expected that to normalize, so, too, will Cleveland. That’s a little scary and a reminder the Raptors can still do an even better job defensively (something Lowry suggested at shootaround in calling Game 3 a “7.5” out of 10).

*Toronto’s priority remains to be taking away the paint, and the three after that. Casey didn’t seem too upset with how many 3-point attempts they allowed in Game 3, probably because they only allowed 20 points in the paint. Still, “We gotta get our butts out there and contest.”

*LeBron is “A monster, out of respect, not a bad monster,” according to Casey. He’s a big friendly monster, I guess.

*Lue said Biyombo’s physicality was an issue last game, and guards cracking back is a big part of their strategy to neutralize him. He also mentioned Biyombo’s physicality, and I’ll use this opportunity to point out once again that Biyombo is one flagrant point (a Flagrant 1 or Flagrant 2) from earning a one-game suspension. Biyombo didn’t seem too worried about it at shootaround, and Casey said he trusts that Biyombo is smart enough to play his game without getting tossed. They better hope so.

*”Look for a heavy dose for Kevin,” Lue said. So the Cavs and Raptors will have far more Love in their lives than your boy.

Assorted
*Here’s your Game 4 swag update:


*Want some more cause for optimism? NumberFire gives the Raptors nearly a 10-percent chance of winning the title.

The line
Game 1: Cavaliers -10.5 (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 84)
Game 2: Cavaliers -11.5 (Cavaliers 108, Raptors 89)
Game 3: Cavaliers -5.5 (Raptors 99, Cavaliers 84)
Game 4: Cavaliers -6.5
Series: Cavaliers -2500 (implied probability of 96.15 percent, slightly lower than after Game 1 [the series was off the board after Game 2])

The line for this one somewhat strangely opened larger in Cleveland’s favor than Game 3. I say strangely not necessarily because Toronto’s Game 3 win should have told everyone anything substantially new about the series (most of us believed they had a game like that in them in the series), but because we also didn’t learn anything to suggest Cleveland is suddenly even further ahead of Toronto. Valanciunas could return, there are no other notable changes to either side, and while Cleveland should definitely be expected to bounce back, this essentially seems a bet on them doing so and then some, relative to the Game 3 line. There’s a ton of noise in a single-point swing, of course, but it can all only lead us to one conclusion: You’re all right, and the fix is in.

Referees 11, NBA $$$$$$$, LeBron James 5, Other 0


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The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers held court early on this holiday Monday ahead of their pivotal Game 4 showdown at 8:30 tonight. Here are your usual notes and quotes from their shootaround media availability.

Valanciunas is a game-time call

Jonas Valanciunas participated in shootaround and sounds like a game-time decision tonight.

Head coach Dwane Casey repeatedly said “we’ll see” when asked follow-ups about Valanciunas’ status, saying that Valanciunas is still experiencing soreness in his sprained ankle but the team will wait to see how he responds this afternoon.

UPDATE: He’s been upgraded from doubtful to questionable.

There’s a lot to unpack from that small update. Like with his upgrade from out to doubtful on Sunday, today’s note accomplishes at least three things: It gives the Raptors the option to play him, it speaks positively to the potential for a return later in the series, and it forces the Cavs to at least consider how they’ll approach him if he can do. The Cavs have operated as if Valanciunas isn’t playing, per head coach Tyronn Lue, and keeping Valanciunas’ status up in the air may include some gamsemanship on the part of Toronto. They could even dress him and opt not to deploy him, really.

At the same time, this is also just cause for earnest optimism. There’s no chance Valanciunas will be at 100 percent after so much time off, and he’ll be thrown into the fire of the Eastern Conference Finals against a frontcourt that will really test his mobility. The Cavs have hinted at using Kevin Love and Channing Frye even more, perhaps even together, to further stretch out Toronto’s defense, and that would be effective against Valanciunas. The counter to that is that even a hobbled Valanciunas could make a lot of hay at the offensive end and on the glass against those lineups. It’s an interesting trade-off for both sides. Valanciunas is simply too good not to play if he’s physically ready, and Casey will just have to try his best to pick advantageous spots. If the Cavs go with more Love-Frye looks, that means a little more Tristan Thompson with second units, which could benefit Valanciunas.

Now, should you expect him? It’s tough to say. There are conflicting rumblings from around the Air Canada Centre about the true likelihood of him playing, which is probably exactly what the Raptors want from an Art of War perspective (shout out to that one commenter). If he can play, manage your expectations and anticipate him coming off the bench. If he can’t, cross your fingers again for Wednesday and hope the uncertainty messed with the Cavaliers some.

Exciting stuff.

Fines and suspensions and nuts and bolts

Nobody was willing to talk much about the fine to head coach Dwane Casey, the suspension of Dahntay Jones, or the Draymond Green-Steven Adams incident from Sunday night. That’s probably for the best, and the sooner we can all stop talking about punishments and officiating, the better. I’m a fan of basketball. (Jones, for what it’s worth, said it was unintentional and that he was surprised by the suspension.)

One thing the league hasn’t done, by the way, is rescind Bismack Biyombo’s flagrant foul from Game 3. That means he remains one flagrant point from suspension, something that doesn’t seem to be fazing him much at all.

Biyombo is awesome

“I don’t play the game to be scared of anybody.”

Biyombo consistently getting podium time now is one of the best developments of the playoffs. The only thing more fun than watching Biyombo seems to be being Biyombo.


Speaking of fun, Biyombo admitted that it bothered him in Games 1 and 2 that the Cavaliers were having a good time, joking at pressers, and so on. Expect the Cavaliers to feel a little bit the same, though the Raptors really haven’t been too celebratory or loose in the days since.

Assorted

*The media contingent continues to grow as the playoffs roll along. It’s fun but it is hard to get good microphone positioning.


*For those who think the Raptors took their best shot in Game 3 and might regress, Kyle Lowry is in disagreement.


*Cory Joseph declined to challenge Tristan Thompson to a match at Money in the Bank. Maybe they draw this “feud” out to Summerslam. He did speak really highly of the opportunity to play at home, and with Survivor Series rumored to be coming to Toronto in November, maybe they’ll save the blowoff for then?


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Coming home after dropping two straight in Cleveland meant that Toronto had to come away victorious if they wanted to make the series competitive and respectable. With a little more than five minutes left to go in the 4th quarter, the Raptors led by 10 points. By breaking down their possessions on both ends of the court, we can see how the Raptors executed to hold onto their lead.

Defense

The Cavaliers initiated their crunch time offense by going to an ATO (after timeout) special for their small-ball lineup (which featured Frye instead of Love).

A common action is run for Smith, as he makes an Iverson cut across both screeners at the elbow. Defending a shooter, Lowry naturally trails as to not allow Smith any open space to bomb away from deep. As a result, Lowry allows Smith to sharply cut backdoor as James makes an obnoxiously stellar no-look pass for the easy layup. The key here is that Biyombo’s assignment is Frye, who is standing close enough to the three-point arc to be a perimeter threat. This disallows Biyombo to sag back and bump Smith’s cut to the rim, which would have disrupted his movement and allowed Lowry time to recover. Pretty smart ATO set when considering the personnel on the floor.

As it was so successful the first time, the Cavaliers go back to the same base set on the next trip down the floor.

Lowry, all the wiser after experiencing the set-play once, decides to duck under the screen so Smith doesn’t trot towards the basket unattended once again. The Cavaliers have ran this set plenty throughout the regular season and have variations and counters – one of which they deployed here by having Smith set a Flare screen for Frye. He catches Biyombo on the screen but does not fully take Lowry out of the play and he is able to run Frye off the three-point line. Frye penetrates and makes the defense bend towards him and finds Smith open. The shot doesn’t fall but the possession is successful in the eyes of “process over results” thinkers.

The following possession is less scripted, as we see Irving use a Drag screen (pick and roll in transition) with Frye as the screener. A slight miscommunication between Joseph and Biyombo does not harm the Raptors, as Joseph fights over the screen and does not give any ground to Irving, while Biyombo hedges ever-so-slightly before recovering back to Frye with no advantage surrendered. Irving uses a re-screen as Joseph and Biyombo get back on the same page by denying the middle of the floor (Joseph) while simultaneously corralling the ball handler and then recovering to Frye (Biyombo). Biyombo’s foot speed does him wonders as he doesn’t allow Frye an open look.

Frye then continues the offensive sequence by engaging in a DHO. Biyombo and Patterson happily switch (as is now customary whenever James is slotted at the 4-spot) and Biyombo allows James the middle of the floor. A combination of Biyombo contesting James and Joseph meandering over to clutter the lane forces a rare miss at the rim for James. The take away here is that the Cavaliers know they can comfortably get Biyombo to switch onto James at will, which will become a theme for the remainder of the quarter.

James engages in another pick and roll with Frye as to secure Biyombo as his primary defender on the switch. As the action stalls on the ball, notice how Lowry and Patterson negotiate defensive responsibilities on the weakside. Patterson steps into the lane (and steps out every 2.9 seconds as to avoid a “3 in the key” call) while Lowry sets himself up into a weakside zone. This is done as the Raptors expect Biyombo to be blown by and to prevent an easy dunk for James, they send help with Patterson in anticiaption. If James decides to kick it out for three, Lowry will recover to the shooter and the rest of the defense will rotate appropriately.

James is an expert at picking apart this type of defense – as he is with any defense. The Cavaliers dealt with this a ton in the Finals last year against Golden State and it is now customary for them to use a Flare screen (as Shumpert proceeds to do) because a screening situation necessitates two defenders to negotiate responsibilities and if Patterson is preoccupied with James, the Cavaliers can secure some good looks around the arc. Unfortunately for them, Shumpert thrusts his hips a little too much and gets called for an illegal screen, but as you will shortly see, running that sequence over and over again produces some pretty high percentage shots.

Instead of utilizing just a single screen on-ball for James, the Cavaliers send both of Smith and Frye. Their weak screens don’t do much damage as Patterson scampers above them with relative ease.

Similar to the second possession analyzed, the Cavaliers use Smith as a screener off-ball for Frye but the Raptors amicably switch and un-switch to mitigate that action’s effectiveness.

After draining six seconds off the shot clock, James decides to take Patterson one-on-one and Biyombo steps up into the role of an anticipating helper while Joseph forms a weakside zone. Once again, the Cavaliers pick at this advantage by using a Flare screen on the defender assigned to the weakside zone and are able to get an actual shot out of it this time. Kyrie had a rough night shooting, in part due to Joseph’s stellar defense, but on this possession he just misses a good look.

The James pick and roll show continues with James engaging in a variation of “Elbow Get” on the next possession.

Once again, Cleveland is able to secure Biyombo switching onto James but this time, Patterson does not commit to helping on the drive and James takes Biyombo off the bounce. A hard foul and slight scuffle commence. Point to be taken away is that time and time again, Cleveland knows how to get an obvious advantage and it just depends on Toronto’s execution around the margins (as well as some dumb luck on open shots) to decide whether Cleveland comes away with several points on every possession.

Offense

For much of the important 4th quarter defensive sequences, James drew DeRozan as his assignment. In a micro sense, he did a great job. He denied DeRozan the ball several times and gave him little to no air space, as he played a physical brand of defense that Smith and Shumpert just cannot match. But in a macro view, it hurt the Cavaliers a fair bit.

The first instance occurs with James defending DeRozan off a wide pindown. He doesn’t allow DeRozan to comfortably use his momentum off the screen and after he mucks that up, he ducks under the screen and meets DeRozan before he can turn the corner and finish at the hoop. James forced DeRozan to restart the possession and go into a high pick and roll with Biyombo, which forces Frye to contest a mid range jumper and cause a miss.

All seems good, except after the switch, James becomes sealed by Biyombo. The Butterfly Effect takes place and that advantage forces the already under qualified Smith to box out Biyombo while Patterson tips the ball out. As a result of James playing the 4, Smith is forced to match up against Toronto’s Power Forward in Patterson and the broader effects of James’ decision to defend DeRozan become clear. The possession continues, and after a few swings around the perimeter, Biyombo finds himself the beneficiary of the Cavaliers going small and almost secures an Offensive Rebound of his own.

Cleveland’s decision to have James defend DeRozan would continue to haunt them on the next possession. Once again, it seems as though James does a great job of taking DeRozan out of the play by not allowing him to catch the ball off a staggered screen, however, DeRozan continues his cut and sets a staggered screen of his own (with Biyombo) on the ball for Lowry.

As a result of James refusing to separate himself from his defensive assignment, Biyombo dives to the rim without being tagged. Typically, when DeRozan is without the ball and  above the arc, his defenders have no problem mucking up the lane to alleviate any stresses caused by pick and rolls. James’ refusal forces a small Irving to ponder his life choices before deciding against contesting Biyombo’s alley-oop finish.

The next sequence sees James once again muck up an initial action for DeRozan. DeRozan likes to feast on smaller defenders in the post and a fairly common SLOB (Sideline Out of Bounds) play for the Raptors sees DeRozan get a post touch while a staggered screen happens on the weakside. The play is run in a very unorganized fashion on this possession, but this forced some spontaneity out of the (sometimes correctly criticized) Raptors crunch time offense.

DeRozan engages in an impromptu “Snug Pick and Roll” (also referred to as a “Logo PnR”, which is a Pick and Roll that is initiated from the low post as the ball handler motions towards the middle of the floor). DeRozan draws two on the ball and makes a pretty great pass with defenders draped all over him which leads to the boring Biymbo hook shot.

Side Note: It’s incredibly surprising that Snug Pick and Rolls aren’t a typical action in the Raptors playbook as their two dominant ball handlers are both relatively good at gaining post position. It’s a nice way to mix up the vanilla pick and rolls that sometimes stagnate the offense. The Clippers do a great job of this with Chris Paul, who is in some ways comparable (from a play style standpoint) to Kyle Lowry.

The Raptors go to “Chin Pick and Roll” for DeRozan (which you can read more about here and just as the preceding possession, DeRozan draws both Frye and James after a pick and roll. Once again, DeRozan makes a very difficult pass to a diving Biyombo who converts for the slightly easier two points. People get on DeRozan a ton about playing hero ball, and it’s warranted at times. He played a great game and knew when to dish the ball late in the game when he drew a ton of attention.

James was pest-like for much of the 4th quarter against DeRozan, but his annoying nature took an abrupt turn on the next possession.

The Raptors go to one of their patented crunch time sets with “Ram Pick and Roll” but used a slightly new variation where the screener (Patterson) pops out and immediately engages in a DHO. All is fine until DeRozan makes a move towards the lane and creates a pocket to find the rolling Patterson before he is halted by James, who sticks out his leg. The pseudo-issue here is that the Cavaliers had already amassed TWO other kickball violations in similar scenarios earlier in the quarter.

This seemingly inconsequential kick actually seems to affect late-game decision making. I don’t know what the repercussions should be for this dumb non-issue, but I demand some sort of justice.

Raptors finish the possession with a Lowry pull-up after he puts Frye on skates as karma appears to be on the side of Toronto.

Last important possession for the Raptors has them going back to “Ram Pick and Roll”, except now they utilize Lowry as the initial off-ball screener and Biyombo as the on-ball alternative. What’s interesting to note is that Toronto sends Patterson from the baseline to above the arc as Biyombo makes his roll to the rim. In theory, this should force Patterson’s defender (James) to decide between tagging Biyombo’s role and preventing an alley-oop, but surrendering an open Patterson three-pointer or vice-versa. The play got mucked up and Irving bounces of Joseph in the lane as he hits a jumper of his own to seal the Cavaliers’ fate.

In Conclusion
Defensively, the Raptors found a way to win around the margins. Cleveland attacked with James and forced Toronto into some precarious situations with helping in preperation, but Toronto edged that battle out. It’s interesting to track that mini-battle throughout the course of the game as it can sometimes be the deciding factor.

On the other end of the court, James found his way into the spotlight as he locked up DeRozan for much of the 4th quarter. Conversely, he was also the downfall of the Cavaliers defense on several occasions because of his incredible commitment to stopping DeRozan. The other way to look at that is DeRozan gained the respect of Cleveland throughout the course of the game and used it to his advantage late by securing some great looks for Biyombo.

Overall it was a joyous victory for the Raptors as they continue to venture into territory never seen in Toronto basketball history. Enjoy the ride folks, it’s fun.


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On the heels of one of the biggest victories in franchise history over the Cleveland Cavaliers just two days prior, the Toronto Raptors are back at it again tonight. And this time, they’ll be taking the court in hopes of tying their best-of-7 series at 2 games apiece.

The effort we saw from the Raptors in Game 3 was in the eyes of many, somewhat expected. Although the result was in question, fans, players, and the basketball community expected the Raptors to fight for something this time around in front of their home fans. With thousands lined up hours before tip-off at Jurassic Park, and the hope of an entire nation on their side, the Raptors delivered an inspired performance, fueled by the scoring of DeMar DeRozan, the unbelievable defense and rebounding of Bismack Biyombo, and timely contributions from Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, and when he was on the floor not being whistled for questionable fouls, Kyle Lowry.

Home is where the heart is

The Raptors have faced the Cavaliers a total of 6 times this season, including the regular season, and are now 3-3. They’re a perfect 3-0 at home, and 0-3 on the road. In fact, the performances at home and on the road have been so vastly different, that it makes one wonder whether the home arena really has that much of an impact on this series.

In the regular season, the Raptors were +7 at home in 2 games, shooting over 50% from the field, 40% from 3, and averaging 101 points per game. In their lone road game during the regular season, the Raptors still shot the ball reasonably well at 49% from the field and 42% from the 3, but were dismal on defense giving up 122 points on 55% shooting. The Raps were also outrebounded 40-26.

And while coming into this series, the regular season was by no means expected to be a frame of reference for the playoffs, it pretty much has been exactly that. In their 2 road games thus far against the Cavs in these playoffs, the Raps are -25, and this time were outplayed on both sides of the ball. They shot a combined 41% from the field, 25% from 3, and averaged only 86.5 points a game (the Raps are a top-5 offense in the league that averaged more than 102 points a game in the regular season). On the other hand, in their one home game against the Cavs in this series, it was domination on the defensive end, and the Raps (mostly Bismack Biyombo) actually outrebounded the Cavs 54-40.

So, somehow, playing at home against these Cavaliers seems to get the competitive juices flowing for the Raptors, while playing on the road seems to intimidate them, and take out the energy they seem to play with at home. Encouraging sign coming into tonight? Yes. Something I’d bet on happening again? Not sure.

The game plan – picking the poison

So, while playing at home is comforting, it can’t be the whole story. The game plan for Dwane Casey’s squad will have to consider all that went right in that game on Saturday night, and what kinds of things they can bottle and bring to the table once again in tonight’s tilt against Cleveland.

It sounds simple, but defense is probably going to be the biggest key in this one. In their 3 losses against the Raptors this season at the ACC, the Cavaliers have shot 45% from the field (regular season) and 35% in the playoffs. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have shot a dismal 20-88 from the field collectively in those 3 games. So, in all likelihood (one would hope), the defense outside the painted area is not likely to be the concern. The story of the series thus far has been the Raptors’ trade-off in their defensive schemes in either guarding the 3, or guarding inside (one, usually at the expense of the other). In Cleveland is an entirely different story, but at the ACC, the defensive game plan should be, when given the option, to always defend the paint. The Cavs aren’t likely to shoot lights out from outside at the ACC, but you never know and would rather live with that, than giving them the straight line drive to the basket (especially in light of the way this series is being officiated, drives to the basket will lead to scores or free throws for Cleveland).

Cleveland Cavaliers Shot Chart – Games 1 and 2 @ Cleveland

Shotchart_1464011265407

Cleveland Cavaliers Shot Chart – Game 3 @ Toronto

It’s also important to note the Raptors are 3-0 when holding Cleveland to under 100 points this season, and on the flip side, are 0-3 when the 100-point threshold is exceeded. That means 2 things – defense and a slow pace wins. The Raptors should get out and go when they have clear easy baskets, but otherwise, should slow the game down, try to get to the line, and avoid live-ball turnovers that will send Cleveland dashing down the other end of the court for transition baskets or dunks. Especially with LeBron on the court.

The officiating

One of the recurring themes in this series has been the seemingly overwhelming respect the Cavaliers have gotten from the officials. The Raps have been whistled for 73 fouls in the 3 games thus far, compared to just 46 against the Cavaliers. The disparity was especially large in the most recent game where the Cavs were only whistled for 10 fouls. 10 fouls!! On the road, and in a clearly physical game played in the playoffs, that was a bit odd. And Dwane Casey sure took notice.

Casey was fined $25K by the league on Sunday for his post-game comments after Game 3 where he repeatedly bashed the officials for the lack of balance in officiating the series. While Casey respected the officials and their abilities, he made it clear his team wasn’t getting the respect it deserved.

That’s not to mention the egregious flopping from LeBron James, who seemed to embellish contact on at least 3 occasions (in one case after taking a hit from his own teammate).

Prior to Game 2 tipping off, DeMarre Carroll suggested that LeBron’s “acting” was “something to think about” in this series.

VIDEO: DeMarre Carroll Calls Out LeBron James For “Acting” On Fouls

JV’s status

JV’s status coming into tonight’s game was upgraded to questionable yesterday afternoon. Valanciunas’ progress has been slow and steady, but has been on target and treated cautiously thus far by the Raptors training staff. Valanciunas will be re-evaluated today and his status for the game will be confirmed closer to tip-off. Obviously, having JV in the game offers the Raptors a dynamic offensive punch on the inside that can cause the Cavs fits. Not to mention, it would slide Biyombo over to the second unit, providing a more balanced rebounding attack for the Raptors in both their bench and starting units (the Raptors are 0-2 in the series when outrebounded).

The Line

The Cavaliers remain 6 point favourites coming into tonight’s contest, a line similar to Game 3. The question will be, the Raptors obviously had at least 1 game of fight in them – but can they deliver 2? The Cavaliers will be as determined as ever to finally steal a win in Toronto, to put themselves in a position to wrap up this series in Cleveland on Wednesday night and give themselves sufficient rest going into an NBA Final. I expect the Cavaliers to make plenty of adjustments with respect to guarding Biyombo on rolls to the basket, guarding DeRozan effectively for 48 minutes, and crashing the glass more effectively as team. Not to mention, I don’t expect Irving and Love to go 4-28 from the field again. My heart says the Raptors have a solid chance to win this one, but my head says though it will be close, the Cavs got this (probably by less than 6). Hoping to God I’ll be wrong.


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Valanciunas upgraded, Biyombo doesn’t have friends on the court, and other practice notes | Raptors Republic

Valanciunas upgraded
It probably doesn’t mean a ton just yet, but the Raptors have upgraded injured center Jonas Valanciunas from out to doubtful for Game 4 on Monday. It seems like a serious long-shot he’d play, but the upgrade serves three purposes: It gives the Raptors the option to play him if he’s suddenly much better the day of the game, it signals Valanciunas could be ready a little later in the series if not Monday, and it forces the Cavaliers to at least think about how they may deal with him if and when he returns.

That last part is something they really haven’t done yet, according to Ty Lue.

Dahntay Jones suspended, Dwane Casey fined | Raptors Republic

The NBA has fined Toronto Raptors head coach $25,000 for public criticism of officiating following the team’s Game 3 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.

In his post-game press conference, Casey initially appeared to be trying to bite his tongue, but he reached a point where he apparently decided it was worth the hit to his wallet to unload. And unload he did.

The Raptors had his back, with several players also complaining about the refereeing (as well as every person on Twitter). Nobody was willing to talk about it on Sunday, though.

Raptors give Cavaliers first real playoff test: Arthur | Toronto Star

The Raptors probably needed that game, too, to actually believe in possibility. They liked their matchups with Cleveland all year, but it’s better to see it happen.

“It’s not like we’re playing against a Dream Team of players,” says DeMar DeRozan, who had one of the finest games of his career. “Anybody is capable of being beaten. We showed it all year.”

“LeBron gonna be LeBron, best player in the world, but if you knock out some of the supporting cast . . . ” says Carroll.

“We had to get them out of a comfort zone, and when that happened it’s almost like magic,” says Scola. “They miss shots that are wide open, they miss layups that are wide open.

“These are players who are capable (of playing) this way. It’s just more about how can we put them in a non-comfort zone? They’ve been in a great confidence place. We take them out of that, and how do they react to that? How can we make them not feel good about how they play? We have to make them ask themselves questions, which they haven’t done yet. It doesn’t guarantee anything, obviously.”

No, of course not. Toronto has to win Game 4 to make this matter, and Cleveland seems confident they’ll be fine.

DeRozan at the top of his game vs. Cavaliers | Toronto Sun

“We keep repeating the same thing,” said Luis Scola at practice on Sunday.

“DeMar and Kyle, those are the guys that got to make the right play. We don’t need them to score every play, we just need them to play well. both of them were playing great and the outcome was completely different,” Scola said.

Head coach Dwane Casey agreed the DeRozan played a cerebral game.

“He did, I thought he didn’t get sped up in the game. I thought he kept it under control,” Casey told Postmedia in a quiet moment.

“I thought that was huge and it’s going to be huge going forward because now you’re going to see them into him more, more double-teams, more LeBron … He’s doing a good job of picking and choosing his moves.”

DeRozan said part of his improved shooting can be attributed to the fact that his bothersome thumb injury – one that played havoc with his feel for the ball earlier in the playoffs – is less problematic these days.

“It’s not as bad as it was, it was pretty bad, honestly, I told myself I wasn’t going to talk about it until whenever we were done,” DeRozan admitted to Postmedia.

“It’s a lot better, every day it gets better, but it’s still there. I still be conscious of hoping it doesn’t get hit. I still try to get comfortable with it every single day, just dealing with the pain,” he said.

For Casey, it wasn’t just DeRozan’s offence that impressed in Game 3.

“I thought also, his attention to his defence was pretty good. He was into them without fouling. Just overall, his overall play was excellent,” Casey said.

@raptors @demar_derozan & @kyle_lowry7 following Game 3 of the @cavs vs. @raptors series.

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Oscar-worthy flops tough call in NBA playoff cauldron: Feschuk | Toronto Star

It’s possible to kill both because a bad call is in the eye of the beholder. As egregious as Saturday’s LeFlop happened to be, there wasn’t much chatter in Toronto about how Saturday’s fourth quarter saw Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry take a dive worthy of the Olympic platform. Lowry’s Louganis-worthy piece of performance art fooled the referees into whistling Iman Shumpert for an offensive foul, even though video replay suggested Shumpert was guilty only of setting a legal screen. And how does one explain the sheer disparity in the number of fouls levied in the series? Consider that Cleveland was the vastly superior team in blowouts in Games 1 and 2. The more aggressive team, the superior team, usually gets the better end of any given whistle, even if Saturday was an exception.

“As I grow up and I start understanding basketball in a different way, I believe that refs are . . . going through the same process we are (as players),” Scola said. “We’re trying to play very well for our coaches to play us more, for our contracts to be bigger, for fans to like us. (Referees) go through the same process. There’s a lot of people watching them. They review each one of the plays. They get punishment for bad calls. They get rewarded for good calls. Their contracts are on the line. The amount of games they call are on the line.

“They want to make the right call. Are they going to make mistakes? No question.”

In a bang-bang game that’s played in a blur, they’re going to make mistakes. And they’re going to be unsure, which is why fans cry injustice and coaches lobby and players sell calls.

“Everybody sells calls,” Carroll said. “But when we got to the playoffs, our guys haven’t been selling calls as much as they did (in the regular season) because we don’t get ’em. We learned that in the first series. They’re not going to give us those calls. But they give certain people certain calls.”

Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But here’s what we know for sure: Three games into the Eastern final, the officials have ignited incalculable outrage while determining precisely zero outcomes.

@cavs Forward @kingjames in the training room prior to Game 3 of the @cavs vs. @raptors series.

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Cory Joseph confident Raptors can keep up with Cavs | Toronto Sun

“That’s a foolish question, man. Come on,” Joseph said not holding anything back the day after his Raptors won Game 3 and now trail in the best-of-seven Conference Final series 2-1. “I’m allowed to tell you that’s a foolish question. There was never one moment in my mind,” Joseph said shaking his head in disgust.

Joseph is not a player that reads the papers or monitors twitter before and after games like some of his teammates. He knows what it’s like to be in the middle of a playoff series. And if there’s one thing he has learned in his five years in the league, it is that once in the playoffs, every game is different.

“Let me tell you something,” Joseph began just getting wound up again. “Five years I have been in the league. I went to the conference championships four years. My first year as a rookie I didn’t play that much. I really didn’t play at all basically. We went up 2-0 on OKC and I know this is a whole different series, whole different everything. They came back and won the series 4-2. The first game we blew them out. We beat them pretty good both those games.”

The point is it doesn’t matter how a series starts or who gets the first punch in during the fight, it’s how it ends and Joseph knows this one is far from ending.

“Every game is different,” Joseph said still unable to comprehend a professional athlete second-guessing himself because of a bad start to a series. “I don’t listen to that crap. That’s complete crap. Are we questioning can we play with these guys? What the hell is that? I think that’s pretty dumb to question if we think we can play with these guys. We’re here. We are the No. 2 seed. We have worked all year for this. Why wouldn’t we?”

@raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey speaks to the media prior to Game 3 of the @cavs vs. @raptors series.

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LeBron James, Cavs try to take control in Toronto: 5 things to know | CBSSports.com

All players say they have confidence, but the Raptors have earned some. They’re the only team to beat Cleveland in the playoffs, and now they’ll try to build on that. Saturday was a massive moment for the franchise, which is in the conference finals for the first time in its 21-year history. It was also meaningful for the players, who are all aware that the Cavaliers are the overwhelming favorites.

“We just showed we can win,” DeRozan said. “Anybody can be beat at the end of the day. It’s not like we’re playing against a Dream Team of players.”
“Before [Saturday’s] game, we were in a position like, ‘Let’s make them look human. Let’s make them look like a team that could be beaten,'” Scola said. “Because they looked, like, unbeatable up until that point. Nobody really put them in that situation. So that was what [Game 3] was all about.”

Throughout the regular season, Cleveland was not known as a particularly cohesive team. That completely changed in the playoffs. In all likelihood, its 10 postseason wins were much more telling than this one loss. Toronto, though, has to hope that it can rattle the Cavs and make them doubt themselves a little bit.

“We talked about it after Game 2,” Scola said. “We gotta get them out of their comfort zone. And that’s what we did. When that happened, it’s almost like magic. They start missing shots that were wide open. They start missing layups that were wide open. They start not getting a couple calls here and there. Momentum shifts, the energy shifts.”

The Raptors are here despite playing poorly for much of the postseason. They are here despite four-fifths of their starting lineup dealing with injuries and their two All-Stars slumping at what seemed like the worst possible time. DeRozan said that these tough times have revealed the character of the team, and they’ve grown from their seven-game slugfests against the Heat and Pacers. Toronto does not have many advantages against Cleveland, but it does have more recent experience persevering when things have fallen apart.

Raptors’ DeRozan welcomes LeBron challenge in Game 4 | Toronto Star

In Game 3 of the conference final against the Cleveland Cavaliers, in Games 5 and 7 of the semifinal against the Miami Heat, and Games 5 and 7 of the first round against the Indiana Pacers, the longest-serving Raptor has dominated, putting up numbers befitting a big-game performer.

In those games, DeRozan has averaged 31.6 points, shot 42.6 per cent from the floor, 98.7 per cent from the free-throw line and, most important, the Raptors have won each time.

“I like the moment,” DeRozan said Sunday as Toronto, trailing the Cavaliers 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, went through a light workout ahead of Monday’s Game 4.

“I like being under the pressure. What people call pressure . . . I feel like it’s ‘you’ve got nothing to lose.’ I don’t see it as pressure at all. When your back is against the wall and you’re supposed to fold? That’s when I do the opposite. It’s more comfortable for me.”

And comforting for the Raptors, who basically salvaged their season behind DeRozan’s 32 points in Saturday’s 99-84 win over Cleveland. His performance certainly caught the attention of the Cavaliers, who switched LeBron James on to DeRozan for a handful of late-game possessions. It’s sure to be a tactic they employ in Game 4 if DeRozan gets off to another torrid start.

“(Saturday) was one of those challenges that I felt like, I needed to take control of it,” James told reporters Sunday. “The guy has been shooting the ball extremely well, especially to open the game up, and he played a heck of a game last night. I just wanted to get my crack at him.”

BIG BIZNESS💪🏿🇨🇩 #Raptors #WeTheNorth #NorthSidePride #BizNasty #BB8 #BedBathAndBiyombo

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Game 4 Preview: Raptors vs. Cavaliers | Toronto Raptors

Full 48 Minutes

After showing stretches of keeping up with the Cavaliers in Games 1 and 2, the Raptors went into Game 3 talking about the importance of playing for a full 48 minutes. Closing quarters strong and not having mental lapses were near the top of the to-do list for Saturday. Toronto started strong in Game 3, and didn’t let up. Setting the tone early, there were moments where Cleveland fought back, getting within five points in the second half, but Toronto managed to stave off every Cavaliers run.

“We learned from the last two games,” DeMar DeRozan said. “That’s when the lapses of the games started with us, and they took advantage of it in the first two games. We tried to withhold that [in Game 3] and tried to finish off the quarters strong. That’s what we did. We had a rhythm, and we came out with the win.”

Now that they’ve snapped Cleveland’s 17-game postseason winning streak against Eastern Conference opponents, the Raptors know the Cavaliers will come out looking to control the tempo in Game 4. Continuing to dictate the tempo will be key for Toronto.

Game 3 point differential flow; Raptors strike back #wethenorth

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Podcast Episode 103: Roadblocks or Speedbumps? | Cavs: The Blog

Nate Smith, Tom Pestak, and David Wood talk the week in Cavs: the Game 3 Loss, good and bad Kyrie, the Under-respected Raptors, the surprising Thunder, and the Cavalier adjustments. We check in on Tom’s many sales adventures, Nate waxes absurdist on the nature of basketball, and he has a reaction to the Biz that may require medical attention.

Dahntay Jones suspended for Game 4 | Fear The Sword

Jones actually has a history of striking opposing players below the belt and generally annoying the opposition. Most recently, while a member of the Clippers, he bumped Warriors forward Draymond Green while Green was in the middle of a postgame interview. Green stared Jones down as he walked off the floor.

For the Cavs, this really doesn’t matter. Jones has only played 11 minutes in the postseason and all of his minutes have come in garbage time. If Game 4 is again a blowout, the Cavs will have to play someone else at the end of the game.

“On the floor, I don’t have friends.” – @bismackbiyombo

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Bismack Biyombo was the hero the Raptors needed in Game 3 | Raptors HQ

“It gives us the confidence. It gives us energy. It gets the crowd into it,” said Lowry of Bismack’s play. “Bis does a great job of just getting the crowd into it, and the crowd gets us into it. We feed off of that energy. Four blocks, 26 rebounds, there’s no substitution for that.” To look at Lowry’s line of 20 points (on a rejuvenated 7-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-8 from three), six rebounds and three assists, is to see the benefits of that energy. With the Cavaliers pressing late and getting the lead down to five points, it was Lowry who tossed up that pray of an alley-oop. And it was Biyombo who brought it down, kicking off a mini 6-0 all-Bismack run that put the game away. Not even a shot to the groin in the dying seconds could slow Biyombo down.

“Just giddy up,” said coach Dwane Casey when asked what he had to say to Biyombo pre-game (and inadvertently summarizing the entire Bismack experience). “You don’t have to say anything to Bis. Bis is a self-starter. He understands what he does. He’s a kid that just plays hard. He knows who he is.” There’s a perfect simplicity to that assessment. It’s a clarity of purpose that the Raptors, who sometimes look like they’re thinking too much, can really use at times. It came in handy last night as they ran away with the game.

Biyombo isn’t in the Bizness of making friends | TSN

An undersized centre at 6-foot-9, Biyombo will never be the most talented player on the court, not in the NBA. His game is not about finesse and isn’t likely to earn any style points. Off the court, he’s one of the kindest, most respectful and mild-mannered people you could ever have the pleasure of meeting. He’s impossible not to like. On the court however, he transforms into a completely different person – a relentless, take-no-prisoners irritant. If that’s how you know him, as a player, as an opponent, he’s probably not getting your Christmas card. He’s not going to win many popularity contests among his peers and, to his credit, he couldn’t care less.

It’s what makes him the player he is, a player that’s endeared himself to a fan base that appreciates hard, physical play as much or more than any other; a player that has become invaluable to a conference finalist.

“Oh, I knew that,” said the 23-year-old, told DeRozan didn’t exactly look forward to their meetings. “He actually told me that personally, that he really hated me, until he got to know me as a person, and then he turned out to love me. I’m sure there was a lot of feeling-out there, but until you really get to know the real side of me, then you know who I am. But on the floor I don’t have friends.”

“I mean, [it’s] probably because of my approach to the game,” Biyombo continued. “I have friends, and once the game starts, I probably won’t talk to you until the end of the game. That’s just me. I’m just trying to win the ballgame, and I’m just trying to compete. At the end of the day, when the ball is up, I’m not trying to make friends. I know we’re friends, we’re cool, but we can always be cool after the game, too.”

“But at the same time, that’s the other side of me. Once basketball is over, off the court, then I’ll go back to myself. I go back to being me and have fun and enjoy life.”

NBA Playoffs: Cavaliers vs. Raptors Game 4 preview | Fear The Sword

Will we see a more aggressive LeBron in Game 4? After being somewhat passive throughout the playoffs (while still being able to get his), he’s hasn’t really went into full-blown attack mode that we’ve seen out of him in the playoffs before. Tyronn Lue said he should have went to LeBron more in Game 3, as he only took 17 shots. If Irving struggles early like he did in Game 3, expect LeBron to attack relentlessly, considering the Raptors have had no answer for him all series.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors: Monday’s Game 4 preview | Toronto Star

Patrick Patterson vs. Kevin Love

Luis Scola starts and eats a few minutes to open the first and third quarters for the Raptors, but Patrick Patterson is the primary power forward. He did an exceptional job of not giving Kevin Love much space in Game 3, so good that the Cavaliers starter watched the fourth quarter from the bench. Toronto needs to take Love out of the game again.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com


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The NBA has fined Toronto Raptors head coach $25,000 for public criticism of officiating following the team’s Game 3 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.

In his post-game press conference, Casey initially appeared to be trying to bite his tongue, but he reached a point where he apparently decided it was worth the hit to his wallet to unload. And unload he did.

The Raptors had his back, with several players also complaining about the refereeing (as well as every person on Twitter). Nobody was willing to talk about it on Sunday, though.

The NBA also suspended Dahntay Jones for one game for his late-game shot below the belt on Bismack Biyombo. That’s a punishment that actually helps the Cavs, and the league would have been better off forcing Jones to start.

LeBron James received no flop warning for his WWE audition.


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Coming at you quickly here as I spent most of my day on a bus and am just catching up. Both the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers held media availability Sunday following Toronto’s awesome Game 3 victory the night prior, and here are your usual notes and quotes.

Valanciunas upgraded

It probably doesn’t mean a ton just yet, but the Raptors have upgraded injured center Jonas Valanciunas from out to doubtful for Game 4 on Monday. It seems like a serious long-shot he’d play, but the upgrade serves three purposes: It gives the Raptors the option to play him if he’s suddenly much better the day of the game, it signals Valanciunas could be ready a little later in the series if not Monday, and it forces the Cavaliers to at least think about how they may deal with him if and when he returns.

That last part is something they really haven’t done yet, according to Ty Lue.

OK, but Bismack

How can we talk about Valanciunas at a time when Bismack Biyombo quite literally owns the city? Biyombo’s Game 3 performance was the stuff of legend, and the great quotes have continued rolling in from and about B-Double, aka The Greatest Rebounder Who Ever Lived.



And Biyombo’s got anonymous Cavs all salty in the shadows.

The peanut gallery

Someone thought to ask peanut-in-capris-looking Richard Jefferson about the series. RJ’s a likable guy and an awesome quote, but FOH with this.


In seriousness, the Cavs are surely feeling comfortable still and can make a number of adjustments entering Game 4. Like, I don’t know, leaning on one of the best players of all time a little more if his support staff is MIA.


And hey, can we just take one more second to dap up the Raptors for that incredible bounce-back performance?


Some ref notes

Still no word if Casey and the cadre of Raptors’ players calling out the refs will receive a fine for their post-game comments, but James isn’t biting.


There’s been no rescinding of Biyombo’s Flagrant 1 (yet) either, so he remains one flagrant from suspension.



This is the best:


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Last night the 56 win Raptors showed up in Toronto for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and it was a sight to behold.  They outworked, outrebounded, and outscored the previously undefeated Cavaliers, and showed the resilience that saw them through significant injuries this season (including the currently injured Jonas Valanciunas) and two hard-fought game 7 victories.

That was Toronto Raptors basketball in its purest form.  Hardnosed defense, an aggressive “us against the world” attitude, making the extra pass to open shooters, rotating almost perfectly on defense, and winning due to unsung heroes.  It was Raptors basketball.

Yes, DeMar DeRozan carried the way offensively, and last night was a great reminder as to why he will be receiving a max contract from someone (likely Toronto) this summer.  32 points on an efficient 24 shots, 8-of-9 from the free throw line, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, Derozan contributed across the board.  What stood out most to me in his game was his team leading 4 assists.  He showed much improved decision making from the first two games, knowing better when to pass.  This was exemplified late in the fourth when he drew the double and found Bismack Biyombo under the basket for the wide open dunk.

And despite early foul trouble, Kyle Lowry had a huge impact on the biggest win in franchise history (we’ve had a few of those in the past few weeks).  He scored 20 points on just 13 field goal attempts, was 4-for-8 from three point land, and hauled in 6 rebounds (including one offensive rebound).

The Raptors’ All Star guards both showed up in game 3, and when that happens the Raptors are a dangerous team that can compete with anyone, but they weren’t alone last night.

Bismack Biyombo had a podium worthy game, and certainly did not disappoint in his post-game presser.  Watch this video, don’t just listen to it.  His facial expressions in the middle of questions are far too enjoyable to miss.

He 1000 percent deserved to be at that podium, and that number is not a typo.  His 26 rebounds were a franchise playoff record, and that alone was worthy of accolades.  Adding in h is 2 rebounds, many other altered shots, and a personal 6-0 scoring run in the fourth quarter were just gravy.  He even guarded LeBron perfectly in a few isolation.  Stepping back, giving him plenty of space, daring him to shoot from places he has struggled at recently, and giving himself lots of time to adjust if LeBron decides to drive.

A lot has been made of Bismack already though.  Praise was heaped on him last night, and all of it deserved.  But someone else had a dominant game without nearly as much pizzazz as Biyombo.  We got regular season Cory Joseph last night.

Cory has been hit or miss during the playoffs so far after excelling for much of the regular season, and the first two games against Cleveland he was even outplayed by Matthew Dellavedova.  Last night was entirely different.  Cory was forced into extended minutes due to Lowry’s early foul trouble, and he answered the bell in resounding fashion.

Not only did he outplay Dellavedova, he hounded Kyrie Irving whenever they were matched up.  His defense was elite last night.  One fourth quarter sequence saw Kyrie Irving trying to spin past him to the hoop/back him down.  Every way that Kyrie turned, Cory was perfectly in position to prevent lane penetration, and forced a very difficult shot.  Next time down the court Cory hits a beautiful foul line jumper, while ESPN’s commentators talk about how his defence gives them goose bumps.

His three pointer to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter was also a turning point of the game.  The Cavaliers had been fighting back and were about to head into the fourth quarter being down by just 7 points.  Cory ran up the court, got into LeBron’s body to bump him back, and calmly drained a straightaway three to end the quarter.  He grabbed momentum back at a pivotal moment, and helped the Raptors head into the final frame with momentum on their side.

Cory Joseph was the second best point guard last night, behind only Kyle Lowry.  And if he can maintain that moving forward, the Raptors can continue to cause some problems for Cleveland.


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The Raptors turned in a monstrous performance to cut the series deficit in half last night in front of an electric Air Canada Center, fueled by an incredibly dominant performance from Bismack Biyombo in the paint, all-star contributions from DeRozan and Lowry, and a huge bounce-back game from Cory Joseph who put Kyrie Irving in his pocket.

Of those four, it’s hard to single one over the other as the true star of this game, but if you have to pick one, it was Biyombo’s 26 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 7 points that really set the tone and sent a stern message to the Cleveland Cavaliers – that this isn’t going to be easy.

Defensively, Biyombo’s four blocks were just half of it. Those four swats should have been five had his clean and emphatic rejection on LeBron James in the 2nd half not been wrongfully called a foul, and besides that, he was a menace in the paint – altering shots and keeping the Cavs from getting inside throughout the game.

As presumed prior to game 3, if Biyombo was switched onto LeBron on the perimeter, he could force James to settle for jumpers. It rang true. James ended up sinking some jumpers, but you’ll live with that if you’re Dwane Casey. Keeping Cleveland out of the paint was a priority after the shellackings in games one and two, and the Raptors improved dramatically in that aspect.

Biyombo’s presence can’t be understated here. If the Raptors want to continue to force Cleveland into low-percentage looks outside the restricted area, they won’t be able to do it with Biyombo who has stepped up big this season over and over again when Valanciunas has sat out.

26 rebounds in game 3 puts him in one impressive shortlist. Via HoopsHype:

“He reminds me of a guy like [Dennis] Rodman going for the rebounds,” Casey said. “He knows where the ball is coming off, he has a sense of where it’s coming off, and he does a good job doing that.

“He’s one of the top rebounders in the league, and no telling how many times he gets hit and fouled under there without being called. Again, I’m going to say this: I think he gets hit almost on every rebound and putback there is, and he just doesn’t get the calls, whether he’s rolling to the bucket, and we’ve just got to have consistency with that.”

Offensively, Biyombo’s 7 points were bonus – he was sound in his decision-making with the ball, let the game come to him, and scored inside on some easy looks.

But Biyombo’s defensive efforts were what mattered most, and the Raptors backcourt took care of the rest. DeMar DeRozan came up with perhaps his best post-season performance to date, scoring 32 points on 24 shots. His shot selection was really good. Even if a lot of his looks were contested, they were in rhythm, and within his scope of a high-percentage look. He also got to the line nine times – more than any other player on the court.

Thought he did have slips defensively which he’ll need to fix for game 4 – spacing out and losing JR Smith behind the arc which led to easy threes – his offensive output gave the Raptors a much-needed boost.

DeRozan’s all-star partner in the backcourt, Kyle Lowry, was no less impressive. The Raptors desperately needed Kyle Lowry’s form to return if they were to have any chance of grabbing a game in this series, and Lowry showed up in a big way. His 20 points came in just 32 minutes, and his shooting stroke returned as he nailed 4-of-8 bombs from three.

His limited minutes only came as a result of foul trouble after several dodgy fouls called against him in the first half. Dwane Casey’s hand was forced. He recalled Lowry back to the bench despite Lowry really setting a positive tone on the court. The concerns then hovered around the Raptors’ inability to outscore the Cavs with Lowry on the bench, but Cory Joseph quickly took over, carving the Cavs offensively while really disturbing Kyrie Irving on the defensive end.

When Lowry hit the bench, the Raptors went on a remarkable 16-5 run.

It seemed unlikely, but the Raptors not only avoided the sweep, but they won emphatically, and sent a message with it. This felt like a regular season game – in a good way. The crowd was fun, the Raptors played freely and without pressure, and they played the Cavs as they had played them before the playoffs started. It doesn’t mean the Raptors are going to win the series, but it does point to signs of growth, and it’s all very impressive.

Dwane Casey stuck with a tight rotation which saw Scola start at the four again. Scola, who played 16 minutes, played the majority of the first quarter and did a fine job guarding Kevin Love. And in the end, the Raptors as a whole did a pretty job of neutralizing both Love and Irving. The Raptors needed Cleveland to cool down after game 2, and apart from JR Smith and Channing Frye’s hot shooting (combined 9/19 from three), Cleveland didn’t get much scoring output outside of LeBron James. Both Love and Irving combined for 4-of-29 from the floor.

“I don’t know if we need to get hit upside the head before we play, but we have to treat every game like it’s Game 7 almost,” Casey told reporters after the game. “People can write us off, it’s a long series – it’s not over yet. Everyone thought we was going to get swept and that fuels us. If that’s what it takes, so be it.”

The Air Canada Center stepped up big too, proving to be a menacing venue for the Cavs who looked so comfortable at the Q Arena.

“We need it. We want it. I don’t know if the fans know how much we appreciate it, but we really do appreciate it, and we want them to be as loud as they possibly can,” DeRozan said. “I think it affects other teams, and it gives us just that energy. We know we make a big run or we make a big shot or Biz gets a block and he goes and does his little thing, they love it. We feed off that positive energy.”

Kyrie Irving left the game early, and was in visible pain walking in the tunnel, but thankfully it seems like he just got wind knocked out of him, and will be just fine.

Some fun things..

Michael Grange hands LeBron a fun question at the end of the post-game presser


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We know where we’re drafting from a position standpoint, now who to draft or what do to with our picks. Marquese Chriss or Deyonta Davis? Jakob Poeltl or Skal Labissiere? Or do we package it away in a trade? Lots to talk about and things to consider.


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Game 3 Post-Game Podcast: Biyombo punks LeBron | Raptors Republic

William Lou flies solo on a Saturday to break down Game 3.

The Toronto Raptors took a decisive 99-84 victory in Game 3 to snap the Cleveland Cavaliers’ unbeaten run. William Lou geeks out about the win for an hour by himself.

tsn

Raptors come up with a finger-wagging answer for Cleveland: Arthur | Toronto Star

For so much of the year, and so much of his NBA career, Biyombo hasn’t been the kind of guy you could trust to catch the ball. Biyombo likes to describe his three-piece suit and hat fashion game as “presidential.” He could probably run for office in Toronto, if he was going to stay.

“I thought Biyombo gave them a great lift, with blocked shots and rebounds, and I think the crowd feeds off his energy,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “He just had a great game . . . They were kicking our butts, so he should have the right to wag his finger.”

“I feel I got the licence from (Dikembe) Mutombo,” said Biyombo, who describes the Hall of Famer as a big brother.

And so, the Raptors are in the series. They got contributions from all over: 32 points from DeRozan on 24 shots, a combined 24 from reserves Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson, both of whom had been slumping. Lowry still finished with 20 points, and his shooting slump vanished. The dumb locker room visit debate from Game 2, that’s gone now. Lowry put it to bed.

Cleveland missed shots — Irving and Kevin Love combined to go 4-for-28 — and Toronto made the most threes they have made in the playoffs, with 12. The Cavaliers hadn’t lost an Eastern Conference playoff game since May 8, 2015, against the Chicago Bulls. They are still in control of this series and this conference, but it’s time to update the ol’ resume.

“Everyone thought we were going to get swept, and that fuelled us,” Casey said.

Much of America was laughing at them after the first two games of this series. Internally, the Raptors wished they had injured centre Jonas Valanciunas, who warmed up for a few minutes before the game; internally, they knew they could play better, too.

Well, the officials were lousy, and LeBron flopped like a fish when he wasn’t flexing like a wrestler, and the Raptors made their stand. Biyombo can’t do this every game, and maybe the Raptors can’t, either. But to treat this thing as a failure, as a joke, was always to willfully engage in either amnesia or delusions. Losing to the Cavaliers wouldn’t be any shame, as long as the Raptors play like they can.

Dwane Casey and the Raptors Still Have Something to Prove | VICE Sports

The Raptors’ defensive sins, mostly absent in the first two series, have been a greatest hits collection of Casey’s early years in Toronto. The Raptors have sent the Cavaliers to the line 70 times through two games, compared to shooting 38 free throws for themselves. Surely, a fraction—a tiny fraction—of that is a product of star calls going Cleveland’s way. A lot of it is silly off-the-ball stuff. It is Patterson grabbing a jersey. It is Scola bumping Love 16 feet out with his back to the basket. It is not only the result of a wide talent gap, although it is mostly that; it is foolish stuff from players who should know better.

The rest of it is mostly just the Raptors not keeping their man in front of them. Even accounting for the fact that he is LeBron James, it is nearly impossible to make sense of the fact that James is shooting 18-for-26 in this series despite clanking every jumper that comes his way. He is getting to the rim at relative will, inexcusable for Carroll, unless the excuse is that his knee is still bothering him.

And then at point guard, we have seen a flashback to last year’s brief playoff run (stumble?). Just like he was supposed to play John Wall to a draw last year, Lowry was at least supposed to cancel out Kyrie Irving. Instead, Lowry is missing shots and buckling under Cleveland’s defensive pressuring, turning the ball over with frequency. And on the other end, Irving is simply roasting him.

“He’s our guy,” Casey told reporters after the game. “He’s one of the examples (of offensive slumps affecting defensive performance). He’s missed some great looks, and he’s taken some of those looks down to the defensive end. He is an impactful player, but he can’t let that (affect him). None of our guys can.”

The irony is that if the Raptors set out to limit the Cavaliers’ 3-point shooting, they have done just that. Cleveland is shooting 14-for-41 from deep so far against the Raptors, after connecting on 50.6 percent of its 152 attempts against the Hawks. In picking their poison, however, the Raptors have gone too far in the other direction.

It is hard to think of the adjustment Casey could make to help slow down James and his gunning teammates. More and more, this looks like the inevitable result of a massive talent gap, and addressing that is Masai Ujiri’s job in offseasons to come.

Injured Raptor Jonas Valanciunas spotted moving more comfortably | Toronto Sun

DeMarre Carroll saw the foul disparity in Games 1 and 2 and didn’t like it one bit. He conceded that Cleveland simply outfought a tired group of Raptors in the opener, which could help explain the 33-20 free-throw attempt edge for Cleveland, but he didn’t get the 37-18 edge in the next game at all. In fact, he was baffled by it.

When asked if the Raptors need to tone down the physicality a bit to stop getting whistled for so many fouls, Carroll said it was more a question of trying to figure out how the game is being called.

“That’s a difficult question because we’re trying to be physical, because Game 1, they were super-physical, so Game 2, we tried to be physical, but it was a different story. I guess you just have to differentiate how the refs call the game. If we can do that, we’ll be OK,” Carroll said earlier Saturday.

Well, there was no way of getting a feel for how the referees were calling this one, because they didn’t see to have a clue what they wanted to do themselves.

Which is why Carroll’s game plan probably made the most sense.

Give it your all, and hope it pays off.

“I think you should be aggressive and live with the results. If you’re passive, you’re asking yourself to lose, but if you go out there and be aggressive and physical and put the ownership on the refs, you just live with the results,” Carroll had said.

Cory Joseph keeps Raptors going when fouls slow Lowry | Toronto Star

In a series where the Raptors had been dominated, it was just the type of moment that they, and the fans, needed. Joseph was able to put his emotions aside and continued on in a night where his team desperately needed him.

“I thought Cory did a much better job of holding his position and holding his ground,” Casey said of his on-court work.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game, running the offence, not letting the defence speed him up. I thought he did an excellent job with that.

“Kyle’s first charge, I’ve got to look at that again too,” said Casey, his focus clearly on the whistles blown and not blown, and the referees’ treatment of his team.

“I thought once Kyle got in foul trouble, (Joseph) did a good job of handling the pressure, their switching and making sure he had the right person involved in the pick and roll.”

Raptors’ Bismack Biyombo a one man wrecking crew | Toronto Sun

“You can always wave your finger when you’re winning,” said Tyronn Lue, the Cavaliers coach who now has one playoff defeat on his resume. “They were winning. They were kicking out butts. Until you do something about it.”

Biyombo did something about it all night long. Which makes you wonder about how great this victory was for the city, for the Raptors, for a team that has turned this playoff run into must-see TV. But at the same time, all of the NBA is watching Biyombo. They’re seeing what he’s capable of, they’re watching the price of the pending free agent go up by each passing playoff day.

Can the Raptors retain Biyombo beyond this series?

Can general manager Masai Ujiri find a way to be creative enough with its budget to keep Biyombo financially happy and keep him happy as he backs up or shares time with Jonas Valanciunas to give the Raptors a powerful 1-2 combination at centre?

Or is Ujiri going to have to do what he did last summer: Find an alternative. One thing nobody asked last summer — how did the Raptors steal Biyombo? That wasn’t a story. Now, with this series 2-1, with Biyombo a game changer at home — few players react to a crowd better than he does — the Raptors possibilities are endless and that is juxtaposed with the future of Toronto’s newest favourite sporting son.

This is what Toronto has always loved best. Effort. Intangibles. Fight. Emotion. A 6-foot-9 African version of Tie Domi.

“He was amazing man, 26 rebounds” said DeMar DeRozan, who scored an impressive 32 points himself. “Protecting the rim. Without him tonight, we probably wouldn’t get this win.”

Raptors strike back in Game 3 against Cavaliers | Toronto Star

The Raptors did make it difficult on themselves in the fourth quarter, going scoreless on nine straight possessions as Cleveland cut the deficit that had been as high as 18 in the first half to eight.

But a Kyle Lowry to Biyombo lob dunk — the centre’s first basket of the game after he’d played 34 minutes — restored some calm and Biyombo followed with two more buckets off great DeRozan passes for a 14-point Toronto lead with 3:38 left.

For DeRozan, the assists were just icing on a dominant night when he scored 32 points on 24 shots, shredding the defence of Cleveland’s J.R. Smith.

Lowry finished with 20 points and Cory Joseph had 14 off the bench for the Raptors, who shot a series-high 46 per cent and made 12 three-pointers..

The game played out just as coach Dwane Casey had wanted, the Raptors protected the paint and didn’t allow the Cavaliers to beat them from outside.

The Cavs had just 20 points in the paint — Biyombo had four blocked shots on the night — and the Cavs struggled from the floor, shooting just 35.4 per cent.

Cleveland was just 13-for-39 from three-point range, Kevin Love and Kyrie Iving were a combined 2-for-11 from three-point range and 4-for-28 overall.

LeBron James had 24 points and Smith 22 for the Cavs.

“They did a great job of going under screens and pick and rolls . . . collapsing and getting out to shooters,” said Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue. “I thought we got the shots we wanted, we didn’t make them.”

Raptors rebound for huge Game 3 victory over Cavaliers | Toronto Sun

Riding the hot shooting of DeMar DeRozan, who seemed to spend entire the evening torching J.R. Smith — who was earning rave reviews for his stellar defence in the first two games — and surviving some early foul trouble for Kyle Lowry, the Raptors finally played a Raptors-like game in a 99-84 win and now trail the best-of-seven series, 2-1.

DeRozan finished with 32 points, but it could have been much more had he gotten the kind of whistle some of the Cavs’ star players were getting in Cleveland.

And even with the win, the whistle was a large part of head coach Dwane Casey’s post-game media conference.

Casey was as critical of the officiating as he has been all year, demanding his team get the same calls the Cavaliers have been getting all series.

He did this knowing commissioner Adam Silver was in Toronto for the game.

What particularly galled the head coach was the fourth quarter, in which the Raptors got to the line just once (Casey actually thought they didn’t get there at all).

“There has to be some consistency,” Casey said reiterating his long-held belief that NBA officials have the toughest job in the sport. “How can you miss calls and fouls like that? I can’t see it. I’ve been in this league a long tie, in college basketball a long time, but again, there has to be some consistency. The same foul on one end has got to be the same foul on the other.”

Casey pointed to his record-setting rebounder Bismack Biyombo as a perfect example of a guy who is just not getting a fair whistle.

“I don’t know if he’s getting hit because of how physical and tough he is, but he’s getting cracked,” Casey said.

ACC crowd gives Raptors adrenalin shot in Game 3 win over Cavaliers | Sportsnet.ca

There’s no math equation, but this post-season the Raptors are 3-0 in elimination games – two Game 7s and Saturday night, which wasn’t officially one but was in the practical sense. The Raptors are still underdogs against the Cavaliers, but if Cleveland went up 3-0 the series was over.

“We get nights like this often now, and it’s fun,” said Kyle Lowry, who shook off some early foul trouble to finish with 20 points, including 4-of-8 triples after he started the series 1-of-15. “We need it. We want it. I don’t know if the fans know how much we appreciate it, but we really do appreciate it, and we want them to be as loud as they possibly can. I think it affects other teams, and it gives us just that energy. We know we make a big run or we make a big shot or Biz gets a block and he goes and does his little thing, they love it. We feed off that positive energy.”

Yeah, there’s no doubt. The Raptors had lost the opening two games of the series by 31 and 19 points – no team in NBA history opened a conference final losing both games by such massive margins. The Cavaliers were 10-0 so far in the playoffs and scoring with an efficiency that surpasses what the Golden State Warriors were doing during their 24-0 streak to start the season.

Clearly all the Raptors needed was the kind of adrenalin shot that home crowds at the Air Canada Centre are gaining a reputation for providing in amounts not seen since John Travolta was playing doctor in Pulp Fiction.

They got it. The Raptors’ win may have come out of nowhere but it started at home with the energy of a crowd that can change games and maybe even series.

Raptors alive and well, hand Cavaliers their first playoff loss this spring | Toronto Sun

James Jones nailed Patrick Patterson with what looked like a cheap shot in the dying seconds. Dahntay Jones caught Biyombo “in an area I probably wasn’t supposed to get hit in.”

The Cavs might have lost, but they sent a message that this war had only just gotten started.

“At the end of the day, it’s playoffs, teams are going to push and shove, they want to win the game, so at the end of the day, you’re going to have to fight,” Patterson said.

Patterson got hammered by a Kevin Love elbow in Game 1. Is he sensing a pattern?

“I have no idea. That’s the second time in three games, so, message, accident,” he said, before adding tellingly: “No apology (from Jones), so, who knows.”

Meanwhile, LeBron James was noticing business was picking up as well.

“I got hit with an elbow, I didn’t know it was my own teammate. I thought it was DeMarre,” James said of the weird first-half incident that saw Tristan Thompson catch him in the mouth, with a bit of help from Carroll.

“I was going to say something else to you, but I’ll leave it alone,” James said, unwilling to comment further.

Expect more fireworks and terse comments to come.

The Raptors live, and this series has finally begun.

Raptors’ playoff pressure eases with win over Cavaliers | Toronto Sun

Barring an injury to LeBron, the Raptors won’t win this series, but they’ve achieved validation and dispelled any notion that this series would be a sweep.

Their pride was on the line in Game 3 following two beatdowns in Cleveland when everyone was writing the Raptors off.

“I just know our guys are resilient,” said head coach Dwane Casey, who tried to bite his tongue when the subject of officiating was broached. “They’re playing through a lot, playing through a lot of physicality, getting hit and fouled.

“We shot zero free throws in the fourth quarter, zero. That’s frustrating, but our guys played through it, so that shows a sense of toughness, a sense of togetherness. People have written us off all year.”

Toronto did make one free throw in the fourth quarter, but the disparity in how the game was being officiated was one-sided in Cleveland’s favour.

Kelly: Raptors won’t beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers, but they should be proud of Game 3 | The Globe and Mail

Enjoy it, but don’t get it twisted. The Raptors aren’t going to beat the Cavaliers in the NBA’s Eastern Conference final.

They aren’t going to stop James for any length of time. But on Saturday – with a lot of help from James – they were able to embarrass him.

While the best player in the series was doing his very best to steal one from his opponents, the referees were doing their best to help out.

James got the close calls. The Raptors got none of them.

Afterward, Toronto coach Dwane Casey was in a controlled froth. Unprompted, he mentioned the disparity in fouls over and over again. He just happened to know the free-throw discrepancy during the first three games: “73 (for Cleveland) to 46 (for Toronto).”

“We shot zero free throws in the fourth quarter. Zero,” Casey said darkly. Then he said it again.

Casey understands there is no conspiracy against Toronto. There is only the bad habit of giving an all-star all-star-type calls. James is a rather large level above that. He gets LeBron calls. And he’s been getting plenty of them.

The best example of how it works the other way was a clear-as-clear-can-be Biyombo block on James that was called a foul. The mistake was so obvious, all Biyombo could do – again – was laugh.

But despite James’s crooked efforts and the referees’ willful blindness, Toronto managed to sneak one. They did it with the best adjustment of all – being better.

Cleveland is still the best team in this series. James is still the best player.

But on Saturday at least, the honour as well as the glory belonged to Toronto. That’s something to hold on to.

Quotable: Game 3 of Eastern Conference Finals | Hoops Addict

“Well, one thing is he’s getting fouled so much. He’s not getting the calls. We shoot zero free throws in the fourth quarter, zero. I mean, it is 73-46 in the entire three games. He’s getting hit. There’s one play where they almost have a brawl. He gets killed on that play. And again, I’ve got to go back and watch it, but there’s got to be some consistency. I said it before the game, we have the greatest officials in the league. But how you can miss fouls like that and calls like that, I can’t see it. I’ve been in this league a long time, in college basketball a long time, but again, there’s got to be consistency. The same foul on one end has got to be the same foul on the other. I don’t know if he’s getting hit because of how physical and tough he is, but he’s getting cracked. To his credit, I thought he was going to lose his head when he got the technical foul, but he kept playing.” -Dwane Casey on Bismack Biyombo

ECF Game 3: Raptors 99, Cavs 84 | Toronto Raptors

DEFENSIVE STAND TO SECURE THE WIN

The Raptors forced the Cavaliers into a 14-point fourth quarter, their lowest of the postseason, where they shot 31 percent from the floor. Bismack Biyombo was a presence in the paint, but got into the action on the offensive end of the floor as well, scoring six straight to help Toronto keep the game out of reach.

Raptors smother Cavs in 99-84 Game 3 win | Raptors HQ

With Joseph back in and regaining his first-round form, DeMar DeRozan turning what was probably his best half of the playoffs, and Bismack Biyombo grabbing more than a third of every available rebound, the Raptors’ didn’t just survive – they exploded. Somehow, the Raptors led 60-47 at half time with Lowry taking part in just 10 minutes.

For much of the third quarter, you could feel the Raptors teetering. Toronto adopted a new strategy for trying to slow down the Cavaliers after two games of being demolished on the interior. Rather than playing LeBron James one-on-one and staying home on shooters, the Raptors opted to send extra help LeBron’s way and dare him to rifle passes to open shooters on the perimeter. Because he’s LeBron James, he did just that – hurling dart after dart to his waiting teammates. Throughout most of the playoffs, the Cavs’ gunners have turned such opportunities into all-time three-point shooting records. On Saturday, they turned them into bricks.

On the other end, the Raptors took part in the fun, missing their own share of open looks created by gorgeous ball movement. DeRozan kept the offense breathing with a collection of drives that brought you back to the good old days of the regular season, but still, Cleveland was creeping … until:

The Raptors never let the euphoria of that Joseph quarter-closing buzzer beater peter out. A quick Patrick Patterson three followed by a Lowry driving layup put the Raptors up 15 to start the fourth, allowing 20,000 people to exhale. No one knew it at the time, but that Lowry basket to make it 85-70 would serve as the game-winner. Toronto’s locked-in defense (and a clank-a-thon on the part of the Cavs) held Cleveland to just 14 points in the final frame. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving posted a collective shooting performance worse than anything Lowry and DeRozan have teamed up for in the playoffs — 4-of-28 from the field and 2-of-11 from three. Their struggles crippled Cleveland’s otherwise flowing offense. Love didn’t even touch the floor in the final 12 minutes.

Final Score: Cavs fall 99-84 in Toronto, lose first game of playoffs | Fear The Sword

After a dominant pair of wins in Cleveland, the Raptors responded in kind in Game 3. The biggest adjustment may have been Biyombo, who had 26 rebounds to go with seven points and four blocks. Biyombo had just nine boards in the first two games. DeMar Derozan and Cory Joseph led an effective attack for the Raptors, 32 and 14 points respectively. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers struggled to score in the paint, outscore 36-20, with just three completions in the first half, all from James. Irving was 3-of-12 and Kevin Love 0-of-4 on attempts before the half, while the Raptors shot 45.8% from the field for the night. The Raptors led by 13 at the half, 60-47, and withstood a few runs from the Cavaliers in the second half to win 99-84.

Toronto Raptors, led by Bismack Biyombo, take 99-84 Game 3 victory over Cleveland Cavaliers | cleveland.com

Fast start for Raptors

The Raptors outscored the Cavaliers, 27-24 in the opening quarter. It was the first time they had a lead in any quarter this series. It was about baby steps, and they took a couple more steps on this night.

“We know we’re going to face a better team for sure,” the Cavs’ LeBron James said before the game.

Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, who had it going offensively initially, picked up his third foul early in the second quarter and had to take a seat. But his team had his back. The Raptors for the first time in this series showed some fight, and did it on the defensive end.

Biyombo did a phenomenal job protecting the paint. On one possession in the quarter Irving drove past his defender and it looked like he had clear baseline path to the basket, but Biyombo collapsed on him and swatted his shot.

Biyombo then did the Dikembe Mutombo finger wave. Defensive stops led to transition scores and ultimately resulted in an 18-point advantage. Cleveland was held to 37 percent shooting in the first half, and DeMar DeRozan anchored the Raptors’ offense by scoring 21 of his 34 points in the first two quarters.

Toronto went on a 22-10 run with Lowry on the bench in foul trouble and had a 60-47 lead at the break. Biyombo pulled down 16 rebounds at that point. But just before the half ended, things got a little chippy.

Raptors 99, Cavaliers 84: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love struggle and Cavs’ playoff winning streak ends | Akron Beacon Journal

They pulled within seven in the second half, but ultimately led for less than a minute the entire night in a game the Raptors dominated at home. It was the first time the Cavs were held under 100 points in this postseason.
Biyombo’s physical play and brash talk has caused a couple of confrontations in this series and caused two more Friday. He went nose-to-nose with Tristan Thompson in the first half, prompting Cory Joseph, Thompson’s childhood friend, to step in.

Thompson pushed him away, then swung his arm wildly leaving the skirmish. It caught James in the jaw and dropped him to the ground — although James’ acting skills on the play looked admirable. Regardless, it was the Cavs’ best shot of the night that really connected — and of course, it was friendly fire.

Biyombo was whistled for a flagrant late in the game when he collared James around the neck with his left arm and hit him on the side of the head with his right. James has complained multiple times in this postseason he is being officiated unfairly and that time got the call.

It mattered little. James made both free throws to trim the deficit to 91-79 with 3:20 left, but Irving missed a 3-pointer with a chance to cut the deficit to single digits. The Raptors sailed in the final few minutes.

Raptors overcome odds, officials in upset | TSN

Kyle Lowry’s three early fouls, which relegated him to the bench for most of the first half, included a block that should have been called a charge on Kyrie Irving and a shove in the back embellished by the much stronger LeBron James. The half ended with a skirmish that saw James hit by an inadvertent elbow from teammate Tristan Thompson, causing him to drop like a sack of potatoes thinking the contact was courtesy of DeMarre Carroll, who was originally assigned a technical foul, later rescinded.

Bismack Biyombo’s block on James, which replays proved to be clean, was called a foul. Later, his takedown of the King – a hard foul – was ruled a flagrant.
The Cavaliers are good enough, James is good enough, that they should be able to win this series handily without the help of external forces. Of course, Cleveland did not win either of the first two games because of the officiating – they won because they were the better team – and, despite their best efforts, the referees didn’t alter the result of Game 3. That said, through 144 minutes of basketball in this series, one the Raptors are not supposed to win, the officials have made themselves a story.

Casey, a coach who generally watches what he says about the league’s officials – and what he doesn’t say – very closely, took the onus on himself after the game, standing up for his team and sending a message to the NBA. The Raptors, like the rest of us, have noticed.

“I said it before the game, we have the greatest officials in the league,” said Casey. “But how you can miss fouls like that and calls like that, I can’t see it. I’ve been in this league a long time, in college basketball a long time, but again, there’s got to be consistency. The same foul on one end has got to be the same foul on the other.”

Toronto Raptors execute with backs against wall, blowout Cavs | Raptors Cage

Offence: A

Overall, the Raptors took high-percentage shots and moved the ball significantly more than they did in the previous two games. As stated before, DeRozan played his heart out in front of the home crowd. DeRozan managed to earn trips to charity stripe where he shot 8-9. He would end the night with 32 points.

Kyle Lowry started the game hot but quickly got into foul trouble. When he did return, he played like it was the regular season: driving hard to the basket and actually making threes. He ended the night with 20 points (7-13 shooting), six rebounds and three assists.

When Lowry came out, Cory Joseph locked in. Joseph failed to make a significant impact in the first two games of the series, but tonight he played like Popovich was watching. He ended the night scoring 14 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists.

Toronto Raptors: We’re Still Here | The Runner Sports

Unfortunately, the whistle was still decidedly in Cleveland’s favor.  There were two calls, a blocking call and a phantom push in the back, that kept Lowry in foul trouble for almost all of the first half.  The Toronto Raptors lost the foul battle again this game, 17-10.  Still better than the 31-16 in Game 2.  Adding to the 25-20 in Game 1, that puts the Raptors down 73-46 in foul calls after 3 games.  It’s not just the fact that there’s a foul disparity, because style can influence that.  The problem is the quality of the calls have not been consistent.  The same situation is not being called the same way for both teams.

The perfect example of the ref’s disposition to give the benefit to the Cavaliers was during the skirmish in Game 3 when Tristan Thompson accidentally hit LeBron James.  The ref didn’t see this happen, but he saw LeBron flop and immediately called a technical on DeMarre Carroll.  Luckily it was a situation that could be reviewed and overturned, but it was a decidedly biased moment.  I’m not saying it’s intentional, but they need to be aware that they are definitely calling the game differently for both teams and need to be conscious of making fair calls for both sides.  That’s all we should be able to ask and expect of professional officials.

“I Come Not To Bury LeFlop James But To Praise Him!” | Gruxi

Whether or not you agree with the widely-held theory that NBA superstars get more generous calls, the fact of the matter is that Lebron and Wade, fast friends off-the-court, have mastered the art of selling fouls. Just the right amount of pageantry. Sure, it looks shameful when the fakery is exposed on slow-motion replay, but who cares: an effective flop leads to points, which leads to more wins, and isn’t that the goal? Shouldn’t we be nodding with approval at their proficiency in goading a few more favorable calls out of the officials, reputation-be-damned? After all, it’s what we seem to do in other sports. Consider the practice of catcher framing in baseball, whereby catchers have learned to receive pitches that are out of the strike zone in a way that gets them called as strikes by the umpire. Now this practice isn’t new: catchers have been doing it for decades. What IS new, though, is that the great Data Analytics revolution has allowed us to actually measure how good a catcher is at framing, and some of them are consistently much better (and worse) than others. The stat geeks take it even further, estimating how many additional wins a catcher produces for his team with good framing technique. But let’s do away that fancy term and call framing what it really is: trying to fool the home plate umpire into making a bad call. Some catchers are celebrated for their ability to induce bad calls. Multi-million dollar contracts are awarded based on their ability to consistently do so. Now, computerized ball-and-strike calls may eventually make catcher framing a thing of the past, but as things currently stand the name of the game is trying your very best to fool the human umpire, and baseball fans can do nothing but stew with a grudging respect when the opposing catcher steals a few extra strikes.

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Well that was significantly more fun than the first two games. That was…incredible. Well worth delaying a Saturday night for. That was the Toronto Raptors team most of us expected to show up for this series, and while THAT kind of a result should never have been expected, the fight and execution the Raptors showed in Game 3 were awesome. This was the team everyone fell in love with all year, and moved the goalposts for from a first-round win to legitimate contending. There’s still a ton of series left and a long road ahead of them, but if THIS Raptors team shows up for the next few games, Cleveland has more of a series on their hands than they maybe expected heading into Saturday night.

Bismack the god

I can’t think of an individual role player performance I’ve ever enjoyed more than Bismack Biyombo’s record-setting seven-point, 26-rebound, four-block performance in this one. He was everything on the glass, he was great as a rim protector, he was used as a one-on-one defender against LeBron James (and whom suggested that?), and he really set the tone as far as toughness and unpunkability.

“Oh, he was huge. I thought he had a big-time game in the paint,” Casey said after the game. “He’s the spirit of our team.”


One note on Biyombo, though – he picked up a Flagrant 1, and he now has three flagrant points in the series. One more flagrant and he’ll receive a one-game suspension. So tread lightly while being an absolute badass.

Minor injury updates

Biyombo took a shot from Dahntay Jones in the unmentionables. He seems OK.


Irving appeared to be injured in the fourth quarter, possibly hurting himself upon landing after contesting a Cory Joseph shot in the paint.


DeMarre Carroll’s also banged up with yet another scrape. It doesn’t sound serious, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Lineup notes

The Cavs starters played to even over 22 minutes. It was uncharacteristically their bench units that struggled, including the Benchnit Termites, who were a negative (minus-1 in five minutes) for the first time in the series.

The Raptors’ starters, meanwhile, were a minus-one in 13 minutes, and the Luis Scola experiment still isn’t working, but if the Raptors feel like it’s helping their rotations and rhythym, well, who am I to doubt El Dwaney? (If you get that reference, we can be friends.) The Raptors’ three next most-used lineups combined to be a plus-16 in 21 minutes (they all involved Patrick Patterson, who was terrific tonight).

Assorted

*Jimmy Goldstein was at post-game availability!

*Think you were mad at the officials? I think Casey swallowed a gallon of blood biting his tongue in his post-game availability…and then he gave in, and he’ll probably be fiend $25,000 for it as a result.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZOfclKLRzQ
*Never let it be said that James isn’t a good quote (and doesn’t know his hip-hop).


There don’t seem to be hard feelings from the second-quarter dust-up.



*The Raptors were good, BUT…no buts, man. This was great, unless you’re going to throw your own wins out with “but the Raptors had bad games.”


This is the better response:


*Man, I would have expected Irving to be the one needing sunglasses indoors the way he looked Saturday…


*This is awesome:


*Let’s end back on Biz, who is the greatest.


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Cleveland 84 Final
Recap | Box Score
99 Toronto
L. Scola 17 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-1 3FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +0 +/-Just hear me out; had Love in check in 16 minutes of action. That’s a big deal, and deserves credit.

D. Carroll 28 MIN | 4-11 FG | 2-7 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +7 +/-He missed too many threes. I know I’m nitpicking, but that’s what he’s here to do. 2-7 is not acceptable, and if he hadn’t nudged LeBron to be a scorer rather than facilitator, I would have been much harder on him.

B. Biyombo 39 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 3FG | 1-2 FT | 26 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +12 +/-Rebounded like a savage. Contested shots like a savage. Blocked shots like a savage. Disciplined on offense (a dunk; a sweet hook in the paint). Didn’t back down from LeBron, in fact, challenged him every chance he got and was getting under his skin. A modern day Dennis Rodman.

K. Lowry 33 MIN | 7-13 FG | 4-8 3FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 20 PTS | +8 +/-Not saying the refs were in on anything, just saying that two of the three fouls that were called on him in the 1st half were utter bullshit. They completely neutralized Lowry and kept him glued to the bench longer than he should have been. He was playing to win though, and when on court, was pushing the pace, attacking the rim, and keepng Irving under control. He called the comeback game, and delivered.

D. DeRozan 40 MIN | 12-24 FG | 0-1 3FG | 8-9 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 32 PTS | +9 +/-Just putting this out there, but JR Smith hit six threes, most on his watch…buuuuuuttt….that’s how you manufacture buckets when your team has their backs to the wall and down 2 in a best of 7. DeMar put on a bloody clinic tonight; beautiful thing to watch. Exactly the kind of the game to shut those up who think the Raptors can do better without him and should let him walk in the summer.

J. Johnson 11 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-2 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +0 +/-Much like Ross, his run wasn’t very memorable for me, but his corner three in the 2nd put the Raptors up 5-points, which the Cavs were never able to cut the lead less then.

P. Patterson 30 MIN | 4-10 FG | 2-6 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | +16 +/-Loved his defensive hustle on Love. Crisp rotations. Grabbed rebounds when Biz didn’t. Poor shooting from behind the arc though. It’s really necessary that 2Pat start shooting better from three; can’t be missing four of six from there.

T. Ross 12 MIN | 1-5 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +4 +/-Rushed his offense. That’s all I had in my notes and can remember.

C. Joseph 31 MIN | 6-10 FG | 2-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +14 +/-There was zero drop-off when Lowry was sent to the bench by the refs in the 1st half, and in fact, pushed the lead to 17 there. Rebounded very well, but his defense was incredible. Hit timely shots, none more important then putting the Raptors up 14 with under 2-minutes left in the game.

Dwane Casey
Other than JR Smith going off, had the Raptors playing the right type of basketball to close this one out. Masterful substitutions. Handled the Lowry foul situation in the 1st half perfectly. Jesus…this was a perfectly managed game from the sidelines imho. Give the man a contract!


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Sorry, Jonas Valanciunas, but your ankle sprain also did damage to your legacy. That Toronto Raptors postseason record you set for rebounds in a game on April 16? Deuces.

Bismack Biyombo broke Valanciunas’ month-old record by hauling in 26 rebounds in Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.

On-brand, Biyombo also had zero points on 0-of-2 shooting at one point, adding four blocks and one very awesome non-block on LeBron James he was whistled for a foul. Biyombo was going full Rodman/Evans with the 0-20, passing Tree Rollins (16) for the most rebounds in a scoreless postseason game. That was, assuming he remained scoreless – he did most of this before the end of the third quarter.

UPDATE: Nevermind, Biyombo scored after getting fouled on his 20th rebound. Damn.
UPDATE 2: Biyombo finished with seven points, 26 rebounds, four blocks, and a plus-12 rating in the win.

Previously, Valanciunas grabbed 18 boards back in Game 1 of the team’s 2014 series against the Brooklyn Nets, the Lithuanian’s first career playoff game. That topped Keon Clark’s then-record 16 rebounds from 2002. The Raptors’ playoff record book isn’t exactly full of stiff competition – four players on the current roster have long-since passed the team record for games played, for example, and the current team now owns most career records – but it’s impressive nonetheless.

In terms of league-wide records, the most rebounds in a playoff game is Wilt Chamberlain’s 41 in 1967, and the most offensive rebounds is Moses Malone’s 15 in 1977 (Biyombo only has five of those). Since 1984, no player has topped 26 rebounds in a playoff game, a feat both Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon managed once.

The Raptors’ franchise record for rebounds in any game is also 25, also set by Biyombo earlier this year.


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Fans are mad online after LeBron James got away with two pretty big embellishments in the first half of Game 3 on Saturday.

The first gave Kyle Lowry his third foul, sending him to the bench early in the second quarter. Unless Lowry is wielding a weapon, there’s no way he can move James like this.

Now look at how strong he CAN be.

Later, James took a shot to the head from his teammate Tristan Thompson and, uhh, maybe overreacted a little bit. The result here was a double-technical on Thompson and Cory Joseph.

Look familiar?


Shawn Michaels mocks Hulk Hogan by overselling… by johncena77

These were bad. Try to just have a laugh and shrug it off. All memes welcome, though.


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Greetings from a hotel room in Montreal with very bad WiFi. I’m missing Game 3 live due to a bachelor party for a good, long-time friend that I couldn’t miss, but I’m taking a timeout for the game (and our usual post-game coverage). Along with the festivities, I’m missing Hop Along in Toronto, The Hotelier in Montreal (and geez, is the new Hotelier album ever good), and a friend’s show, Bad Jews (recommend checking it out if you’re in Montreal in the next two weeks), so, needless to say, there are better ways I could be spending my Saturday night than watching a 20-point blowout. So let’s do it for me, OK, Raptors? Because after all, the world revolves around me, as this self-indulgent paragraph would have you believe. And also, you know, 20-point losses suck.

And I actually think the Raptors will be better! Cutting a defeat from 31 to 19 is hardly impressive, but the Raptors were second-quarter Cleveland run from at least making it a game in the second half, and I think they learned some things about themselves and how to attack the matchup in the process. Those changes might not be enough to close the gap entirely, but I thought the Raptors would take one of two at home (on their way to a five-game series loss), and I’m sticking by that. Having said that, I think Monday is the one they take, not Saturday. Just a feeling, I don’t know.

The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. from the Air Canada Centre. ESPN has the game in the U.S., with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke on the call, while Sportsnet has the Canadian broadcast and Sportsnet 590 has radio rights. Ken Mauer, Marc Davis, and Pat Fraher are the officials.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 3, assuming you haven’t been keeping up (and who could blame you?).

*Tamberlyn’s got you covered with the full game preview.
*Kyle Lowry left Game 2 to decompress. Or to use the bathroom. I think it’s safe to say too big a deal is being made of it when Ray Lewis is being asked his opinion on it.
*The Raptors are running out of time in their search for some magic (and we ain’t talkin’ Oladipo).
*Matthew Dellavedova is questionable, as a human and for Game 3.
*I answered some reader questions to try to make heads or tails of the series.

And check this heartfelt piece from Ryan Mourton of Fear the Sword out. Sports can be a powerful thing.

Raptors updates
Jonas Valanciunas (ankle) is believed to be out, and unless the Raptors figure something out soon, his season might be over.

Raptors projected rotation
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Delon Wright)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, T.J. Ross, (Norman Powell)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, (Bruno Caboclo)
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson
C: Bismack Biyombo, (Jason Thompson), (Lucas Nogueira), (Jonas Valanciunas)

I don’t think the rotation itself is going to change too much, and any major changes will be schematic in nature. I did suggest in the mailbag that I think Norman Powell could see some time when the Cavs are smaller as a Kyrie Irving cooler, but he’s played exclusively garbage time in this series. And again, I disagree with starting Luis Scola despite seeing the team’s logic in the move. So long as his shifts remain fairly short, allowing Patrick Patterson to be a little better rested late and to be deployed in more favorable situations early, I’m done being too mad online about it.

I know some want Powell to jump T.J. Ross, but Ross’ shooting is so important for opening up space, and Dwane Casey continues to say positive things about him (and he’s been OK, with the usual Ross ups-and-downs).

Check back before tip off to confirm the starters. UPDATE: Starters are the same.

Cavaliers updates
Matthew Dellavedova (possessed by an evil spirit, ankle) is a game-time decision. The pre-game buzz was more optimistic than that from shootaround earlier or practice on Friday.

UPDATE: Dellavedova is playing.

Cavaliers projected rotation
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, (Mo Williams)
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, (Dahntay Jones), (Jordan McRae)
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, (James Jones)
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, (Timofey Mozgov), (Sasha Kaun)

If Dellavedova can’t go, the Cavs will probably just shorten their rotation to eight and entrust James or Shumpert with de facto backup point guard duties. Mo Williams can still shoot but I’m not sure the Cavs would want to have such an exploitable defensive guard out there. A Dellavedova absence would also mean no appearance from the James-and-reserves Nu Death Lineup (The Benchnik Termites, as I’m calling them) that’s killed Toronto in two games.

If he can go, the Cavs probably won’t change much, because they won the first two games by a combined 50 points.

Check back for an update on the official starters.

Pre-game news and notes
*Dwane Casey didn’t ask for his Game 2 technical to be rescinded, but it did anyway. Sometimes the closed mouth does get fed!


*One thing people keep asking is why the Raptors haven’t dared James to shoot more (he’s 0-of-5 from outside the paint in the series). The answer, as discussed in the mailbag, is complex, and even if they try, the Cavs will have a response.


*You know it’s a big game when Jimmy Goldstein’s in the house.


Assorted
*Here’s your Game 3 swag update:


*Here’s a reason for additional pride in where the Raptors are right now. It doesn’t mean a ton, necessarily, and any big-picture takeaway would also have to recognize that all four teams have roughly the same amount of salary committed next year (so the Raptors aren’t necessarily in a “better” spot to keep building from), but it’s still cool to appreciate.


*Here’s a really nice quote from Lowry on Rex Kalamian, the well-respected Raptors assistant who interviewed with Houston on Thursday and is a candidate to be plucked even if he doesn’t get the head coaching job there. Players love this dude.

The line
Game 1: Cavaliers -10.5 (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 84)
Game 2: Cavaliers -11.5 (Cavaliers 108, Raptors 89)
Game 3: Cavaliers -5.5
Series: Cavaliers Off the Board

The series line was a -5000 before Game 2, an implied win probability of about 98 percent. Oddsmakers don’t even see the point in giving away literal pennies on the hundreds of dollars now, essentially calling the series as close to done as possible by removing it from the board. The Cavs were initially five-point favorites, only for that line to push half a point (an important half-point, based on my prediction below)

Cavaliers 102, Raptors 97


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Heading into game 3 tonight, there isn’t too much noise. The hype of this series has somewhat subdued given what transpired in the first two games. In the mind of many, for good reason, this series is all but done. The atmosphere surrounding this series now is calm, which could benefit the Raptors in playing a more focused game.

Here are some pre-game notes, with the biggest news coming out of Cleveland’s camp – Matthew Dellavedova is questionable.



Talking about in-game adjustments..

On being back home..

Nothing new, but Valanciunas will clearly be out of the lineup again tonight. Via Zach Harper, CBS:

During the broadcast of Game 2 Thursday night, ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Breen informed us Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Valanciunas “definitely won’t play” Game 3 in Toronto on Saturday. And Game 4 doesn’t sound like a great bet either.

“Jonas Valanciunas. He will definitely not play in Game 3, according to Dwane Casey. He’s still not close. They’re hoping maybe Game 4, but you get the feeling that’s wishful thinking.”

Passport troubles..


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It’ll be nice to see the Raptors back in Toronto tonight, because let’s face it…it almost has to be better than what happened in Cleveland.  With the thousands of fans inside of the ACC, and the thousands more in Jurassic Park, the hope is that the Raptors are able to maintain the early success that they had in games 1 and 2.

It lasted about 7 minutes in game 1…and a quarter and a half in game 2.  Maybe in game 3 we can see them keep the game competitive for a full 2-3 quarters?  Or maybe the whole game?

The truth is we won’t know until we actually see it.  The Cavaliers are on a mission to destroy anything in front of them, and the Raptors are currently the last team between them and a return trip to the finals.  The Cavaliers are on a mission, and it’s clear they want to destroy the Raptors.

And it simply hasn’t been that hard for them.  The Raptors currently only have three players who have a positive plus/minus in the playoffs, only one of which is a current regular.  Kyle Lowry is a +3.4, the injured Jonas Valanciunas was a +2.4 before rolling his ankle, and Delon Wright is a +0.6 in his 3.8 minutes per game (only 7 games played).

Against the Cavs it’s been even worse through two games, with the top plus/minus contributors being Norman Powell and Lucas Nogueira, both being a -1 per game in their less than 5 minutes per game.

Everyone has looked ugly so far through two games.  And what makes it more discouraging is that many of our most important players simply don’t look like themselves at the moment.

Cory Joseph just doesn’t have the same jump, and is currently being outplayed by Matthew Dellavedova.  He looks like someone dealing with injury or hitting a significant wall.  Patrick Patterson looks increasingly timid when it comes to shooting the three.  DeMarre Carroll is being beaten badly by LeBron James (who doesn’t?).

Even Kyle Lowry is getting burned badly by Kyrie Irving, falling well short of his normal defensive standards.  Yes, Kyrie is incredibly talented, but Kyle has showed in the past that he is capable of winning this individual match-up.

If the Raptors lose tonight this magical season will officially be over because the rest of the series would be just a formality, and although I have expected the Cavaliers to win the series all along, I’m want at least one more game to celebrate what this team has done.

Losing to the Cavaliers is not an indictment of this Raptors team.  They are simply overmatched by a team with a transcendent star.  The Raptors are a team that won 56 games, beat two underrated squads in tough 7 game series, and are one of the final four teams remaining in the NBA.

Let’s hope for at least one more night of magic tonight when game 3 kicks off.


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It seems like an eternity since the Toronto Raptors earned their inaugural trip to the Eastern Conference Finals via a Game 7 oust of the Heat. The reality is it was less than a week ago. Let that ruminate for a minute – it’s been 6 days since the team, city, nation and fan base were collectively celebrating yet another Raptors milestone accomplishment.

Unquestionably the 6-days since have taken a toll as they’ve served to douse the over flowing joy of Raptors fanatics. Hey, two consecutive blow-out losses will have that effect. Yet, as the ever even tempered Dwane Casey reminded everyone, a series doesn’t start until you lose at home.

Still, the Raptors haven’t looked remotely close to the team who spanked the Heat this past Sunday. Most notably, the Raptors leader Kyle Lowry has more closely resembled his prior series nemesis: Dwyane Wade, whose body finally couldn’t match his desire to win.

If Lowry can summon the bull dog once more, and the Raptors can rediscover their ability to bounce back in adversity, tonight represents their best opportunity to capture their first win in the series. Should that not occur, all is not lost as there are some lessons to be learned from their Conference Finalist counterparts.

To wit, the Thunder’s first trip to the finals came in 2011-12. The season prior Oklahoma City fought through 7 games to reach the Conference Finals only to lose in 5 games to the eventual Championship Dallas Mavericks. In the 4 seasons since (other than last year’s injury riddled campaign) the Thunder have  finished no worse than the Semi Finals.

Golden State’s rise has been meteoric, winning the title in their third season of the current Stephen Curry era. In spite of their accelerated run they also suffered a set back in year 2 of their rise, losing in the first round in 7 games to the Clippers.

And, the Raptors current opponent have yet to recognize their title aspirations. In LeBron James first stint with Cleveland, the Cavaliers made it to the finals just once. Of that 5 year run the Cleveland Cavaliers made two appearances in the Conference Finals reaching the Semi Finals on the other 3 occasions.

The fact the Raptors are one of the final 4 standing speaks to their steady growth as a core. Moreover, of the 4 remaining their presence may be the most impressive at least from a dollars and cents perspective. Specifically, the Raptors are the only Conference Finalists under the salary cap. Their roster ranks 24th in the NBA at $71 million. Cleveland boasts the most expensive roster of $108M and will pay $54M in tax. The Thunder and Warriors sit third and fourth in the NBA paying $96.6M ($19M tax) and 93.6M ($15M tax) respectively.  Breaking this down further, the Cavaliers luxury tax alone is equal to 76% of the Raptors complete salary. No matter how you slice it Cleveland has the talent and depth, but they’ve also paid a steep price for it.

Furthermore, the Raptors (9) and Celtics (3) are the only playoff teams who’ll have a pick in the top 10 of the upcoming 2016 NBA Draft. Plus the Raptors second pick (27) will come before any of the final 4. In fact the Warriors (30) are the only other finalist with a pick in the first round.

Suffice to say there is a learning curve, and experience provides the best ammunition for future runs, be it on the court, behind the bench or in the management offices. Granted the team nor the fan base are ready to concede anything yet, nor should they be. After 21 seasons, this unprecedented journey hasn’t reached it’s destination and there are more sights to witness.

With that, let’s break it down:

Number Crunching:

  • In the final 3 games of the Heat series Lowry and DeRozan each got to the line 25 times. Through 2 games they have shot 2 and 6 free throws respectively. Conversely the big three of Cleveland have made 41 collective trips to the stripe. While Game 1 was noted for neither Raptors backcourt starter getting to the line, the team had 20 attempts to the Cavs 33. Game 2, showcased even greater disparity as the Cavaliers more than doubled (37-18) the Raptors attempts.
  • Raptors have played every other day for 22 consecutive days (11 games). In the same time span the Cavaliers have played 6 times with 8 days rest prior to the Conference Finals start.
  • Of the 223 total Cavalier points scored through 2 games, the big 3 of James, Irving and Love are responsible for 133 points or 59.6% of the scoring.
  • Raptors are 6-2 at home in the playoffs with a 32-9 regular season success rate at Air Canada Centre.
  • Game 2 marked the first time this post season the Raptors lost back to back games. They haven’t lost 3 in a row since November 15 – 18 (all 3 on the road).

Story Lines:

Battered and Bruised: Arguably the greatest take away from this season is the need to close out teams early in the first and second rounds. Had the Raptors disposed of Indiana in 5 games for example the efforts they made in games 6 and 7 versus Miami could have been utilized in Cleveland. By pushing each series to its limit it has forced the Raptors to play with copious injuries and launch shots on weary legs.

Potty Gate: Perhaps Lowry was simply embarrassed to tell a female (Doris Burke) he needed to relieve himself, choosing to say he was decompressing instead. His choice to say the latter has divided opinion on how that effected the team, but none of his teammates seemed phased. Some have taken offense feeling it speaks to poor character.  I’ll counter with would you rather he have taken a technical foul? Lowry is a passionate player who earlier this season was ejected for losing his cool. In my opinion choosing to not jeopardize the team in that manner, but instead refocus in private was in this case a suitable response.

Customs Gate: With the #WeTheOther and “Oh Canada” guffaws the series has unfortunately taken on a North vs South narrative. Fully 60% of the Raptors hail from America and their are two Canadians in the mix, with one on each team (Joseph and Thompson). This is not a national competition like the Olympics, therefore it seems like a reach to be pitting the bordered countries against one another. Then again, a friend told me with no historic playoff battles between the clubs, perhaps it’s occurring to create the context for a rivalry. While that may be true, unfortunately the Raptors haven’t played well enough (yet) for real enmity to surface. Further, in the absence of actual series story lines every little thing that happens serves as fodder to potentially spark some animosity.

For example, upon arrival in Canada the Cavaliers were held up at customs, and while I have no idea if this is typical, was an extended wait or the players were just having fun, Richard Jefferson’s instagram video made it’s way to prime time NBA TV offering fuel to spark the Cavs fans vitriol:

Adjustments:

Force James to shoot: A rested LeBron James surrounded by capable talent is a nightmare that can’t be simply shut down. That said, historically teams who’ve had success against him have focused on two things: clog his passing lanes and make him a shooter: As Blake pointed out James is 0-5 outside the paint. In fact closer examination of the shot chart reveals the Cavaliers on a whole are shooting the worst from the mid-range and paradoxically on the perimeter where they excelled through the first 2 rounds.

Cavs shooting

Get Irving in early foul trouble: Maybe it seems like a simplistic answer, but as good as Irving has been part of his success has come because he’s not having to work on the defensive end. Forcing him to play full court achieves two goals: either draw early and quick fouls on him and/or fatigue him to effect his offensive production.

Hit open threes:The reality is there have been copious open looks available, especially on the perimeter. The Raptors have to hit those shots – period.

Be aggressor, control pace, resolve 2Q issues: Game 1 featured a good Toronto start which quickly regressed into a blow-out likely due to the quick turn around and adjustments to the Cavaliers pace. In Game 2, the Raptors held close until near the end of the half when the James plus reserve unit pulled away. Dissecting the game the Raptors lost every quarter, but aside from the second quarter they were within 2 or 3 points (7 total points). Specifically the final 3 minutes of the second frame is when the Cavaliers distanced themselves. If the Raptors can find a way to remain aggressive throughout the game their other main goal has to be to control pace. And, the obvious objective will be to finish quarters well, especially the second.

Offensive adjustments: In contrast to the first 2 rounds the Raptors have done a far better job moving the ball in this series. Yet to recognize success they need to find paths to the bucket and aggressively drive the paint. At their best the Raptors led by their backcourt must focus on paint penetration to either score easy buckets or find open perimeter shooters.

Use the crowd to build momentum: They are 6-2 at home in this post season, so let’s hope their fatigued bodies can find another gear sparked by the energy of the ACC crowd .

Raptors bench:

Bench Game 2

Throughout the post season (other than one game in Miami) the Raptors reserves have produced. With so many offensive weapons on Cleveland it’s crucial they rise to the occasion for the Raptors to have a shot at winning today. Notably the reserve unit was a -3 in Game 1 (36-39) and a +22 in Game 2 (41-19).

Substitions: Both Blake and Kiyan offered solutions as per the recommended reading list, and I’m of a similar voice. If Casey is committed to returning an offensive flow to the bench personally I’d start James Johnson. His size has been an issue for the Cavaliers to stop and he can either guard James or Love. The other player I’d like to see get additional playing time is Norman Powell who has demonstrated defensive chops especially guarding quick driving guards.

Lowry has to be EVERYTHING: He’s obviously tired from carrying this team following his herculean performances to turn the Heat series. To put into perspective how much a factor Lowry has been to the Raptors success  isolatating the final 5 games of the Heat series he scored 30+ three times, produced 25 points in another and came close to a triple-double in the one game his scoring was low. In the final 3 games of that series he shot 44% from the field and over 57% from deep. That pales in comparison to his efforts in Cleveland. Here’s hoping some home cooking combined with criticism for his mid game locker room break will fuel another Lowry-esque performance.

Game Specifics:

The Venue: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
The Tip: 8:30 PM EST
TV: ESPN, Sportsnet
Radio: Sportset 590 the FAN, WTAM 1100/100.7 WMMS, 87.7 FM (ESP)

Recommended Pregame Reading/Listening:

  • Game 2: | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Podcast|Post Game Notes |Analysis
  • Kiyan offers some solutions to stop the Cavs
  • Blake’s off day mid series mail bag offers goodies aplenty and Friday practice notes
  • NBA.com SportVU breakdown as usual offers some awesome series stats. Notably the Game 3 edition looks at:
    • the Raptors successful use of drives (as per below)
    • defending Kyrie Irving (Biyombo was by far the most successful on Irving)
    • Raptors Game 2 success shooting off the dribble
    • Cavaliers Big 3 dominance in the post
Toronto Sports VU Game 2

Playoff  Stats:

Raptors Series Stats vs Cavs

Cavs Playoff Stats

Walking Wounded:

Jonas Valanciunas Rotoworld noted Dwane Casey informed ESPN’s Mike Breen JV definitely won’t play Game 3.

Have to wonder how Carroll’s wrist, knee and ankle are effecting his ability to have any success guarding James.

Rotations:

Raptors:
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Delon Wright)
SG:DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, (Norman Powell)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, (Bruno Caboclo)
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson,
C:  Bismack Biyombo,  (Jason Thompson), (Lucas Nogueira)

Cavaliers projected rotation
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, (Mo Williams)
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, (Dahntay Jones), (Jordan McRae)
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, (James Jones)
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, (Timofey Mozgov), (Sasha Kaun)

The Line:

Game 1: Cavaliers -10.5 (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 84)
Game 2: Cavaliers -12 (Cavaliers 108,Raptors 89)
Game 3: Cavaliers -5.5

The odds makers take an abrupt turn lowering the line to 5.5 for the Cavaliers after a high of 12 points in Game 2. It’s unusual for a home team to not be favored in the Conference Finals. Since 1991-92 it’s only occurred on 31 occasions. So, the fact both Toronto and Oklahoma City find themselves in the underdog position enters rare territory. The results of the previous 31 occasions featured the home team covering the spread 18 times. The over under is 198.5 points and not surprisingly Cleveland is the early heavy favorite.

Referee Assignments:

Ken Mauer, Marc Davis, Mark Fraher and alternate Josh Tiven

In Closing:

As a Raptors fan whether you’ve suffered through all 21 seasons, are somewhere in the middle or just became a fan recently there has been a common bond of angst ridden summers. So, this milestone rich season of 56 wins, two series wins in game 7s no less, and the Raptors first Eastern Conference Finals has filled the previously barren coffers with memories aplenty.

Given that, It’s hard to remember this Raptors squad is still a work in progress. Or that the two first round draft picks in a year chock full of power forwards is probably why Masai Ujiri wisely held on to those picks at the deadline. Logically this $162M Cleveland squad should be expected to advance. Yet, the conundrum of being a sports fan rarely speaks to logic.

With so many dreams recognized it’s difficult to tell your mind to tell your heart to stop caring or yearning for more. The Toronto Raptors are firmly in the underdog position, a role they have excelled in. As the tip inches closer here’s hoping Lowry conjures his best David to slay the Cavaliers’ Goliath.


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The Raptors Are Running Out Of Time To Figure Things Out | Raptors Republic

James Johnson would help tremendously with attacking the paint, by the way. He gets in there as efficiently as anyone on the roster, so that’s one bonus of having him in the lineup apart from pestering LeBron. The free-throw discrepancy between these two teams in the first two games has been dramatic – a perplexing +37 in Cleveland’s favour – and despite the referee’s whistle leaning towards LeBron’s team, the Raptors aren’t doing themselves any favours by not attacking Cleveland inside.

The worst reality the Raptors are trying to cope with right now heading into game 3 is that Valanciunas has officially been ruled out. If he doesn’t come back by game 4, this could be a sweep. His insertion changes the entire dynamic of this series on a game-to-game basis if he ever makes it back in time. With Valanciunas in the lineup, the Raptors can provide enough threat down-low for the Cavs to reconsider playing without a rim protecter for large chunks, and any chance the Raptors can get to disassemble the Cavs’ go-to lineup will be conducive to getting results.

There is something to be said though about the Raptors’ offence overall – it’s actually been good. It’s not as good as it needs to be, for reasons mentioned above, but at the very least Toronto is zipping the ball nicely around the perimeter which has led to open threes for Carroll, Patterson, and Ross. But the Raptors desperately need those open threes to fall which they haven’t. As a whole, they shot 9-of-33 from behind the arc, with Patterson’s 2-of-4 mark being the most efficient of the lot. The margin of error against this East juggernaut is too tiny to allow that kind of bad shooting to trickle into your offense. If those shots drop – particularly Lowry’s 7 misses from three – the game is much closer than the box score reads. If the Raptors knock down their threes and get to line too, we’re looking at a competitive game, at the very least.

Kyle Lowry needs to find himself, and whatever he needs to do to ‘decompress’ better happen before tip-off tomorrow, because right now the Raptors are in a car with no driver. This is one series where Lowry’s other tangible contributions won’t be enough to squeak by. The Raptors need more.

Lowry explains leaving bench, Valanciunas doubtful, and other practice notes | Raptors Republic

Here’s a suggestion I’ve written many times: Put Bismack Biyombo on James in those scenarios, since Biyombo’s being pulled away from the rim by Channing Frye or Kevin Love, otherwise, rendered unable to help on James. James will have trouble posting Biyombo, and the face-up approach against a long, game defender might at least eat clock and get the ball out of his hands without having to abandon shooters. Alternatively, keep Patterson/Johnson on James and shift Biyombo to Shumpert, letting him play safety. I wrote about this more in this morning’s mailbag, so check that out.

Or, just get the fight in your pants.

Dwane Casey and the Raptors Still Have Something to Prove | VICE Sports

The Raptors’ defensive sins, mostly absent in the first two series, have been a greatest hits collection of Casey’s early years in Toronto. The Raptors have sent the Cavaliers to the line 70 times through two games, compared to shooting 38 free throws for themselves. Surely, a fraction—a tiny fraction—of that is a product of star calls going Cleveland’s way. A lot of it is silly off-the-ball stuff. It is Patterson grabbing a jersey. It is Scola bumping Love 16 feet out with his back to the basket. It is not only the result of a wide talent gap, although it is mostly that; it is foolish stuff from players who should know better.

The rest of it is mostly just the Raptors not keeping their man in front of them. Even accounting for the fact that he is LeBron James, it is nearly impossible to make sense of the fact that James is shooting 18-for-26 in this series despite clanking every jumper that comes his way. He is getting to the rim at relative will, inexcusable for Carroll, unless the excuse is that his knee is still bothering him.

And then at point guard, we have seen a flashback to last year’s brief playoff run (stumble?). Just like he was supposed to play John Wall to a draw last year, Lowry was at least supposed to cancel out Kyrie Irving. Instead, Lowry is missing shots and buckling under Cleveland’s defensive pressuring, turning the ball over with frequency. And on the other end, Irving is simply roasting him.

“He’s our guy,” Casey told reporters after the game. “He’s one of the examples (of offensive slumps affecting defensive performance). He’s missed some great looks, and he’s taken some of those looks down to the defensive end. He is an impactful player, but he can’t let that (affect him). None of our guys can.”

The irony is that if the Raptors set out to limit the Cavaliers’ 3-point shooting, they have done just that. Cleveland is shooting 14-for-41 from deep so far against the Raptors, after connecting on 50.6 percent of its 152 attempts against the Hawks. In picking their poison, however, the Raptors have gone too far in the other direction.

It is hard to think of the adjustment Casey could make to help slow down James and his gunning teammates. More and more, this looks like the inevitable result of a massive talent gap, and addressing that is Masai Ujiri’s job in offseasons to come.

The Raptors Desperately Need Jonas Valanciunas if They Want to Beat Cleveland | numberFire

The Valanciunas Effect

Aside from clearly being Toronto’s best individual low-post scorer, Valanciunas’ presence opened things up for the entire offense, which is reflected in their regular season stats.

Per NBAwowy.com, Toronto has averaged more points per possession with Valanciunas on the court, while also posting a higher True Shooting Percentage.

They have also taken much higher percentage shots with Valanciunas in the lineup, as 28.6 percent of their shots have come from layups or dunks with him on the court, as opposed to 25.7 percent with him off. With Valanciunas off the court, Toronto has struggled to get much going inside — instead settling more for three-pointers.

With Valanciunas off the court, 30.2 percent of their shots were threes, as opposed to just 25.5 percent when he was on the court.

Toronto has also rebounded the ball better with Valanciunas on the court, posting a 52.4 percent Rebounding Rate, as opposed to 50.7 percent without him on the floor.

Kyle Lowry must lead the Raptors back to respectability: Feschuk | Toronto Star

What’s going on? Even those who love Lowry will tell you that when he senses he can’t win a matchup, he’s prone to pulling the chute. We saw it last year when John Wall treated Lowry like a pylon in the Wizards’ first-round sweep of Toronto. And similar bad habits and rampant immaturity have been on display since Lowry started squaring off against an elite counterpart named Kyrie Irving.

Suddenly the Lowry who torched the Miami Heat for 35 points in a majestic second-round Game 7 looks like the Lowry who’d rather be playing any place but U.S. national TV. Suddenly the shots Lowry sometimes drains with ease aren’t going in. So far in the series Lowry is a horrific 1-for-15 from three-point range. Eleven of those attempts have come with Lowry either “open” or “wide open,” according to the statistical definitions laid out on NBA.com. In other words, the Cavaliers aren’t stopping him. He’s stopping himself.

And unlike in previous rounds, he’s not doing enough to compensate for his sub-par attack. As Casey said after Thursday’s game, Lowry has allowed missed shots on offence to lead to missed assignments on defence. And Lowry, too, has allowed his poor play to morph into inexcusably pouty body language — none of which bodes well for a team that, in this series, needs to strike a pose as the plucky underdog.

“He’s got to find a better way (to deal with his struggles),” Casey acknowledged Friday. “Because it looked like he was frustrated (in Game 2).”

It’s understandable he would be frustrated. Irving is a flash. LeBron is a savant. The Cavaliers are a scary-fast freight train of a basketball team. But none of that gives the Raptors an excuse to lie down on the tracks and whimper a prayer before the funeral. Even the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons offered Cleveland a modicum of trouble in this year’s first round, keeping the margin of defeat to five points or less in two of four losses. Even the Atlanta Hawks managed to push the Cavs to the final possession of a one-point game before going out in a sweep.

Holding strong #wethenorth

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Raptors have no room for error in Game 3 | Toronto Sun

In eight quarters played in Cleveland, the Raptors won none.

The biggest disparity was in the second, the Raptors being outscored by a combined margin of 65-36.

In the second quarters, the Cavs went to the line 27 times compared to four trips by Toronto.

Cleveland made 21 of its 39 shots, Toronto 15 of its 42 shots, including a 2-for-16 performance from beyond the arc.

One has to go back all the way to the early stages of the regular season to find a stretch where Toronto has lost three in a row.

If things don’t change quickly, and perhaps they won’t, they’ll go into the off-season having lost four in a row.

“They did what they (Cavs) were supposed to do on their home floor,” said Lowry. “We have an opportunity to play two games on our home floor. We have to do what we need to do on our home floor.

“We have to protect home. I think, for sure, we’ll be better at home. We’re supposed to be better at home. We have to take advantage of the opportunity. We’re down 0-2, but we haven’t played on our home floor yet.”

There was a Game 3 win on the road against the Pacers, a Game 3 win in Miami, but other than those two games the Raptors have played their best, or a reasonable facsimile, at home.

Saturday night with the NBA world watching, there’s no bigger stage than the one the Raptors will walk into for Game 3.

This sad picture makes us sad #wethenorth

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Raptors’ Kyle Lowry stands his ground, and lives to tell about it | Toronto Star

JV DOUBTFUL: Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas likely won’t be suiting up for Game 3 after coach Dwane Casey declared him doubtful Friday.

“It’s wishful thinking,” Casey said. “I don’t foresee him (playing Saturday night.)”

Valanciunas sprained his ankle in the second round against the Heat and only recently got back on the court with his teammates.

“His progression is coming,” Casey said. “He’s on the court with (assistant coach) Alex McKechnie and he’s doing an excellent job of getting him back up to speed and getting flexibility in the ankle. It’s coming along, but we’re not going to rush it back. That could do further damage to it.”

Raptors confident they can bounce back against Cavaliers | Toronto Sun

Casey repeatedly talked about the “uncharacteristic” mistakes his team was making in the wake of Thursday’s Game 2 loss.

Whether it was transition defence, the inordinate number of fouls his team committed or the offensive rebounds the team was giving up, Casey considers all these things correctable.

On Friday back in the familiar surroundings of the BioSteel Centre practice facility Casey was again hopeful.

He sees multiple areas where his team can improve and he has both the practice time and the film time to share that with his players.

But what he can’t control, but is doing everything in his power to at least help his players there, is to get to a point where they actually believe they can get back in this series.

It’s no easy sell. The Cavaliers have faltered only marginally, early in Game 1 and then late in the first quarter of Game 2 and then again for a spell late midway through quarter two.

All told those positive Raptors moments, and by extension negative Cavs moments, have lasted a grand total of about 13 minutes.

The rest of the 83 minutes have been almost entirely Cleveland.

That’s not a lot of positive momentum to build on but the Raptors appear clinging to a few things.

Game 3 Preview: Raptors vs. Cavaliers | Toronto Raptors

No Mental Lapses

After keeping the pace with the Cavs throughout the first half on Thursday, a short lapse to close the half was where things started to fall apart for Toronto.

“We can’t have those lapses,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It was a tie game, 46-46 in the second quarter before going into halftime and we put them on the free throw line too much. Next thing we knew at halftime we’re down. We were trying to fight and cut into that deficit from there on out. We can’t have lapses in the game, especially against a team like this.”

Casey said his team needs to guard against picking up quick and easy fouls, especially when it means sending Cleveland to the free throw line.

“We gave them about eight points [to close the half] on careless fouls, on cheap fouls,” he said.

“It’s not the entire game that really breaks our back,” Casey continued. “I think we had cut it to eight and had two opportunities to cut it below 10, it was in the third quarter — five minutes to go, six minutes to go in the third quarter. So you put yourself in a position, and then they go on another little run. We gotta make sure we cut those lulls down on both ends of the floor.”

Despite the run that changed the momentum in Game 2, Kyle Lowry is confident the team will be ready when the ball goes up on Saturday.

“We have no reason not to be confident,” Lowry said. “We got here for a reason. We are in this situation for a reason. It wasn’t by luck. We had to beat two teams, we had to play a regular season. We got here for a reason.”

Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry Must Regain His Composure | Hoops Habit

It’s clear at this point that Lowry’s struggles are primarily mental. He appeared to have turned a corner against the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals, scoring 25, 36 and 35 points respectively in the final games of that series.

But so far in this series he has been a shell of himself, averaging 8.5 points and 4.0 assists a game. On the other end of the floor he’s been arguably even worse, as Kyrie Irving has averaged 26.5 points and 4.0 assists per game through two games.

Considering Lowry ranked third for point guards in defensive real plus minus, his lack of focus and commitment on that end of the floor has been disturbing.

Heading back to Toronto, the Raptors need Lowry to regain the poise and focus he has displayed throughout his tenure with the team. Cold spells, while unfortunate, do happen.

It’s clear that the moment is getting to him, but he cannot let that show as much as it has to this point. He cannot mentally check out of the game, and he absolutely cannot literally check out of the game the same way he did in Game 2.

Cavaliers vs. Raptors: Game 3 preview, start time, TV info | Fear The Sword

One thing that’s stood out so far in this series has been the confidence of Tyronn Lue. The Cavs game plan against Toronto has been well constructed and Lue hasn’t been quick to try and change it if Toronto hits a few shots early. The Cavs defense is shelling off the paint and going under screens, baiting DeRozan into taking mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper. Early in games one and two, DeRozan has hit those shots with consistency. He shot 5-7 in game one and 4-5 in game two. But despite his early success, Lue showed confidence in his scouting and DeRozan cooled off in both games. The bait has been too tempting for him so far in this series, as he has only taken six shots total within five feet of the basket and six total free throws. Coming into the series Lue stated that he was going to make Toronto make field goals instead of free throws, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.

The big three has been the catalyst for all of the Cavs success so far in the playoffs. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James combined for 68 points in game two on a combined 24-43 shooting. The chemistry they have shown together and with the rest of the team has been off the charts in the playoffs.

Coming into game three, the recipe for success is more of the same. The Cavs must continue to beat them up on the boards, defend without fouling and shell off the paint. Nobody on Toronto has played this far into the season before and their tired legs are showing. As long as the Cavs continue to play sharp defense and unselfish offense, the Raptors being able to muster up enough offense to take a game from them feels unlikely.

Raptors’ Adjustments to Watch For | King James Gospel

No free throws for the duo for the first time. This is largely because Lowry passed out on his sporadically timed drives or pulled up for threes and DeRozan pulled up for jumpers. This isn’t just like they wanted to do. Kyrie Irving in particularly played spectacular defense on Lowry. DeRozan’s defenders let him finish 9-17. But that was with going 7-11 from midrange contested jumpers. Add in going 0-1 from the three he got 5 shots in total inside and made two. Lowry finished 4-14 and 0-7 from three. I would say he did well inside, but all 4 of his makes came from the midrange.

Attacking the paint slows down the game for the Raptors and allows them to control the pace. Firstly, it’s because they’re getting to the line. Secondly, it’s because with shorter distances shots rebounds are at shorter distances and improved the Raptors chance of getting the rebound yes, but mainly, getting back on defense.

However, their natural tendencies and a big lead may keep them forcing pull-ups from the outside. Let’s say the Cavs are up 20 at halftime, they might try to chip away in the paint but if the lead doesn’t stop or grows. Hero ball and ill-advised threes appear. It’s what LeBron would call “bad basketball habits”. The Raptors ultimate limitation: bad basketball habits.

Are the Cavaliers this good, or is the Eastern Conference this bad? | Fear The Sword

So the idea that the Pistons and Hawks were mere speedbumps on the road to the Finals seems to be new.

This is not to suggest that Cavs have not been the beneficiaries of some good fortune. A team that some people also thought could challenge the Cavs, the Miami Heat, had to deal with injuries last round, and the Raptors are dealing with an injury to Jonas Valanciunas this round.

But let us at least dispel with the fiction that the Cavs’ first two playoff opponents were bad. The Pistons and Hawks were perfectly fine eighth and fourth seeds, respectively. The Cavs just made it look easy. And for some reason there does not seem to be much mention that the Warriors’ first two opponents were the Rockets and Trail Blazers, hardly the stiffest of competition.

For the Cavs, the answer to all of this probably lies somewhere in the middle. They are playing very well, better than anybody expected; but at the same time, there isn’t another team in the conference with the talent to match them in a seven game series.

Of course, none of this matters. It’s a fun debate to have on Twitter or talk radio, but at the end of the day, we’re likely going to find out the answer if and when the Cavs get their chance to face off with the Warriors or Thunder. Until then, it’s nice to know the Cavs are playing some of their best basketball. Everything else is just academic.

LeBron and the Cavs look unstoppable right now. | Sports on Earth

Then again, the Raptors — or anyone else in these playoffs — haven’t provided much competition for the Cavs. Casey admitted after Game 1 that his team’s rotations have been out of sync since Jonas Valanciunas’ injury. To create more balance with the second unit, Casey re-inserted Luis Scola — who was banished to the bench midway through the first round into the starting lineup in order to try to get Patrick Patterson going. Scola finished a -13 in 14 minutes in Game 2. Patterson scored six points in 29 minutes.

But it was Kyle Lowry’s shooting that has once again become the story for Toronto for the third straight series.

Through two games, Lowry is shooting 8-for-28 from the field. He made his first three-pointer of the series early in the third quarter of Game 2, and is shooting 1-for-15 from beyond the arc in the ECF.

“I’m missing some shots,” Lowry said. “And give credit to their defense, they’re showing hard, they’re rotating, and they’re being active. But I’m getting some good looks that I’ve missed, and I don’t think I’ll be missing many more of those.”

The Raptors survived Lowry’s shooting slump against the Pacers, and waited for him to get going against the Heat. But there’s more urgency against the Cavs. The Raptors need to win four of the next five against a Cleveland team that’s now won 17 straight playoff games against East opponents dating back to last season. It feels as though Toronto has already run out of time in this series waiting for their point guard to get going.

East Finals: Is The Enemy Defeated? | King James Gospel

The Raptors have a lot of talent but are missing THE guy. Is there a thought/sense about blowing it up in the near future?

Superstars are in perpetually short supply. The only one the Raptors have ever had was Vince Carter; Tracy McGrady didn’t fully mature until after he left Toronto.

There’s been no “vibe” emanating from GM Masai Ujiri or anyone on his staff that the core group is on a “win or bust” campaign. That might have been foreseeable had they dropped either earlier playoff series, but here they are in the EC Finals. I think the brains trust would prefer to see if there’s a stud available at #9 in the draft. Given they also have the #27 pick, perhaps they could trade up by offering both picks to Boston who has #3?

So – No to a loud explosion from north of the border this summer, BUT if the Raptors are 19-19 in January, all bets are off.

How much 2016 Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 tickets cost in Toronto | cleveland.com

The first thing that jumps out is regardless of the site, it’s more expensive to get into Game 3 in Toronto than it was for Game 2 in Cleveland the night before that game.

The least expensive seats available in Toronto cost less than $123, while it cost Cavaliers fans just $87 per ticket for the cheapest non-single seats.

Lower bowl tickets will cost fans hoping to get into the Air Canada Centre nearly $30 more than the least expensive seats in Quicken Loans Arena’s lower deck.

Game 3’s most expensive courtside tickets, however, are less expensive than they were in Game 2. At their largest amounts, Game 3’s most expensive seats cost more than $4,000 less than they did for Game 2 in Cleveland.

Toronto Raptors Need Kyle Lowry Before It’s Too Late | Tip of the Tower

It’s likely a combination of both physical and mental fatigue that is troubling Lowry. But when you look across the court and see LeBron James consistently leading his team, and even igniting the crowd with a two-handed reverse slam, it leaves something to be desired as a Raptors’ fan.

Lowry obviously doesn’t have the same skill set as LeBron, but his value to the Raptors is similar to what LeBron means to the Cavs. Unfortunately, what Lowry does well, which is command the offence in half court situations and get to the rim, we’ve seldom seen.

His jump shot has been sporadic for 16 playoff games now and by the looks of things it isn’t coming back anytime soon. With that in mind, it’s even more puzzling as to why he doesn’t attack Kyrie Irving.

Irving is an offensive dynamo, but it’s no secret that he is an average defender at best. If the Raptors have any chance of beating the Cavs, they need to exploit Irving’s defence, or at the very least, make him work harder.

If Lowry is incapable of attacking Irving, perhaps running an unconventional high-screen and roll with DeMar DeRozan, someone who has never been shy to attack opponents in iso-sets, would be beneficial.

Five reasons why Lowry is better in the regular season | Toronto Sun

5. TEAMMATES HAVE NOT BEEN AS GOOD, EITHER

Lowry on the court with Toronto’s top reserves laid waste to the NBA this past season, but now they are facing better competition and have also played far worse than in the regular season. Cory Joseph is a -71, Terrence Ross is -73 and Patrick Patterson has dipped to -15 after being a huge plus all year. With Patterson and Bismack Biyombo adjusting to starting and Jonas Valanciunas being out, Lowry has not had as much help as he was used to.

Raptors Showing Frustration For The First Time | Pro Bball Report

It wasn’t just Lowry who stood out, the body language of the whole team as they headed into the locker room at half-time looked like the victims of a drive by shooting. The Cavaliers offensive power can make you look like that.

“You may be seeing something I don’t see,” Casey said after the game. “I don’t see quit. They beat us two games, but I don’t it’s not over yet.”

Casey is right the series is not over. The job of Casey and the rest of his coaching staff is to not yell and scream at their players, because it’s not their fault the Cavaliers are the better team. What they have to do is their best job of convincing them that it’s us against the world. The Raptors aren’t that bad. Counting the playoffs, they have won 64 basketball games this year, and in the regular season they did beat Cleveland in two out of three times (both times in Toronto).

But in reality, this is how a team becomes playoff tested, getting beat by a team that was expected to be in the NBA Finals. When this series is over, the Raptors will know what it will take to contend for a championship in the future.

Being around this team like I have all year I expect them to come out flying at home in Game Three trying to win one for the home fans, but the frustration is starting to show. It’s only human nature when you finally run into an opponent who is better than you and you can’t find anything to stop them.

Changes Toronto Raptors Can Make For Game 3 | Raptors Rapture

The Cavs don’t have the best of individual defenders. Irving and Love, while improving on that side of the ball, are still a major weakness that Toronto seem to purposely avoid exploiting. When Irving switched onto either Patterson, Biyombo or Scola in Game 2, neither of the Raptors big men were able to post up and score over a player much smaller than them. If they had been able to succeed in these sets, chances are LeBron or Thompson would have come over to double, thus leaving open either another big man in the post or one of Lowry, DeRozan and Carroll on the perimeter. It should have led to at least a couple of easy buckets and also caused Cleveland’s head coach Tyronn Lue to switch around his line-up. The main reason why Toronto fail to achieve such an efficient mode of basketball offense is that more times than not their ball handler either settles for a mid-range shot or dribbles back out to the perimeter, which allows the opposition time to regroup and reorganize their defense. It also means there’s a lack of spacing for players like DeRozan, who enjoys getting to the free-throw line, to dribble into the paint and draw the foul. Cleveland have yet to experience legitimate foul trouble and it’s no surprise. At this point, Toronto’s offense seems to be hurting them more than helping them.

Per RJ’s Snapchat, Cavs cannot get into Canada | Reddit

Cavs are being held up by customs trying to get into Canada. Story via RJ’s snapchat.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com


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Some abbreviated notes from Friday’s practice for you. Sorry for the lateness/shortness, but sometimes life happens on a long weekend down 2-0 in a series.

Lowry explains leaving bench

Kyle Lowry left the Raptors’ bench late in the second quarter of Game 2 on Thursday, and it raised some eyebrows when he said after the game it wasn’t for treatment but to “decompress.” Lowry opened up more about his quick reprieve on Friday. Foremost, he had to pee.


As someone who pees more than almost anyone else on the planet (your boy’s got the healthiest organs), this resonates with me. If it’s the case, though, Lowry maybe shouldn’t have said he had to decompress and he should have said he had to…whatever the polite way of saying pee is.

It’s also not a big deal, at least to Lowry and teammates.


This, however, is a bit of a bigger deal, though it’s also a testament to Lowry and the other Raptors that they’re still here despite this.


By the way, I don’t have a big issue with Lowry leaving the bench to clear his head or his bladder or whatever. I can’t imagine the mental toll a shooting slump on this big a stage would have on me, and I doubt I’m nearly as mentally tough as professional athletes who live under the microscope. I do think Lowry should have expected a reaction like this, but so long as his team is fine with it, I’m not too bothered. He’s still playing his ass off, it’s just not working.

Raptors look tired, overmatched

In searching for answers with the 2-0 hole, Occam’s razor suggests the Raptors just aren’t as good as the Cavaliers. Which is true. They’re also exhausted, having worked hard all year long to secure the No. 2 seed (and after), tasking their stars with top-10 workloads, and then failing to take care of business quickly in the first two rounds, loading up their own schedule.


Despite how bad the first two games have gone, the Raptors are at least trying to keep the faith. Which, yeah, they have no choice.


In terms of what they can do differently, the Raptors are thinking specifically in terms of when LeBron James is at the four.


Here’s a suggestion I’ve written many times: Put Bismack Biyombo on James in those scenarios, since Biyombo’s being pulled away from the rim by Channing Frye or Kevin Love, otherwise, rendered unable to help on James. James will have trouble posting Biyombo, and the face-up approach against a long, game defender might at least eat clock and get the ball out of his hands without having to abandon shooters. Alternatively, keep Patterson/Johnson on James and shift Biyombo to Shumpert, letting him play safety. I wrote about this more in this morning’s mailbag, so check that out.

Or, just get the fight in your pants.


Valanciunas doubtful

In your latest non-update on Jonas Valanciunas, he remains doubtful for Game 3 on Saturday. Consider him out until he’s not, basically.

Assorted

*A reason for optimism? The Spurs lost this series 4-2.


*The NBA rescinded a technical foul on Casey from Game 2.
*Pretty good summation of the day right here.



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Right now the Raptors are getting kicked to the curb. The success they’ve had getting to the Eastern Conference finals through waves of tribulation has, for the time being, been overshadowed by the complete onslaught the Cavaliers are handing out to them. Once all is said and done, we can somewhat zoom out of this picture to look at the grand scheme of things – the Raptors have been the cream of the 2nd tier of elite teams in the league, have surpassed their franchise-best totals, and have a #9 draft pick looming to boot. But until then, the Raptors are still riding a tumultuous wave they need to see out.

It’s hard to see a comeback on the cards for the Raptors, but you could make a case for them to win a game or two now that they’re back home. One thing you start to appreciate after two games in the voodooed Q Arena is your own home-court. In the past two years, many thought the pressure-popping atmosphere of the Air Canada Center during the post-season was too burdensome for the jittery Raptors. Now, after a couple seasons of growth and added experience, the ACC is a complete God-send. Every LeBron James video-game dunk in the first two games of this series was met with a thunderous raucous, and every run the Cavs made in front of their home fans and bench caused the Raptors to spiral. It broke them. And for the first time all playoffs, the Raptors looked genuinely rattled and demoralized.

“I needed to decompress and find myself again,” Lowry told The Vertical. “I had to reconfigure myself and get back to the grind of competition. Do I think the Cavs are demoralizing us? People can think what they want. I don’t think so.

“We all just need to get back to the grind of the series. We need to grind it out.”

I’ll be nice to be back home.

Being in your comfort zone is one thing, implementing winning basketball against this freakishly-talented Cavs team is another. The Raptors have no answers for pretty well anything the Cavs do. Chase them off the three-point line, and they’ll feast inside. Ditto for playing a defensive scheme which doesn’t allow for help coverage. Right now, as counter-intuitive as it sounds to Dwane Casey’s initial game-plan, the Raptors have to start encouraging the Cavs to shoot in hopes of them cooling.

Even that strategy comes with complications though. If the Cavs go apeshit from behind the arc and start setting records like they did against the Atlanta Hawks, the Raptors will have to live with that. Besides, backing off LeBron James isn’t a completely sure-fire approach. One aspect that’s been so impressive of James’ game this series is his aversion to settle. Giving LeBron space to shoot doesn’t bait him to throw it up, but rather, it’s been an incentive to reset the office and get others involved. At this point though, you really have to pick your poison.

Shane Battier chimed in on this issue in the Player’s Tribune on Tuesday:

If I was tasked with guarding LeBron in this series, my biggest focus would be on keeping him out of the paint. Letting LeBron get into the paint is the quickest way to lose a game. Not only does he score at an unbelievable clip from there, but he also gets fouled and has the vision to create wide-open looks for his teammates after the defense collapses.

Toronto has to play disciplined, which isn’t easy against a team as loaded as Cleveland. The help-side defense has to be where it’s supposed to be on every play. It can’t get caught even a step behind. And the pick-and-roll defense has to be extremely tight, because LeBron is going to run about 30 of those a game. If the defense is tight, you can force him to take some long jumpers, which, as a defense, is your best outcome. If the Raps want a quick ticket to the off-season, then let LeBron turn the corner on a pick and roll and get downhill, where he has a multitude of options that are all bad for the Raptors.

In game 2, the adjustment Dwane Casey made was to insert Luis Scola into the starting lineup and inject rhythm back into his reserve unit. It might be time to get even more unorthodox than that. Norman Powell, after a breakout series against the Pacers, has transitioned out of the rotation, but his defense could help stop the bleeding when it comes to defending Kyrie Irving – an area Cory Joseph has struggled with. If the Raptors shuffle Carroll to the four to check Kevin Love while giving James Johnson more minutes to make LeBron as uncomfortable as possible, the Raptors might strengthen their rotation.

Scola was fine, by the way. On his first defensive test, he stifled Kevin Love into taking a fadeaway jumper that bricked off the side of the backboard. Still, if Dwane Casey wants to bring Patterson off the bench – a situation he’s thrived in – it makes more sense to move Carroll to the four and bring Powell into the rotation, even if Scola’s leash is short. At this point, the Raptors have to try something. The season is coming to an end, and getting roasted in the first two games is enough reason to make an adjustment.

We can focus on stopping LeBron’s onslaught all we want, but the way this is unfolding, the Raptors won’t steal a game in this series if Kyle Lowry doesn’t show up. Cleveland might not stay sizzling, but they don’t need to be if the Raptors aren’t punishing them on the other end. DeMar DeRozan can’t carry the offensive load by himself, and even if he does, he hasn’t been doing it from the free-throw line which the Cavs can live with. Cleveland’s defense is setup to absorb DeRozan long-twos, and so long as he doesn’t attack the rim and punish them for playing the Love-Frye combo, the Cavs will be content.

“We just want to try and protect the paint,” coach Tyronn Lue said post-game, via cavs.com. “That’s why early in the games, we have been going under a lot, to keep DeRozan, Kyle, and those guys out of the paint. We stayed true to our game plan, and then we adjusted in the second half.

James Johnson would help tremendously with attacking the paint, by the way. He gets in there as efficiently as anyone on the roster, so that’s one bonus of having him in the lineup apart from pestering LeBron. The free-throw discrepancy between these two teams in the first two games has been dramatic – a perplexing +37 in Cleveland’s favour – and despite the referee’s whistle leaning towards LeBron’s team, the Raptors aren’t doing themselves any favours by not attacking Cleveland inside.

The worst reality the Raptors are trying to cope with right now heading into game 3 is that Valanciunas has officially been ruled out. If he doesn’t come back by game 4, this could be a sweep. His insertion changes the entire dynamic of this series on a game-to-game basis if he ever makes it back in time. With Valanciunas in the lineup, the Raptors can provide enough threat down-low for the Cavs to reconsider playing without a rim protecter for large chunks, and any chance the Raptors can get to disassemble the Cavs’ go-to lineup will be conducive to getting results.

There is something to be said though about the Raptors’ offence overall – it’s actually been good. It’s not as good as it needs to be, for reasons mentioned above, but at the very least Toronto is zipping the ball nicely around the perimeter which has led to open threes for Carroll, Patterson, and Ross. But the Raptors desperately need those open threes to fall which they haven’t. As a whole, they shot 9-of-33 from behind the arc, with Patterson’s 2-of-4 mark being the most efficient of the lot. The margin of error against this East juggernaut is too tiny to allow that kind of bad shooting to trickle into your offense. If those shots drop – particularly Lowry’s 7 misses from three – the game is much closer than the box score reads. If the Raptors knock down their threes and get to line too, we’re looking at a competitive game, at the very least.

Kyle Lowry needs to find himself, and whatever he needs to do to ‘decompress’ better happen before tip-off tomorrow, because right now the Raptors are in a car with no driver. This is one series where Lowry’s other tangible contributions won’t be enough to squeak by. The Raptors need more.

The only good news regarding Lowry, is that concerns over his jumper having ‘mechanical’ problems have faded. With Lowry it’s mental, and at least we know that he’s been resilient enough to bounce back mentally before. The most recent being his heroic performance when the team needed him most – routing the Heat in game 7.

Heading into game 3, things don’t look good, but if there’s one thing the Raptors have taught us over the past few weeks, it’s that just when they look like they’ve been cornered in with their backs to the wall, they hit back, and surprise us all.


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The Toronto Raptors have lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals by a combined 50 points. That is…not great. It’s fine, in the grand scheme of things, and it doesn’t change the fact that it’s been an awesome season in which the organization took a big step forward, but it’s certainly a disappointing way to go out, if things continue this way.

It’s not the time for eulogizing or reflecting on the year or looking too far ahead just yet, though. At least not for me. And so we’re left to still look ahead to Games 3 and 4 (and maybe 5!) and try to find answers. What follows is my best attempt to answer some of the more common or pressing questions from readers.

I wish I had an answer for this. It’s a bad time for Kyle Lowry to turn in two of his worst performances of the postseason, and of the season as a whole. And these games haven’t been like the Indiana and Miami series, either, where Lowry’s shooting poorly but still playing well. He’s been pretty awful, defending poorly and taking strange gambles and failing to get others as involved as he normally does when he can’t score.

Part of that is what the Cavaliers are doing, but it’s not as if they’re throwing elite defenders and a complex scheme at him. Yes, the Cavs are hedging hard on pick-and-rolls, throwing Kevin Love (who has defended quite well) and Tristan Thompson at him and daring him to use Bismack Biyombo (or Patrick Patterson, and in Game 2, Cleveland sent a ton of help Patterson’s way to dare him to make the next play), but Lowry’s seen that plenty all year. He’s struggling to make the necessary passes out of traps, he’s not getting good angles on bigs to drive past them, and when he uses the bit of space he does have to pull up, his jumper’s MIA again.

Defensively, Irving is a near impossible matchup thanks to his quickness, handle, and jumper, and the Raptors’ limiting help puts far more pressure on the point of attack. Lowry hasn’t looked at all game beyond trying to draw the occasional charge or ball-hawk for a steal. His defense on Irving has been bad, period.

I don’t know what the answer is. The Cavs aren’t doing anything that the Lowry from Game 7 against Miami wouldn’t be solving, but that guy’s not there right now. He’s almost surely exhausted from the deepest run of his career, playing 40 minutes a night with little rest, and it’s possible his elbow is still bothering him. Whatever the case, it’s clearly getting to Lowry, who looked dejected in Game 2 and left the bench in the second quarter to “decompress,” an understandable desire but kind of a bad look in real-time.

Don’t write KLOE off, though. Those who haven’t watched him intently for four years have tried to do so in each of the last two series, and he bounced back. Fans have no choice but to keep the faith and hope he returns to form, because the Raptors don’t stand a chance if he doesn’t.

Here’s a fun stat: LeBron James is 0-of-5 outside the paint in this series. That’s striking both because he’s dominated without having to take shots outside of the paint, and because he continues to look ineffective as a shooter (a concern for the final, but not for this series).

So, why aren’t the Raptors just backing off of him and daring him to let fly? There are two reasons I can think of. The first is that they don’t think James will take those shots, instead using the space to build up a head of steam at a defender and force a help collapse, because it’s going to be really tough for anyone to stop James on the move. The second is that they’re worried about giving him the middle on post-ups, so they’re top-guarding him and begging him to go baseline, where he’ll face tough passes. (Look at DeMarre Carroll’s footwork against James in Game 1 against Game 2 – he was angling James off the top to such an extreme degree that James had a clear baseline path, where ostensibly help would have come. It was a big change from how he guarded him in Game 1, when he played him straight and perhaps expected help in the middle.)

The issue with James is that there aren’t good solutions. Give him the baseline and he’ll pass through the help defender. Give him the middle, and he’ll score. Body him up, he’ll force his way through. Give him space, he’ll build up steam. The Raptors have at times coaxed him into tough shots or contested attempts at the rim (James Johnson has been decent, Patrick Patterson at least tried, Carroll was a little better in Game 2, which doesn’t say a ton). He’s just impossible.

I definitely think the Raptors could stand to drop back on more screens involving James as the screener or ball-handler, hoping he opts to pop or pull up, but the evidence so far suggests he’ll just look to do something else, instead. The one thing I might try, and I wrote this before Game 2, too: Try Bismack Biyombo on James when the Cavs go small. Biyombo’s not going to be able to lock him down, either, but he’s probably the one Raptor that James can’t post up, and it keeps Biyombo involved around the ball instead of having him chase Kevin Love or Channing Frye. Biyombo can chase those guys effectively, but it’s a poor use of his skills, taking him away from the rim and the paint, which is exactly what Cleveland wants. I’d be using him on James or having him play help safety on an Iman Shumpert type in the weak corner (a matchup zone, basically) to offer some semblance of rim protection.

Really, though, it’s James.

They’re really good. They’re rolling nine deep right now, and they’ve found something with the James-and-reserves unit. Their bench players offer a nice mix of offense, defense, shooting, and secondary ball-handling, and no matter the group, James has a ton of shooters around him. They’re really well built for the 2016 version of James.

I’m in a weird place with the Cavs. I picked them to win the title before the season, and I’m higher on them now (shoutout to Channing Frye) than I was at the start of the season, but I still think I’d pick either West team against them, narrowly. That’s not a dislike of Cleveland – they’ve been awesome – but I think I need to see them defend a quality offense playing well before I buy all the way in. They can score with the Warriors or Thunder, for sure, I’m just a little…skeptical isn’t the word, but curious about how they defend against an elite team. It’s going to be a hell of a finals, in any case.

I wouldn’t want to fight any version of any sized Biyombo, but I’ll say a duck-sized Biyombo. He’d probably still be much, much stronger than me, but at least there are strategies when you have a huge size advantage. I could maneuver against a Biyombo-sized duck, but I’m not sure how I get inside to do damage without getting bitten to death.

Yes. This is something I suggested could happen when setting up the series, and now it’s something I think should happen. With Lowry and Cory Joseph both struggling on Irving at the defensive end, it’s worth trying a long, quick, high-energy defender on him to sew what happens. The benefit of Powell is his ability to guard different player types, and Irving’s a massive challenge that Powell may be up for. Maybe he’s not, but it’s worth a shot, I think.

You can only get away with it against certain Cleveland lineups, mind you. For one, you can’t go dual-PGs and play Powell when the Cavs are big, because it puts Powell on James or a guard on a Cleveland big. But you can get away with it when Cleveland uses Irving and Matthew Dellavedova together, particularly when J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert are at the three (or when Irving plays with both of those guys). When James shifts to the four, the size disadvantage of playing Powell with one or two guards is mitigated, and you can slide a guard on to Smith or Shumpert and let Powell try to get into Irving and try to frustrate him, or at least make life tough.

I’d be surprised if Powell doesn’t see some rotation time in Game 3, even if it’s just a few minutes when James and/or Lowry sit.

Look, we’ve already gotten more out of Ross than anyone expected in the playoffs. He was bad against Indiana, but he turned in four or five decent-to-good games against Miami, and he was Toronto’s only effective offensive weapon on Thursday. Ross comes with all of the normal Ross issues – shot selection, hilarious backcourt turnovers, lapses on defense (and watching James’ eyes light up when Ross picks him up in transition is hilarious), but when nobody is scoring, Ross’ shooting can be huge. It’s at least something Cleveland has to worry about.

I wouldn’t say I’m encouraged by Ross’ postseason so far. I’m not discouraged, though. He’s Ross, which is a good thing and a bad thing and a fun thing and a frustrating thing

It would make a difference, for sure. As bad as Toronto’s been, their offense has also been bad, and Valanciunas would be a huge help in that regard. The Cavs are loading up off of Biyombo to stop the ball-handler, and Valanciunas makes that a much tougher proposition. He’s not perfect, but he stresses a defense far more, and he could score on the block against any Cleveland bigs. At the very least, he would make Ty Lue’s decisions a little tougher, both schematically on defense and with his frontcourt rotation. The Raptors would have to tweak their own approach, too – there’s already a lack of rim protection, and Valanciunas isn’t adept chasing Love/Frye types around the perimeter – but I’m confident it would be a net positive overall.

It would not, however, have been worth 31 or 19 points.

In literal terms, no. In pragmatic terms, yes. I picked the Cavs in 5, assuming the Raptors would take one at home, and put up a decent fight in some losses. They’ve played worse than I expected. I still think they might steal one at home, but that’s all they’ll get. And that’s cool. Let’s enjoy the last couple of games.

Have a great long weekend, everyone.


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If the first two games of this series have shown us anything it’s that the Raptors have likely hit their ceiling. Mathematically and theoretically speaking there is still a chance for advancement and obviously we all hope for that but realistically speaking they’ve gone about as far as they’re going to go. This isn’t to be interpreted as a negative thing – this is the furthest the team has ever advanced and there are quite a few teams who took longer than they have to get this far. Some will try to downplay the importance of the Raptors advancement because people are awful but the team is one of the last four standing and not even their current struggles can take away from that.

On the one hand, it’s still great just to be here in the Eastern Conference Finals. I don’t think there has ever been a team that just became a champion or a contender over night – even when “super teams” are formed there are still things to figure out. Lebron’s Heat got to the Finals before they were fully equipped to win. The Golden State Warriors may have had one of the quickest ascensions to stardom that we’ve ever seen and even they didn’t win it all until their core players had been together for three years and they got some coaching issues worked out. The old adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day” certainly applies here, the highest levels of NBA success are attained incrementally. The Raptors have climbed a rung on the ladder.

This isn’t a series as much as it’s a learning experience for a Raptors team trying to get to the level of their opponent, and if they come out of this with a better idea of what they need to do to get there it’s a huge success for them. It’s obvious that most of what they’re trying to do on both ends of the floor isn’t doing much to slow down a truly elite team but they are at a point where their success isn’t measured by whether they win or lose or how close the games are, it’s measured by how they use the lessons of this playoff run to build something better.

On the other hand, it’s frustrating to see the team play like this. We can repeat “it’s good to be here” until we’re blue in the face but when the team hits the floor that’s not quite good enough. It’s a game just like any other and even though on some level we know that what we’ve seen in the first two games is the most likely outcome there’s still a part of us that expects the Raptors team we saw on 12/05/15 or 02/26/16 to take the court one last time to trade punches with the league’s elite. That team still hasn’t really shown up in the playoffs save for one vintage Lowry performance in the close out game against the Miami Heat but we still tune in, hoping for the long-awaited return to form.

That return to form certainly didn’t happen last night. It was an improvement over the opening game of the series, with the Raptors managing to stay in it until another end-of-quarter collapse in the 2nd put the game out of reach. The defensive issues were largely the same as what we saw in the opening game. The Raptors were unable to contain the ball and as good as Bismack Biyombo is – and as hard as he plays on every possession – he just can’t be everywhere at once. He can’t leave his man to help at the rim and still box out his man. He can’t wall off the paint to prevent guard penetration and prevent an outside shot from the screener. Even elite help defenders need someone, anyone, on their team to make things difficult for their man and tonight the Raptors didn’t provide much resistance. LeBron James is too much for DeMarre Carroll, who is likely not in peak condition after missing most of the season. Kevin Love is too burly and too skilled for any of the Raptors forwards to handle. The Raptors backcourt has long struggled to contain penetration or track shooters and we’ve seen a lot of that on display, with the Cavaliers getting a lot of open outside looks or frantic closeouts to attack.

The offense saw similar struggles, with the Cavaliers content to let DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry get the shots they want so long as those shots are not in the paint. The Raptors spent the season relying heavily on their all-star guards ability to create shot for others but that relies on their ability to draw the defense toward them – a shift in defensive strategy allowing them to get shots up really limits them in this capacity. Until either one of them demonstrates an ability to make the shots the defense is giving them the Cavaliers defense is not likely to alter this strategy and the spot up shooters who have been so effective for the Raptors all season long will have difficulty finding their rhythm. Barring a return of injured Raptor playoff legend Jonas Valanciunas there doesn’t seem to be a lot that the Raptors can do with their current personnel to adjust. There are no favourable mismatches or defensive weaknesses to exploit, just the hope that someone – anyone – catches fire long enough to keep the Raptors into it.

If there is one stat that sums up last night’s game – and the series so far – it’s this: the Raptors have taken 44 shots in the restricted area while the Cavs have taken 73. The Cavs are getting inside the Raptors defense far too often and you’re never going to beat a team with this many shooters if you allow a passer like Lebron into the paint.  This inability to get inside the Cavs defense and keep them out of the paint goes beyond points in the paint, helping the Cavs maintain their advantages at the free throw line, on the backboards and from outside the three point arc. The Raptors were able to make enough shots for a short period of time to keep the game close but in every game of basketball the team getting the better shots will likely be the one who pulls away and so far that’s been the Cavs. The Raptors need to dig deep on defense and reach deep into the coaching staffs bag of tricks to find some room on offense or they may not be in the Eastern Conference Finals long enough for us to truly enjoy it.

Whether the Raptors turn it around and pull out some moral victories or even a series win is irrelevant at this point because they’re already the best team in franchise history. I know that drum has been beat a lot lately but it’s important to keep that in mind as the team struggles to find anything they can consistently do well against this Cavs juggernaut. Win or lose this series is not the end for the Raptors, it’s just another brief stop on a long journey to the top of the league and the team only fails here if their growth halts. So long as they identify the deficiencies that are causing them to struggle in the postseason and properly address them in the offseason, this series – like the entire season, with all its ups and downs – is nothing but sunshine. The Raptors will try to extend this magical season a little further on Saturday evening at 8:30 but in the event that they’re not able to do that let’s make sure that we turn out and give the team the send off it deserves.


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Raptors Weekly Extra: Game 2 Post-Game Podcast | Raptors Republic

Will and Blake dissect yet another blowout.

Just like in the first game, the Toronto Raptors showed little fight against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2. Hosts William Lou and Blake Murphy discuss the loss, evaluate the sudden lineup change with Luis Scola, deconstruct what’s wrong with Kyle Lowry, and break down what the Raptors need to do in order to steal Games 3 or 4.

Lowry left bench ‘to decompress,’ and other post-game notes | Raptors Republic

I’m not sure how much they’ll lean on it in the finals, but I think the Cavs have really stumbled on something with the Dellavedova-Shumpert-Jefferson-James-Frye (James-plus-reserves, or The James Gang) group early in the second and fourth. It was that group that ran away with Game 1, and they were a plus-five in seven minutes again Thursday. It’s a weird group on paper but it’s a nice mix of offense, defense, secondary ball-handling, passing, and shooting, all around James at the four.

The Cavs starters, by the way, were a plus-17 in 18 minutes, absolutely pasting the Raptors’ new starting lineup (minus-4 in 11 minutes). Scola, by the way, was a minus-13 in 14 minutes, worst among starters in the fewest minutes. The change back didn’t work, but most of us saw that coming. The only really positive group the Raptors had was Lowry-Ross-DeRozan-Patterson-Biyombo, which went on a quick plus-five run, but they never went back to it.

Toronto, A Hope That Remains… | Raptors Republic

Much like it did for to the Raptors, game one kicked my ass too.  I entered the game with insane, and likely unrealistic expectations.  I hoped that the Raptors would come out guns blazing (which they did) and steal home court away from Cleveland.

It didn’t happen…

Tuesday night was difficult for that reason.  What I had hoped would be a competitive series, doesn’t look like it will be after one game.  Sure, one game doesn’t make a series, but game one was…convincing.

So I write this as a reminder, to myself more than anyone else: this season has been a monumental success, and nothing that happens this series could change that fact.  Despite erring along the way, Toronto is one of the last four teams remaining in the NBA.  Nothing that happens from here on out can take that away.

Outside of all their accomplishments to date, there are tangible steps the franchise has taken this season.

Without Kyle Lowry at his very best, Raptors are dead: Arthur | Toronto Star

Look, Cleveland is probably fatal no matter how the Raptors play. LeBron is toying with the game everywhere but at the free-throw line, which is something so few players can even attempt. Toronto’s high bar for this series is winning a game, and a distant dream is winning two. Cleveland won these two games without having to sweat. Without a great Kyle Lowry, the Raptors are already dead. They probably are anyway.

But when Lowry disappears, there’s just no hope, not with Jonas Valanciunas gone and not coming back. The difference between A-list NBA talent and B-list NBA talent is visible on nights like these. LeBron isn’t even looking to take a jump shot in this series, but his titanic body, his needlepoint passing, and his ability to get to the basket mean he can dominate the game anyway. LeBron came in with a chance to pass both Shaquille O’Neal in playoff scoring, and Jason Kidd in playoff assists. He passed Shaq, and Kidd will come. Imagine that. LeBron, and to a far lesser extent Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, can make this game look easy.

Kyle Lowry so rarely makes the game look easy, in April and May. Golden State has Steph Curry. Oklahoma City has Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Cleveland has LeBron. Toronto has Kyle Lowry, and he can be great. But these are the big leagues, and they don’t have nearly enough.

Raptors swallowed up again by the LeBron James ‘Cavalanche’ | Sportsnet.ca

For the second game in a row Toronto did a reasonable job limiting the Cavs’ three-pointers (7-of-21), employing a zone defence at times to do so, but once again the Cavaliers were able to get to the rim too easily. They outscored Toronto in the paint and got 37 free throws to 16 for Toronto. Meanwhile the Raptors were 9-of-33 from three and are 14-of-57 in the series, not a good sign given hot-shooting from deep is usually the best friend of an upset-minded team.

The Raptors started out with some vigour. Scola, getting his first start since Game 4 of the first round, hit a three, DeMar DeRozan (22 points on 18 shots) – who didn’t get to the free throw line in Game 1 – drove to the rim and got fouled.

In all, the Raptors were playing with more force, more will. When Lowry stepped in to take the charge on James coming down the floor at full speed early in the first quarter, it was about as clear a sign of commitment to the cause that is possible. Lowry was called for the blocking foul, but lived, which is more important.

The temperature was turned up. After Kyrie Irving rammed Bismack Biyombo while playing through a couple of his rock-hard screens, the big centre put a forearm to Irving’s chest and scrum ensued, with both players drawing technicals.

And after the Raptors’ role players didn’t deliver much in Game 1, there were early contributions throughout the lineup. Patterson took well to the second unit, responding with a couple of early threes and Terrence Ross came off the bench looking aggressive and decisive – so not much like himself – and had 10 points in eight first-half minutes.

But James continued to present problems that seem unsolvable.

Never mind stopping LeBron James, how do Raptors slow him? | Toronto Sun

Lowry texted Cavaliers coach and longtime mentor Tyronn Lue after Game 1 and asked a favour: Can I come over to your house and watch Game 2 of the West final?

Lue considered the request and decided it wouldn’t appear appropriate if the coach of one team and the star of another team hung out during the Eastern Conference final.

Lue, who Lowry refers to as an uncle or another father figure, has been in touch with the Raptors star often — as usual.

“We’ve been in touch throughout the course of the playoffs,” said Lue. “I talked to him, we’ve had a chance to talk. He wanted to come over last night and watch the game. I’m so happy for him and proud of the player he’s become.”

Lowry has had a rough opening two games in the series. After a weak Game 1, he began Game 2 just as troubled. He had two points at the half with five turnovers. This isn’t anything like he played in the final three games of the Miami series.

Cavs inflict another demoralizing loss on Raptors in Game 2 | Toronto Star

It’s not to say or even hint the Raptors would have stopped the Cavaliers’ post-season winning streak — now at 10 — had they played better or evenly in that late second-quarter onslaught.

But it would inarguably have made the game different and at least have extended the game into the third quarter; but that became moot when the Cavs did not give back the gains they made in the 16-2 spurt and the Raptors weren’t good enough to overcome it.

“Everybody can bury us and put us under but we’re not quitting,” Casey said. “Nobody thought we’d be this far, (we have to) be positive, keep working … we’ve got to come out swinging and believing.”

LeBron James, whose precision passing is wondrous to behold, picked up the 15th triple double of his playoff career — 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists — as the Raptors tried a handful of tactics to get him under control.

A new lineup — Luis Scola as a starter instead of Patrick Patterson — and a variety of new looks on James, far more double teams than in Tuesday’s Game 1, but the disparity between the teams was obvious.

The Cavaliers don’t have those lengthy periods of dubious play — they struggle but they snap out of it more quickly because James is who he is — but it takes longer for Toronto to right itself when things go bad.

Raptors coaches drawing interest around NBA | Toronto Sun

Sources had told the Sun earlier in the playoffs that Kalamian was the most likely of the three to stick in Toronto next season since he was happy with the fit, had earlier ties with Casey (from when they were together in Minnesota) and has enjoyed his time in the city.

Kalamian, Greer and former all-star Jerry Stackhouse came aboard last summer when Casey’s staff was shuffled for the second time in five seasons (Bill Bayno and Tom Sterner were let go and Jesse Mermuys became head coach of the new Raptors 905 NBA Development League affiliate).

ESPN also reported that vice-president of basketball management and strategy Bobby Webster is a candidate for the assistant general manager position in Milwaukee.

Webster was a highly-trumpeted hire out of the NBA office having spent seven years there as a salary cap expert.

Toronto has a team option on Casey for next year. He has gone 210-184 (.533) as head coach and 2-2 in playoff series.

Cavaliers’ roll isn’t all about LeBron | Toronto Star

“When Kyrie and Kevin play at a high level it opens the floor for LeBron,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s the best player in the world and I believe that, and there’s going to be times where he has to take the game over.

“He’s done that in the first two series a couple times. He understands the bigger picture. The better the team plays and performs, it’s easier for us. Any given night he could go out and score 40 if he had to. But he understands if we’re getting everyone else involved, and everyone’s playing well and everyone has the confidence when we get to the next step that we’re trying to take, everybody will be OK.”

Love only took two threes and the Cavs only made seven to the Raptors’ nine. After using the three so freely in the first two rounds, the game has moved inside somewhat for Cleveland and it’s allowed Love to do damage.

“It was great. We’re going to continue to post Kevin in this series,” Lue said. “We want to be aggressive on the block. We want to play inside and out with Kevin and when he starts inside, it opens up his three-point shot.”

Love has helped open up this series as well, as it shifts back to Toronto for the long weekend, where the Cavs could be bound for the final by holiday Monday.

Cavaliers shove Raptors aside to take control of Eastern final | Toronto Sun

“ You may be seeing something I don’t see,” Casey said after the fourth or fifth question about his team looking defeated and repeated suggestions that they had already given up the fight. “I don’t see quit,” Casey said. “ They beat us two games but it’s not over yet.”

Casey went back to the old adage that until you lose a game at home, a series really hasn’t begun.

That may or may not be true, but right now finding positives from a Toronto standpoint is very tough.

Any indication that the Raptors can turn this around seem far-fetched at this point based on the evidence of the first two games.

We should stop making fun of the Raptors | SBNation.com

The Raptors are far from perfect. The shine has come off the Eastern Conference, in part because Cleveland absolutely trounced the Hawks — who looked like the second-best East team in the regular season’s second half — and because Toronto has struggled with teams seen as inferior.

But injury (DeRozan’s thumb and Lowry’s elbow) can help explain why the Raptors have looked so underwhelming, and let’s not forget that Miami was actually good! Getting into a war with a team so many people were excited to see face Cleveland is no crime. Quality judgments are relative. The Raptors appear to be nowhere nearly as good as the Cavs, but that’s not the only measure of success.

This is a constant problem in sports analysis: we grade on the toughest curve. Championship or failure. It’s an impossible binary standard. The Raptors are not a title team, but this season was still an incredible success. No champion was built in a day, with the exception of the 2008 Boston Celtics.

Raptors not getting much help from refs against Cleveland Cavaliers | Toronto Sun

Two days after Lowry and DeMar DeRozan failed to make a trip to the line between them for the first time as teammates — and even after head coach Dwane Casey had expressed shock about the lack of respect from officials — the whistle was again one-sided.

It wasn’t what sunk his Raptors — the James-Kyrie Irving combination and some disappointing defending did that — but it caused all kinds of problems.

Hanging of heads, for one. There were spurts where the Raptors looked demoralized after some calls didn’t go their way. That can’t happen this deep in the playoffs, even if the players are only human.

To Toronto’s credit, placing any blame on the referees was not on the table post-game.

“We’re not playing our usual attack, gritty, get-to-the-line basketball, and I think that’s going to change (at home),” said James Johnson.

“We just marched them to the free-throw line,” added Casey.

“We have to play defence without fouling, putting them on the free throw line. We can’t let our lack of offence go to the other end and lose our defensive energy … We’re losing some of our zing by missing some shots, missing some looks.”

Kelly: What if Lowry made shots? What if the Raps played harder? What if LeBron wasn’t LeBron? | The Globe and Mail

It was getting just as confusing on the Cleveland end of things. Unhappy with all this winning (or something like that) the local press tried to get coach Tyronn Lue to admit that losing a game might be a morale boost (or something like that).

To his credit, Lue actually laughed out loud at the suggestion: “I’ve never really experienced a wake-up call with a loss.”

His biggest star amplified that sentiment.

“I don’t get when people say you need to lose a game to go through something,” James said. “I think we went through some things.”

If you want an easy way to differentiate where the Raptors and Cavaliers are at the organizational level, this might be it. The Raptors see every loss as a losing opportunity. The Cavs see five bad minutes in the middle of a win in the same way.

The first game had exposed too many weaknesses to correct fully. Casey chose to address one before the tip, shifting forgotten big man Luis Scola back into the starting lineup. The point here was to allow erstwhile starter Patrick Patterson to fall back and bolster the sagging second unit. It was during their minutes late in the first quarter and early in the second that Cleveland had run away with it on Tuesday.

Raptors’ engine is sputtering against Cavs | Toronto Sun

Lowry can score big against Cleveland and it’s possible the Raptors will still lose. The Cavaliers are that special. But the Raps might have a chance with Lowry. They might be in the game in the second half. They might make it close in the final minutes.

It hasn’t been close in two games in Cleveland. It has been man-versus-boy, and in the case of LeBron James, man vs. the rest of the world.

Through eight quarters of basketball in this series, in a game that is so much about back and forth and momentum runs, there hasn’t been a second-half moment of drama, belief, anything that would indicate the Raptors have any kind of chance.

This isn’t the shooting slump Lowry was in early in the playoffs. This isn’t that crisis of confidence. This just seems to be a player out of sorts, trying too hard to score, playing frustrating defence when he isn’t scoring, turning the ball over too often and early, ending up with just three assists.

Running out of time and answers, coach Dwane Casey has no choice but to fight for his leader Lowry, even though he isn’t getting what he needs from his starting point guard.

“He’s our guy,” said Casey, and he’s said the same in other rounds of the playoffs. He knows Lowry might bounce back. But here’s what doesn’t seem to make sense: There’s no knowing when Lowry will heat up, if he still has that left in him this season.

ECF Game 2: Raptors 89, Cavs 108 | Toronto Raptors

CLOSING OUT QUARTERS

After hanging with Cleveland throughout much of the second quarter, things started to unravel when Kyle Lowry went to the bench with 2:35 remaining in the half. Although the score was tied with 4:05 to go in the quarter, the Cavs reeled off a 16-2 run to end the half and lead by 14 at the break.

Raptors learning LeBron’s Cavs are different animal | TSN

They’re running out of time and reasonable cause to believe they can hang with Cleveland, especially if Lowry continues to underwhelm. Their best chance – maybe their only chance – to even steal a game rests on his shoulders. He needs to be at his best or pretty close to it. On the other end of the spectrum, James is as safe a bet as they come. He smells blood in the water which, as it usually does, means trouble for the team in his way.

“Well, I mean, it’s always difficult to deal with me,” said James, who clearly isn’t lacking in the confidence department. “I think it adds even more when you have two All-Stars with you, two guys that command multiple eyes every possession. They’re in such a great rhythm right now, I’ve been able to just pick my spots and do other things to help us try to win ballgames while those guys take the load. Tonight was an example of them giving me a little bit more space, and I just tried to make some plays.”

That he did. The Raptors have gotten up on him, they’ve given him space, they’ve played him in single coverage, they’ve doubled, they’ve tried everything and it hasn’t come close to being enough. James didn’t even attempt his second shot until early in the second quarter, by that time he already had six assists. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined for 45 points on 30 shots, thanks in large part to the play making prowess of James, while the King passed Shaquille O’Neal for fourth on the NBA’s all-time postseason scoring list, behind only Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – who was in the building for Game 2 – and Michael Jordan.

Does he get the credit he deserves? Probably not. A two-time champion, his legacy will continue to be debated until and unless he’s able to match, or at least come closer to, Jordan’s six rings. After winning a couple with the Heat, he’s on a mission to bring a title to Cleveland.

“Look, he’s a great player,” Casey said. “I don’t know how many more adjectives I can give him. He’s a great player, he’s playing great, he’s assisting, but I’m more concerned about the Toronto Raptors. They’re a great team and we respect them, but we’re here to win. We’re not here to increase his legacy, we’re trying to take his legacy. We’re trying to win.”
More and more, the Raptors appear to be a footnote on his journey.

HQ Overtime Post-Game Show: Let’s talk about LeBron | Raptors HQ

LeBron James had a triple-double, the Raptors collapsed again, and this series is 2-0 as we head to the Air Canada Centre. I’m joined by Sean Woodley to discuss LeBron, the decision to start Luis Scola, foul disparity, and the new physical identity that the Raptors tried to dictate tonight.

Cleveland Cavaliers use another second quarter spurt to pull away and Kyrie Irving dictating pace: Fedor’s five observations | cleveland.com

There’s one question that will determine the length of this series:

Will Toronto get someone, anyone, to step up and help Lowry and DeRozan?

In both the regular season and early in the postseason, prior to a severe ankle injury that has sidelined him since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas was the answer.

The bully inside provided the Raptors with an outlet, someone to relieve pressure from Lowry and DeRozan, and most importantly, an offensive-minded player who threatens a defense.

“Well, it’s different because he gives them a post presence,” Lue said of Valanciunas’ absence. “I think when the jump shots are not going or certain guys are struggling then you can slow the game down and post Valanciunas, who’s a great low-post player. Also he’s great on the offensive glass. So just a big body that can post the basketball and gives them a different look offensively.”

Some teams are equipped to overcome the loss of a player averaging 15.0 points and 12.1 rebounds in the postseason. The scoring-challenged Raptors aren’t. Not against the Cavs.

Without Valanciunas, the Cavs’ defensive game plan is simple: protect the paint and hone in on Toronto’s All-Star tandem, keeping them off the free-throw line.

Bismack Biyombo has replaced Valanciunas in the starting lineup and while Biyombo has provided endless energy, physicality, hustle and defense, he’s a non-factor offensively.

He scored three points in Game 2.

LeBron James proves it once again in Game 2 win over Raptors: The East is simply no match | Fear The Sword

The Raptors appeared to adjust for Game 2 by playing more physical on the perimeter. DeMarre Carroll was very active with his hands, and appeared to want to at least make James feel him. It didn’t matter to the result, but the Cavs got there in a different way. He hadn’t been getting to the free throw line, but did tonight. While James only made nine of them, 17 attempts is more in line with what you’d expect.

LeBron James came into Game 2 averaging 37.7 minutes per game, the lowest in the playoffs of his career. He played 34 tonight. His usage rate is a fraction of what it was a year ago when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hobbled for much of the playoffs. Ty Lue mentioned after the game that he understands what it’s like to be on the other end of this East dominance. He coached with Doc Rivers in Boston and saw that Celtics team last big run ended by LeBron James’ Miami Heat. He said it was devastating.

It looks like the sixth straight year of devastation.

Cavaliers 108, Raptors 89: LeBron’s triple-double powers Game 2 victory | Akron Beacon Journal

The Cavs scored 16 of the final 18 points in the first half after the game was tied at 46 with 4:05 left in the second quarter. The Raptors missed their last nine shots of the half and each member of the Cavs’ Big Three took turns extending the lead.

Lowry again struggled through a miserable shooting night, missing seven of his first eight shots before finally making a 3-pointer with 8:31 left in the third quarter. He was 5-of-20 shooting in this series prior to that basket, including missing his first 11 3-point attempts. He didn’t attempt his first three throws in this series until the fourth quarter Thursday.

The Cavs continue to storm through the East with little resistance. While the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder continue to fight in the West, the Cavs are winning playoff games by an average of more than 12 points. Whether that makes the East weak or the Cavs just that dominant, coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t really care.

“You’ve got to play who’s in front of you every single night. Whether they call the East weak or not, we’ve got to beat these teams,” he said. “These teams have beaten a lot of West Coast teams throughout the regular season, so I don’t care what they say. We know we have something we’re trying to accomplish, and the East right now is where we’re at. Until we get to the West, we can’t do anything about that.”

NBA Playoffs 2016: Cavs crush Raptors to claim 2-0 lead | Fear The Sword

For the first eight minutes of the second quarter, it looked as if the Cavs were in for a fight, but that changed quickly. During the final four minutes of the second, the Cavs separated from the Raptors, going on a 14-2 run and holding the Raptors to 0-9 shooting from the field. LeBron led all scorers at the half with 17 while Kevin Love had 15 and Kyrie chipped in 12. Thanks to the stretch of dominance to close the quarter the Cavs headed to the locker with a 62-48 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.

LeBron James: A ‘better’ player because of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love? | cleveland.com

“I don’t know how many more adjectives I can give him,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s a great player, he’s playing great. He’s assisting. I’m more concerned about the Toronto Raptors. They’re a great team and we respect them, but, again, we’re here to win.

“We’re not here to increase his legacy or anything like that. We’re trying to take his legacy.”

The Raptors probably won’t be taking much of anything in this series. Outscored by 50 points in the two games, the Raptors now host a Cavs team led by James, who has won at least one road game in 24 consecutive series.

Toronto has been handicapped by the ankle injury of 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas, who has yet to play. Without him in the middle, the Raptors have virtually no one to whom Carroll can funnel James to make it tougher for him to get to the room – a must when trying to defend James.

Teams sometimes try to send two defenders at James any time he catches the ball below the foul-line extended, but he almost always finds the open man.

In the Finals last June, the Warriors gave James some room to shoot, as long as it was outside the lane. And they suffocated his teammates, especially along the perimeter, while Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving watched with injuries.

Through 10 games this postseason, James has taken nearly 54 percent of his shots from inside of 5 feet – easily the highest percentage of close-range shots during the playoffs in his career. He’s shooting 52.5 percent, the second-highest in 11 playoff runs.

Kevin Love proves to be Game 2 difference-maker, providing Cleveland Cavaliers with third option Raptors lack | cleveland.com

Love scored nine points in the first quarter on 3-of-5 from the field, helping the Cavs to a two-point lead. Once again, the bulk of the offense came in the paint, as the Raptors stayed connected to perimeter shooters. The Cavs scored 14 of their 30 first-quarter points inside.

Love continued his quality play throughout the game, taking advantage of mismatches and demanding the ball in the post. He finished with 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.

Cleveland’s Big Three — Love, James and Kyrie Irving — combined to score 62 points in the first three quarters, only seven fewer than Toronto as a team. The trio finished with 68 on the night.

One of the questions coming into the conference finals centered on whether someone could step up for the Raptors and take some of the scoring load off the shoulders of Lowry and DeRozan. It’s been two games in this series and Toronto has yet to find an answer.

Without Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto’s third-leading scorer in the postseason who is averaging a double-double, the Cavs have been able to lock in on Toronto’s All-Star backcourt, sending multiple bodies in their direction, keeping them from getting comfortable.

Cleveland Cavaliers rout Toronto Raptors again in a series that looks short: Bill Livingston | cleveland.com

But now the Big Three are healthy, the ball moves from side to side or from the inside out, and Lue’s intentions have become realities. The Cavs finished with 24 assists on 38 baskets, just missing their goal of 25.

It’s easy to talk about ball movement, but the most dominant ball-handler has to buy into it. Mike D’Antoni had the Offense of Tomorrow early in this century with unselfish point guard Steve Nash in Phoenix. The ball had brakes on it in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant and in New

Now the team has struck a balance of power that brings out the best in each of their biggest names.

Irving is first on the team in scoring, 3-pointers made, 3-point percentage, and second in assists. Love is first in rebounding, third in scoring, third (barely, behind specialist J.R. Smith) in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage.

James is first in assists, second in scoring and rebounding and working on it in the 3-point categories.

Much of the Same. Cavs Win Game 2 108-89 | Raptors HQ

Consider the following dualities: The Cavaliers had 50 points in the paint to the Raptors’ 28. They shot 50% from the field to the Raptors’ 40%. The Cavs’ three-point attack machine we were so worried about coming into this series hasn’t even been taken out of the toolbox. Not a single player on the Raptors had a positive +/-. All of the Cavs, save for Shumpert, were a positive. Lowry shot 4-14 for 10 points. DeRozan shot 8-18 for 22. Kevin Love had 19 points on 8 shots. Kyrie had a better-than-it-sounds 26 points. LeBron registered a triple double. This was a massacre of the highest order once again.

There’s no joy in being negative about where things currently stand. To be so woefully outmatched in the playoffs, after Detroit and Atlanta at least showed flashes of success against Cleveland, is ultimately disappointing. Maybe a trip home changes things. The ACC has been the Raptors’ safe haven during this playoff run, and that’s what we have to bank on now.

The Raptors are troubled on all fronts. It hasn’t just been an issue of coaching. It hasn’t just been an issue of effort. It isn’t just the offence and it isn’t just the defence. Maybe the most harrowing reality the Raptors are faced with is that the Cavaliers are just frankly better.

Toronto Raptors blown out once again in Cleveland | Raptors Cage

Defence: C

The Raptors were being outworked on the defensive end. The Cavs ended the game shooting 50 per cent from the field. Cleveland’s ball movement proved too troublesome for the Raptors defense; Cleveland ended the game with 24 assists (compared to Toronto’s 17).

As said before, the second quarter proved to be where the Cavaliers took control of an otherwise close game. The Raptors were able to keep up at the start of the game, but once Cleveland started their scoring run, both Toronto’s defence and offence were stifled for the remainder of the game.

Kyle Lowry of Toronto Raptors says early 1st-half exit was to ‘decompress’ | ESPN

“Just to kind of decompress, get back there, kind of relax my body and relax my mind,” Lowry said. “And knowing that we had a chance to kind of make some things [happen], I wanted to get myself going and get my teammates going and get the team going. It was nothing more than just kind of to decompress, breathe and get back out.”

Lowry said this wasn’t the first time he had gone back to the locker room to decompress during his 10-year NBA career.

“Yeah, I’ve done it plenty of times,” he said. “It’s just now with the magnitude of the situation, it shows a little bit more.”

For the series, Lowry has scored 18 points, shot 1-for-15 from 3-point range and committed more turnovers (nine) than assists (eight). The Raptors trail the Cavaliers 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals. Game 3 is Saturday night in Toronto.

Raptors offense lags badly in Eastern Conference finals | NBA.com

The Raptors have shot 37 percent (8-for-36 from 3-point range) over the second, third and fourth quarters. The Cavs have given DeRozan less space, jumpers have stopped falling, and Toronto’s inability to get to the basket and to the free throw line has made things worse.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after Thursday’s loss that his team’s 33 3-point attempts was “probably too many.”

“There are some alleys we can take to get to the paint and then kick it out for 3s,” Casey said. “But we’re settling a little bit too much, which is not good for us.”
The absence of Jonas Valanciunas is a factor. Though he had two quiet offensive games against Cleveland in the regular season, he did hurt the Cavs on the glass and was playing his best basketball before spraining his ankle in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. He would give Toronto a go-to offensive option and would make Cleveland think twice about playing its most potent lineups with either Kevin Love or Channing Frye at center.

But it appears doubtful that Valanciunas will play in this series and Kyle Lowry’s struggles have hurt even more. The Raptors scored 111 points per 100 possessions (better than all but four of the Cavs’ opponents) against Cleveland in the regular season, in part because Lowry averaged 31.0 points on 66 percent shooting over the three games.

James records triple-double as Cavs dominate, take 2-0 series lead | USA Today

The Raptors were better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1, and it was still a 19-point defeat. Raptors coach Dwane Casey went with a different lineup, starting Luis Scola in place of Patrick Patterson in attempt to give the bench a lift.

The injury to Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has thinned Toronto’s depth with Bismack Biyombo starting at center.

“We’re going to change some things, just to make sure we have a balance in certain situations with our injury (to) Jonas (Valanciunas),” Casey said before Game 2. “We’ll adjust that a little bit as far as to see where we can get a little bit more balanced into the first, into the second (units).”

That lineup change gave Toronto’s bench a boost. Forward-guard Terrence Ross (11 points), guard Cory Joseph (11 points) and forward James Johnson (11 points) led a solid performance off the bench, but the starters struggled.

Toronto guard Kyle Lowry’s inconsistent postseason continue with a 4-of-14 game from the field. In two games, he is 8-of-28 from the field, including 1-of-15 on three-pointers. Toronto needs more from Lowry if it is going to win in Toronto.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors-related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com


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Well, that sure was ugly again. At least in Game 2, the Toronto Raptors fought a little harder and fought a little longer. A 19-point defeat isn’t going to make anyone feel good, but after laying down early in a 31-point loss on Tuesday, the Raptors stuck around longer Thursday, at least learning a bit more about themselves and how they can approach Game 3 in the process. There are no good answers, of course, but at least they’re back home Saturday, and when I predicted Cavaliers in five, I figured the one win would come at home. There’s still some series left, let’s keep trying to enjoy it.

Here are some post-game notes and quotes.

Are there any positives?

I think this one only applies when you have home-court advantage, because if you didn’t lose at home as the road team, you’d still lose the series. But still, it’s just two losses, right?


As always, Dwane Casey isn’t going to just bow out, and he thinks the Raptors will continue to fight. I hope so, despite occasionally shaky body language in Game 2.


And James Johnson ain’t hearing the series-over talk. Brazilian jiu-jitsu artists do the most damage from their backs anyway, right?


Luis Scola has your game summary


Succinct. Word economy. I could learn a lesson.

This is NOT your game summary. Don’t hang a 50-point deficit over two games on the officials. Maybe don’t matador opposing ball-handlers through and you won’t have to foul recovering. (I don’t think the officiating has been perfect by any means, but the Cavs have been far more aggressive and the Raptors’ defense at the point of attack has been poor, so a foul disparity should be expected to some degree.)



Naw, James was a big part of the problem. Just ask him.

Did Lowry walk off the floor?

I saw people tweeting that Lowry left the bench for the locker room before the end of the half. I kind of figured he was just getting treatment or stretching out or something, but it turns out it was a quick mental breather.


This is mildly concerning and really not something a team’s struggling star should be doing. I get it, from a personal standpoint and trying to put myself in his shoes and how I might feel, but a big deal is going to be made of this.



Only semi-related, as poorly as Lowry’s played, the team has still been totalled without him, including at the end of quarters when he rests (first, third, and sometimes second).


That is insane.

Assorted

*Congratulations to Lowry’s bestie.


*I’m not sure how much they’ll lean on it in the finals, but I think the Cavs have really stumbled on something with the Dellavedova-Shumpert-Jefferson-James-Frye (James-plus-reserves, or The James Gang) group early in the second and fourth. It was that group that ran away with Game 1, and they were a plus-five in seven minutes again Thursday. It’s a weird group on paper but it’s a nice mix of offense, defense, secondary ball-handling, passing, and shooting, all around James at the four.

The Cavs starters, by the way, were a plus-17 in 18 minutes, absolutely pasting the Raptors’ new starting lineup (minus-4 in 11 minutes). Scola, by the way, was a minus-13 in 14 minutes, worst among starters in the fewest minutes. The change back didn’t work, but most of us saw that coming. The only really positive group the Raptors had was Lowry-Ross-DeRozan-Patterson-Biyombo, which went on a quick plus-five run, but they never went back to it.

*Respectfully disagree, Kyrie.


*I could listen to Bismack Biyombo forever.


One more rallying cry


See y’all Saturday.


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(Apologies but the quick reaction tool is on the fritz again)

STARTERS

Kyle Lowry – F
Couldn’t shoot. Didn’t pass. Rebounded well, but did exactly nothing on Irving who was a bloody offensive menace again. I appreciate you taking blame for not stepping up and performing, but what we need you to do is figure some shit out and perform. Wtf happened to having a good-to-great game when your shot wasn’t falling? Need to see that really soon, or this is will all over with on Monday (it still might, but not because you couldn’t get your shit together).

DeMar DeRozan – A-
Hated very few of his shots, which is surprising since he took and hit so many of them. They seemed to come in rhythm, with focus, and purpose; I can get behind that. Frustrating he shoots so much (even though he’s been hitting) because he seems to be able to get to the rim and make something happen every-time he gets into the paint (drive and kick, layup, foul…sometimes foul). Two minutes into the fourth, DeMar had 20 points, and the rest of the starting lineup had 19; that tells you everything you need to know about this game.

Demarre Carroll – C-
LeBron hung a triple-double on him, and that’s ok. It is. James is playing chess, while the rest of the East is playing checkers. Fine. He’s awesome. Ok… The aggressiveness off the dribble is always a pleasure to watch, the rebounding helpful, but you can’t be missing threes where you get a good luck at the rim, fam. The misses hurt even more since Lowry has only hit one three this entire series.

Luis Scola – D+
Played four minutes too many, and was a -15 for his troubles (surprisingly not the worst on the team). I advocated in the Heat series for Scola to move back into the starting lineup, with JV out, so 2Pat could move back to the bench, and it started off as not horrible tonight. Ended poorly because he couldn’t hit the threes he normally did in the regular season, or that 5 footer…like I said, about four minutes too many.

Bismack Biyombo – D
I love how he doesn’t business about getting into peoples faces and making sure folks know he can’t be walked over. Elbow shoving Kyrie. Making sure LeBron knows he’s not safe in the paint. These things matter, since all the Raptors have now is their ability to flex some grit and throw some elbows.

BENCH

Terrence Ross – B-
When he’s engaged and focused, he really can be a game changer off the bench with that range; like he was in the 1st half: those pull up jumpers off the bounce from all over the floor were bloody sweet. Was less decisive in the 2nd half, but so was the rest of the team.

James Johnson – B
By his standards, has quietly contributed two pretty damn good games this series. His ability to man-up LeBron (in small stretches of course) is great, but the fact that he only took good shots tonight, and hit them, was a huge win for him. Huge.

Patrick Patterson – C
Moved the ball around quite nice; good thing. Rotated nicely on defense, and provided pretty decent weak side help; also good, but I don’t know, man…totally forgettable performance from my perspective.

Cory Joseph – B
So while he also struggled with Irving, he gave more back to him then he got. Standard Cojo game we have come to expect from the regular season.

Jason Thompson – N/A
Didn’t even noticed he played.

Delon Wright – C+
Hard to get inspired and come out determined when the team is getting thumped, but Delon did just that. Small sample size, but he seemed like he was trying to take advantage of the minutes. All garbage time though.

Norman Powell – C+
Got three shots up in three minutes; hit one. Garbage time.

Lucas Nogueira – Sure
Someone had to close out the game.


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Well. It can’t be worse than Game 1. The Toronto Raptors should rebound and at least put up more of a fight in Game 2 as they take on the juggernaut Cleveland Cavaliers once again. Coming off of a 31-point loss, the Raptors should be hungry early, and their approach and rotation could and maybe should look different, as we’ve talked about over the last two days.


The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. from Quicken Loans Arena. ESPN has the game in the U.S., with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke on the call, while TSN has the Canadian broadcast and TSN 1050 has radio rights. Danny Crawford, James Capers, and Sean Wright are the officials.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 1, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

*I’ve got you covered with the full game preview.
*I also took a look at what worked on the offensive end in Game 1, and what didn’t on the defensive end (spoiler: everything). Within each, adjustments are recommended, and RR alum William Lou wrote about some of those same adjustments.
*The Raptors know they have to pick a poison with the Cavs’ offense. Maybe the fire lit under them from getting their asses kicked will help. Or maybe a short memory will. I don’t know. it was 31 points, you can do literally anything and be better.

Ghostface ZIller wrote a great piece at SB Nation on why those dismissing or laughing at the Raptors’ run can shut up any time now.

Raptors updates
Jonas Valanciunas is still out and sounds pretty dam doubtful for Saturday, barring an unforeseen uptick in his condition and activity level. Sure would be nice to have the best big man in the series (right, Justin?) around for a game or two, but there’s little sense rushing back a 24-year-old who’s about to enter the first year of a substantial four-year contract.

Raptors projected rotation
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Delon Wright)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, T.J. Ross, (Norman Powell)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, (Bruno Caboclo)
PF: Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson
C: Bismack Biyombo, (Jason Thompson), (Lucas Nogueira), (Jonas Valanciunas)

UPDATE: Scola starts. This is…something. There’s plenty of analysis below when it was just a potential change, but I hate this. I’m fine with Scola seeing minutes, but it never makes sense to me to change a starting group that isn’t struggling in order to get the bench going. On top of which, this is a pretty bad defensive matchup for Scola. It might “work,” because the Raptors almost couldn’t possibly play worse than Game 1, but I disagree with the logic behind the move (again, as explained below). That logic, by the way, is probably three-fold: Help the bench unit rediscover it’s chemistry, make the second unit a little rangier against five-out Cavs groups, and let Patterson guard James in the minutes Carroll sits (not sure where this leaves Johnson). It may also leave Patterson more fresh at the end of games, should the end-game be close enough for that to matter.

We talked about a lot of potential tweaks over the last two days, but let’s hit some of the options again quickly.

Norman Powell: Yes, I think he could probably help on Irving. It’s tough to play two point guards and Powell together given Cleveland’s size, but with Joseph struggling and Irving cooking, Powell as an Irving cooler is a worthwhile dice-roll. Not in the starting lineup, mind you, because…

Changing the starters: There’s been a lot of talk of tweaking the starters to get the bench going. This is called cutting off your nose to spit your face. I get that the bench was great before, but with Valanciunas out and Scola unplayable in some matchups, you’re already forced to change the starters. And everyone shortens their rotation in the playoffs, anyway – the answer isn’t to open it back up to try to find some off-the-bench chemistry. The starters were only a minus-2 in Game 1, too, and that includes several missed open looks using Patterson pick-and-pops to strong effect. The starters aren’t the issue, and it’s just on Casey to better work the rotations.

The solution to playing poorly is not to play worse players more and play them earlier.

Luis Scola: Most of the beat writers got the impression Scola will be back in the rotation for Game 2. That’s…something. It’s probably OK for a few minutes off the bench if they can match him up with Thompson’s minutes, but it’s going to be a defensive problem no matter what – the Cavs will seek out Scola in the pick-and-roll with Thompson, Love will post him up, Frye will make him run around the perimeter, and Scola can’t do enough damage at the other end to account for that. Given how little the team’s gotten from Thompson and Nogueira, and how uncomfortable they seem to be going small, it’s a justifiable gamble for small bench minutes, but Scola has to have a really short hook. (And as always, this has nothing to do with Scola the person, or Scola’s career, he’s just tough to play against offensive powerhouses).


Other tweaks: When the Cavs go small, I’d toy with Biyombo on James or on Shumpert in a weak-side safety role (Frye and Love are pulling him away from the rim otherwise, where he’s fine but it’s a waste of his biggest assets). When the Cavs are big, I’d have Biyombo on Thompson to keep him near the rim, and I’d be switching Carroll and Patterson more on James-Love actions. No matter the alignment, I’d be sending more help on James and dealing with scrambling for closeouts after the fact.

Check back before tip off to confirm the starters.

Cavaliers updates
Nothing doing on the Cavs’ side. It’s nice to be healthy and rested.

Cavaliers projected rotation
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, (Mo Williams)
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, (Dahntay Jones), (Jordan McRae)
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, (James Jones)
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, (Timofey Mozgov), (Sasha Kaun)

Not sure they’ll change a whole lot here. They ethered the Raptors and didn’t even play their best offensive weapon, the insane James-Love-Frye frontcourt. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a silly idiom in a playoff series where adjustments often need to be proactive, so I offer this, instead: “If you broke someone else with it, don’t fix it.”


The one thing I could see Cleveland doing is going small sooner. The Raptors really only played well when Thompson was on the court, even though Thompson’s a quality defender and a beast on the glass. He’s just easier for Toronto to handle defensively than a spaced-out attack, and I could see Lue giving Thompson a hook earlier and then putting him back in when the Raptors take Biyombo off, letting Thompson feast on rebounds against a smaller frontcourt or a backup big.

Check back for an update on the official starters.

Pre-game news and notes
*Norman Powell received three votes for the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. He did not make said team, joining Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey, Patrick Patterson, and Kyle Lowry (times three!) as Raptors to receive votes but not earn an actual honor. Here’s what I wrote about Powell’s candidacy in April:

Unfortunately, Powell isn’t one of them. He’s at 650 minutes, and that’s kind of the end of the discussion. Had he spent the whole season like he’s spent the 15 games since March 15 – 27.7 minutes, 11.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and a plus-2.3 mark – then he’d be on, for sure. Maybe he’ll earn Rookie of the Month honors for April as appreciation for his season, instead – he’s at 12.3 points on 48.9/44.4/78.6 shooting in six games this month.

*Assistant coach Rex Kalamian interviewed for the Houston Rockets’ head coaching position today, according to Marc Stein of ESPN. The Raptors reportedly gave their permission, and Daryl Morey and Les Alexander traveled to Cleveland to interview him. It’s a little strange on a game day, sure, but if it’s a good opportunity for Kalamian, it’s nice of the organization to let him feel it out. Stein points out that Kalamian is close to James Harden (Kalamian was an assistant in OKC when Harden was there), and that the Rockets would have interest in him even if they land a different head coach (which I’m assuming means as the new coach’s lead assistant/associate head coach).

The Raptors could be in for quite a bit of brain-drain this summer. Here’s what I wrote about it earlier today:

This is both good and bad. Obviously, you don’t want to lose talented people from your organization, but similar to how Raptors 905 developing talent and seeing it thrive elsewhere it still a positive indicator of what you’re doing, other teams wanting to hire away your staff for more prominent roles sends the signal you’re finding and developing people the right way.

I’ve long heard Webster was a popular name, from the minute the Raptors plucked him from the league office, and Nurse is someone I have suggested should be on a head-coaching shortlist (and at one time, when it looked like Casey may not be long for Toronto, I suggested Nurse would be a suitable successor). On top of those two, I’ve heard nothing but good things about VP of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, Andy Greer is a Tom Thibodeau disciple who could conceivably head to Minnesota, and Rex Kalamian is a Scott Brooks guy. There are a few other names in the organization that I could draw a pretty clean line from Point A to Point B to based on some other offseason changes, too.

Losing so many names would hurt, to be sure. What these kind of rumors should assure you of, though, is that Masai Ujiri and company have done an excellent job stocking the organization with assets off the court. There’s no reason to think they won’t be able to find the next wave of coaching and front office talent, too.

*This is a little weird but also kind of adorable and awesome (and is a reminder why the Raptors wanted Lue as an assistant a few years back):


*The Raptors are alive, which is a positive.


Assorted
*The Q is once again looking dope. (And can I just say, even if this isn’t the right time: I really like Cleveland. I’ve been there a few times, think it’s an underrated town. Stipe Miocic is cool, The Miz is awesome, Bone Thugs are the truth, and Major League is one of the greatest movies of all time. Are their sports teams garbage? Of course, but that’s part of the charm. Do I have what was once a good memory and is now a terrible one from there? Most definitely, but that feels like the most Cleveland-appropriate thing, anyway. I digress.)


*This is suboptimal. (DeRozan had a good Game 1, but it still wasn’t particularly efficient with the lack of threes and free throws.)


*Biyombo is afraid of lions, which makes the list of things he’s afraid of at least one item longer than I thought it would be.
*Repeating from shootaround notes: I need a Lil Kev shirt.


*Draft stuff is starting! (Dejounte Murray is a long, skinny, Pac-12 combo-guard who’s lacking a 3-point shot. Sound familiar? He’s on the first-round bubble.)


The line
Game 1: Cavaliers -10.5 (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 84)
Game 2: Cavaliers -11.5
Series: Cavaliers -5000 (98% implied win probability)

The line’s even touched as high as Cavaliers -12.5, so it seems there’s even less market confidence in the Raptors now that the Cavs have had a game (or the first six minutes of one, really) to shake the rust off from a nine-day reprieve. But look, I’m not picking this Raptors team to lay down, ever. Game 1 was bad, and the Raptors looked tired and outmatched, but we’re 97 games into a season in which the Raptors have rarely, if ever, no-showed two games in a row. They’re resilient, they’re tough, they’ll adjust, and they’ll put up a fight. And the line got get down slightly during the day. I don’t think they’ll win, mind you, but I’d be pretty surprised if the Cavaliers repaint the Q with their blood once again.

Cavaliers 104, Raptors 97


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Man…what can one say after game 1.  That was as thorough a thrashing as could possibly have happened as at times it looked like the Cavaliers were toying with the Raptors.  Quick cuts, open layups and dunks, and finding open shots on what seemed like every single possession; it was a dominant victory for the undefeated Cavs.

And the Raptors are left trying to pick up the pieces that were left behind after Tuesday night.  Hearing the quotes coming out of practice the Raptors are saying the right things. They are talking about the need to be more aggressive, and how “There’s always a fire when you get your ass kicked” (thanks for the tip, Kyle!), but talk can only take them so far.

The reality is that the Raptors are overmatched.  They are facing a Cavaliers team that features one of the top players of all time, an elite power forward that has few holes in his game (he’s even improved on defense this year), a high scoring point guard, and a deep roster of shooters.  Once taxes are taken into consideration, this Cleveland roster could be the most expensive team in NBA history.

Everything points to the Raptors losing in their first ever Eastern Conference Finals, and any competitive games or victories should be counted as a success.

And as much as I want to see the Raptors continue this magical season, a loss in the East finals doesn’t dampen the success of this season.  A record 56 wins, the second seed in the East, their first 7 game series victory, followed by the first time the franchise has moved past the second round.

Much like it did for to the Raptors, game one kicked my ass too.  I entered the game with insane, and likely unrealistic expectations.  I hoped that the Raptors would come out guns blazing (which they did) and steal home court away from Cleveland.

It didn’t happen…

Tuesday night was difficult for that reason.  What I had hoped would be a competitive series, doesn’t look like it will be after one game.  Sure, one game doesn’t make a series, but game one was…convincing.

So I write this as a reminder, to myself more than anyone else: this season has been a monumental success, and nothing that happens this series could change that fact.  Despite erring along the way, Toronto is one of the last four teams remaining in the NBA.  Nothing that happens from here on out can take that away.

Outside of all their accomplishments to date, there are tangible steps the franchise has taken this season.

  • The Raptors coaching staff managed to teach Biyombo how to catch a basketball.
  • Norman Powell went from being a second round pick to a legitimate contributor/starter that was a big reason the Raptors beat the Indiana Pacers.
  • Delon Wright showed in limited minutes that he has a future in the league.
  • Bruno proved to be on pace for his two years away from two years away future.
  • Kyle Lowry finished 10th in MVP voting.
  • Dwane Casey showed growth in his game adjustments/strategies.
  • Have you seen Jonas Valanciunas lately?? Big strides!

And it’s not over yet.  At least I’m hoping this isn’t it.  I am hoping that Toronto has a few more magical moments left in it.  I am hoping that we get to see the explosion of noise and excitement coming from Jurassic Park as the Raptors overcome the odds at least once.

Let’s enjoy the ride and recognize the growth that has happened…and hope that the Raptors can kick some ass.


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The Toronto Raptors will look to rebound from an ugly Game 1 loss when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers once again on Thursday night (8:30). The team had yesterday to practice, regroup, and refresh, and attitudes seemed pretty positive, as far as post-31-point losses go.

Here are notes and quotes from shootaround.

Short memory

How does a team turn the page, exactly? Step one is to learn from it, but step two is to quickly get over it.


For Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who are surely a little worn out by this point, that meant relaxing just a little bit.


It’s hard to imagine Lowry doing something like watching TV, so here’s guessing he just watched old game tape or ESPN Classics or something. Also, photos of Diar at the zoo, please.

The Raptors aren’t tipping their hands at potential changes, but they’re confident they’ll bounce back once again, somehow.

Casey’s game recap is succinct

I guess this is more efficient than the 7,000 words or so I’ve written on the game.

Adjusting rotation, fouling, more

Casey isn’t revealing specifics, but expect the rotation to look a little differently in Game 2.


I’m not sure what the answer is. You can’t really bring Patterson or Biyombo off the bench unless you get small right away, so Casey may have to sub them both out in staggered fashion early – or make Ross a quick sub, pulling ahead DeRozan’s rest period – in order to get that Lowry-plus-reserves group together. With Valanciunas out and Scola and the other bigs mostly unplayable in this matchup, the easy answer would be to shorten the rotation, and those groups will play together more as a result, anyway, but that’s tough to do going on Game 16 of the playoffs and Game 9 int he last 17 days.

(By the way, I was asked in the comments about Norman Powell starting and Patterson moving to the bench. I don’t see it. It’s possible, but it’s really just shuffling mismatches – Powell would be best on Irving, which would mean DeRozan is on James or Love, and the Cavs would attack him in 3-4 pick-and-rolls. Plus, Patterson was mostly fine in Game 1, and the Raptors got a lot of really nice looks from Patterson pick-and-pops early on. I think moving him to the bench to get the bench going would amount to cutting your nose off to spite your face, but I’ve always wanted Patterson starting, anyway.)

Outside of rotation tweaks, the Cavs are ready for a fundamental change to the defensive approach.


A day after Casey kind of worked the officials for Lowry and DeRozan failing to get to the line, he was defending the physicality of some of the fouls that were called.


The Cavs are ready for that, too.

Valanciunas non-update

Your daily Jonas Valanciunas watch has him not on the court for the portion of shootaround that media got a peek at. He’s out for Game 2 and based on Masai Ujiri’s comments yesterday, it’d be surprising if he makes it back if the Raptors don’t extend the series.

Some thoughts on potential brain drain

In Zach Lowe’s awesome annual missive from the draft lottery, he passed along two notes about potential Raptor poaching:

Speaking of the Raptors: Bobby Webster, their vice president of basketball management and strategy, is among the candidates interviewing for Milwaukee’s assistant GM job, according to sources familiar with the matter. Webster, a former cap and CBA expert for the league office, is considered a rising front-office star.

Speaking again of the Raptors: Nick Nurse, one of Dwane Casey’s lead assistant coaches, might get a look from the Pacers for a leading offense-focused assistant spot alongside Nate McMillan, sources say. (Dan Burke would run the defense as usual, assuming the Pacers bring him back). Whether Nurse would view that as a lateral move worth taking is unclear.

This is both good and bad. Obviously, you don’t want to lose talented people from your organization, but similar to how Raptors 905 developing talent and seeing it thrive elsewhere it still a positive indicator of what you’re doing, other teams wanting to hire away your staff for more prominent roles sends the signal you’re finding and developing people the right way.

I’ve long heard Webster was a popular name, from the minute the Raptors plucked him from the league office, and Nurse is someone I have suggested should be on a head-coaching shortlist (and at one time, when it looked like Casey may not be long for Toronto, I suggested Nurse would be a suitable successor). On top of those two, I’ve heard nothing but good things about VP of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, Andy Greer is a Tom Thibodeau disciple who could conceivably head to Minnesota, and Rex Kalamian is a Scott Brooks guy. There are a few other names in the organization that I could draw a pretty clean line from Point A to Point B to based on some other offseason changes, too.

Losing so many names would hurt, to be sure. What these kind of rumors should assure you of, though, is that Masai Ujiri and company have done an excellent job stocking the organization with assets off the court. There’s no reason to think they won’t be able to find the next wave of coaching and front office talent, too.

Assorted

*Luis Scola getting up threes. Pardon me, backup center Luis Scola (??) getting up threes.


*The Cavaliers have Lil Kev shirts. I can’t. This is too damn funny.

#nightcap with @thereal94feetofgame thanks to my guy @officiallilkev for the shirt

A photo posted by JR Smith (@teamswish) on


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It can’t possibly go as poorly.

That was kind of the rallying cry I received on Twitter after Game 1 when I begged followers to make me feel better, and while it’s not a certainty, it’s definitely difficult to imagine Game 2 going worse. Coming off of a rousing Game 7 defeat of the Miami Heat, the Raptors caught their breath, quickly shifted gears, played a great first few minutes, and…hit the wall. After nine days off, the Cavs looked rested and ready, and once the wheels began wobbling for the Raptors’ defense, it wasn’t long before they came off entirely. T

he end result was the largest playoff margin of victory in Cavs history, which is fairly embarrassing considering this is the Eastern Conference Finals. A loss to that degree wasn’t expected, but a loss in general was (at least here). The Cavs are on another plane right now, their offense seemingly unstoppable, LeBron James seemingly at 100 percent (which is, like, 350 percent for everyone else). The Raptors were always going to be in tough, and Tuesday was a gut punch for those entering the series riding high on their Raptors.

But Toronto’s done this in each of its last two series, too, dropping the opening salvo in disappointing fashion. In each case, they’ve bounced back, as they’ve done after every other loss, and as they’ve done all season long. None of the three most common reactions I saw to Game 1 – “well, it’s been a great year, anyway,” “they’re doomed,” “don’t doubt them, they can still win this” – were really how I was feeling, because all of those things are kind of true to varying degrees. Part of the reason we’ve fallen in love with this year’s version of the team is that they check off a ton of intangible boxes that Raptors teams rarely have – resiliency, mental toughness, un-punk-ability, and a true never-say-die approach to each deficit and each loss.

Those are the reserves you’ll need to draw on to muster up optimism for Game 2 and the series as a whole, and while I still don’t think the Raptors have much of a chance in the series, I definitely expect better battles from here.

The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. from Quicken Loans Arena. ESPN has the game in the U.S., with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke on the call, while TSN has the Canadian broadcast and TSN 1050 has radio rights. Danny Crawford, James Capers, and Sean Wright are the officials.

What happened in Game 1

Cavaliers 115, Raptors 85 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Podcast

Key to the game: The Cavs are very, very good. OK, the real key was probably the Raptors deciding to stay at home on shooters and guard Kyrie Irving and LeBron James one-on-one without much help, either at the initial point of attack or at the rim. It succeeded in terms of snuffing out Cleveland’s recent lights-out shooting – they went 7-of-20 on threes – but the Cavs scored 56 points in the paint as a result, most of them unimpeded. The talk over the two days since has been about doing a better job slowing those initial attacks while still preventing threes, which is far easier said than done.

Recap: The Raptors were dealt a dose of reality. It wasn’t pretty.

Turning point: After getting out to a fun, energetic start, Dwane Casey made the curious decision to rest Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan together to start the second quarter. He adjusted quickly when the Cavs took advantage, but even by the time the stars staggered back in, the damage had been done. Over a 5:53 stretch, a makeshift lineup of Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, LeBron James, and Channing Frye extended the lead by 13 points. Save for one last push with a 10-2 run later in the quarter, the Raptors never really recovered.

Reason for optimism: The Raptors have a fire lit under them now that they’ve had their ass kicked, as has so often been the case. The Raptors have the worst record of all-time in Game 1s, so they’ve been here before and know how to bounce back. They probably can’t play worse defensively. DeMarre Carroll should be at least a little better on James, and James Johnson did a decent job as his backup. Lowry won’t score just eight points again, and he and DeRozan won’t both be kept off the free-throw line. And hey, the offense started out the game pretty well, with the Raptors looking to put Kevin Love in a lot of pick-and-pop stuff (he held up well but there are still good opportunities).

Reason for pessimism: Did you watch the game? The Cavs are unbelievable. There’s also the matter of the Raptors looking pretty fatigued at this point, the unguardability of Love or Frye when James is at the four (there’s little to be gleaned from lineup data when a team gets bludgeoned bell-to-bell, but the Cavs were plus-15 in 10 minutes with James at the four compared to plus-5 in 19 minutes with him at the three). Frye is a serious problem, and the Raptors have to find a way to guard him without giving up the rim, which likely means putting a wing on him and sliding Bismack Biyombo onto someone else. Anyway, the point here is, there are endless reasons for pessimism. The Cavs’ offense is obscene.

Revising prediction: I’m sticking with Cavaliers in five. Game 1 was ugly, but I still think the Raptors take one of their home games.

What’s happened since

Not a lot. We had this subheading here for the Indiana and Miami series because things like injuries and rotations and starting lineups were changing frequently, but with one day off between games and little recourse after a butt-kicking, nothing has changed, at least publicly.

Game 2 updates

As of practice yesterday, Jonas Valanciunas was still at just 50 percent, though he was apparently walking with less of a limp. There’s almost no way he plays Thursday, and we probably don’t see him until Monday, at the earliest. He’d help, but not enough to risk the long-term health of a 24-year-old about to enter the first year of a substantial four-year contract.

Raptors projected rotation
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Delon Wright)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, T.J. Ross, (Norman Powell)
SF: DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, (Bruno Caboclo)
PF: Patrick Patterson
C: Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, (Jason Thompson), (Lucas Nogueira), (Jonas Valanciunas)

Again, it’s hard to get a feel for what worked and what didn’t when nearly every lineup got plastered. On the bright side, the starters and the starters with Johnson in place of Carroll were both competitive groups, and the Raptors can build on that. They’ll need more from the bench, though, as Ross was middling, Joseph had a terrible outing, and trying to match samll with Patterson at the five was somewhat unsuccessful.

There are no easy, sweeping suggestions to be made here. I’d probably see if Powell can help slow down Irving for stretches, and maybe Casey gives one of the backup bigs a shot instead of going small. I don’t see the latter working given the difficulty of chasing Frye and Love and the general lack of mobility or offensive punch of each of Toronto’s options, but hey, they have to try something.

I think the bigger changes will come in terms of match-ups. When the Cavs stay big, things are more cut-and-dry, but when James shifts to the four, things get more complicated. As I’ve written, I’d probably have Biyombo on either a corner shooter (Shumpert) or James instead of having him chase Love or Frye. Biyombo can chase those guys, but so can Patterson or even Johnson, and Biyombo might be better leveraged in other ways. If he’s on a Shumeprt type, he can play a sort of free safety, helping off the corner in a matchup zone to better protect the rim and aid on drives. Putting him on James could at least slow the Cavs’ attack and prevent James from posting up, putting him into more of a face-up attack mode, one in which he’ll still score but may do so at a slower pace and without getting his teammates going.

The real challenge for Toronto, though, is that they have to defend better at the point of attack. Whatever the help alignment and the individual matchups, there’s just not a solution if everyone’s being beat off the dribble with ease. That’s reductive and simplistic, but really, the Raptors defended terribly in Game 1. That’s unlike them, and if they can make the Cavs’ penetration a little more difficult to come by, it buys time for helpers, it forces more difficult passes, and so on. “Good defense is better than bad defense.” That’s the type of analysis that really makes you want to donate at Patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic.

Cavaliers projected rotation
PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, (Mo Williams)
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, (Dahntay Jones), (Jordan McRae)
SF: LeBron James, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, (James Jones)
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, (Timofey Mozgov), (Sasha Kaun)

Tyronn Lue continued mixing and matching at his leisure, like he did in the first two rounds. The starters are the only group that’s played in every game for Cleveland, and he really didn’t have to show his hand much in Game 1. The Cavs didn’t even use the deadly James-Love-Frye frontcourt, a potential offensive juggernaut that Lue’s mostly kept in reserve (19 minutes) for when needed in the postseason.

The one thing I could see Cleveland doing is going small sooner. The Raptors really only played well when Thompson was on the court, even though Thompson’s a quality defender and a beast on the glass. He’s just easier for Toronto to handle defensively than a spaced-out attack, and I could see Lue giving Thompson a hook earlier and then putting him back in when the Raptors take Biyombo off, letting Thompson feast on rebounds against a smaller frontcourt or a backup big.

Otherwise, why change much? You won by 31 freaking points.

The line
Game 1: Cavaliers -10.5 (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 84)
Game 2: Cavaliers -12
Series: Cavaliers -5000 (98% implied win probability)

The line’s even touched as high as Cavaliers -12.5, so it seems there’s even less market confidence in the Raptors now that the Cavs have had a game (or the first six minutes of one, really) to shake the rust off from a nine-day reprieve. But look, I’m not picking this Raptors team to lay down, ever. Game 1 was bad, and the Raptors looked tired and outmatched, but we’re 97 games into a season in which the Raptors have rarely, if ever, no-showed two games in a row. They’re resilient, they’re tough, they’ll adjust, and they’ll put up a fight. I don’t think they’ll win, mind you, but I’d be pretty surprised if the Cavaliers repaint the Q with their blood once again.

Cavaliers 104, Raptors 97


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‘A fire when you get your ass kicked,’ and other practice notes | Raptors Republic

*The Toronto Raptors’ media relations staff were finalists for the PBWA Brian McIntyre Media Relations Award. The Golden State Warriors’ staff got the nod for the second time in three years and the third time overall, while the Pistons, Hornets, and Suns were also finalists. The Raptors’ staff won the award last season and in 2007-08. Not only have they always been helpful and easy to deal with for me personally, but every visiting media member I’ve spoke with raves about Jim LaBumbard and company. Congratulations to them on another year well done.

*In terms of offensive changes, Lowry and DeRozan are once again trumpeting the need for aggression. Considering the Raptors shot extremely well at the rim but just couldn’t get there enough, that’s probably a smart adjustment.

At least the Raptors started out well on offense | Raptors Republic

By the end of the first quarter, the Raptors had scored 28 points on 24 possessions, not a bad rate. Had Patterson been able to knock down more than one of his four 3-point attempts, there may not have been the sense that the Raptors were on the ropes, stuck five as they were. Shooters are going to have off nights, and threes are of a high-variance nature, but it’s at least a little concerning that the streaky Patterson is shooting just 28.6 percent from long-range in the postseason. It happens, and he’ll surely come out of it at some point, but the Raptors don’t have a lot of time to wait on regression, and Patterson’s ability to knock down these looks (both as a four and a five, putting Channing Frye in these same kind of positions) will be paramount to Toronto keeping up with the Cavs.

Love and the Cavs deserve some credit, too. They had a clear plan and didn’t deviate from it, and Love did a solid job with the difficult task of hedging on Lowry (and had a nice defensive showing overall). Given the handful of good looks they got early on and the dearth of other options that worked, the Raptors would be smart to attack him in the same way early in Game 2 and see if Love can repeat this performance.

There are no easy answers defending the Cavs | Raptors Republic

None of the options are perfect, because James is impossible, and the players around him are playing too well. There has to be a way of slowing them down, though, as 125 points per-100 possessions isn’t sustainable even for this offense (…maybe). However imperfect the options are, there have to be better ways after a team shoots 55.4 percent from the floor and quite literally enjoys a layup line.

The Raptors’ strategy all season long didn’t set up well to guard how the Cavs are playing right now, but they executed an adjusted scheme quite poorly. Maybe there’s something to be said for the Raptors getting back to what they’ve done moderately well for most of the year and hoping their 3-point defense can be better of its own volition.

“We did a better job guarding the three, just now we’ve gotta go back to how we can handle the other stuff,” Biyombo said. “The idea was to live with the two and take away the three, and we opened up the back. Now it’s just a matter of getting back to what we do.”

There are different poisons to pick from, all of them poison. Perhaps there’s value in variety.

LeBron James’ key to success is sharing his greatness: Arthur | Toronto Star

LeBron can think the game like few others. He’s thought this way for a while.

“He has an unbelievable IQ for the game,” said Wade during Toronto’s series with Miami.

“I mean, I have a bit of my own, I played with Jason Kidd at the Olympics, I’ve been around Chris Paul and all those guys, but I haven’t been around a guy who has an IQ like him. Just his ability on the court to read who needs what, how they need it, how to get the ball to him. Like, a lot of guys can play basketball, a lot of guys can make plays. But not a lot of guys can be on the court and see what a guy needs and be able to get that guy the ball, to call a play to get that guy the ball.

“He just knows all that. He’d just say ‘We’re going to run this play to get you going.’ And it helps your confidence. All the little things. It takes a special guy to be able to do that in the middle of a game. Sometimes, we just want to play. You don’t want to be a coach.”

LeBron is wired that way, yes. But there’s more to it.

“I think there are some wires, but I think it’s also a decision,” says Jones. “It’s also a choice. He has the talent to do it. It’s just his choice. And he chooses not to dominate the ball, he chooses not to just make it about me, me, me. He’s chosen . . . I’m going to be a great floor general, instead of being the lead soldier.”

This is what the Raptors are facing. Cleveland’s army is in lockstep, and they are at the door.

Raptors facing harsh reality of LeBron James | Toronto Sun

The first place to start is to find a strategy to play against King James.

This isn’t like stopping Paul George in Round 1.

This isn’t like stopping either Dwyane Wade or Goran Dragic in Round 2.

This is another level of star, a place for three or four players in history, a level the newbie Raptors have never really seen before.

The challenge here isn’t stopping James — it’s deciding which aspect of his game you want to attack, and hoping you’re able to pull it off.

“I’m going to use six fouls on him real hard. Put it that way,” said DeMarre Carroll, whom the Raptors acquired last summer for the role of playoff defensive stopper. He is one of the best in the NBA on this kind of coverage.

James obliterated Carroll in Game 1.

“I think I can do better,” Carroll said. “He’s a physical beast. It’s one of those things you try to do what you can. Stand in front (of him). Try to make him take twos. We worked on a game plan for that.”

Which brings to mind an old Mike Tyson line: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

LeBron is a punch to the mouth, an uppercut to the body, a jab to the nose, a hook to the temple. And you don’t see any of it coming.

Raptors make brave pledges ahead of Game 2 vs. Cavaliers | Sportsnet.ca

“It’s just understanding what it’s like to have our backs against the wall, just coming out with a sense of urgency and understanding what we’ve got to do,” said DeMar DeRozan about his club’s knack for responding after a loss. “We’ve learned from our mistakes previously and know what we’ve got to do to correct it.”

But what was more telling in the Raptors’ review of Game 1 wasn’t how they assessed their shortcomings, it was in their wide-eyed appraisal of coming chest-to-chest with James as he ramps his game up in pursuit of his goals of a third ring and first championship for Cleveland since 1964.

James isn’t leading the Cavaliers in scoring; he clearly can afford to pick his spots as he’s playing a comfortable 38 minutes per game – a career playoff low, to go along with a career-low 23.6 points a game – as the Cavaliers churn through opponents. But he’s leading the Cavs – undefeated in the playoffs so far – with his example, his play and his focus. He’s not keying on getting to his fifth straight NBA Finals, but winning his third title.

He’s not doing it alone. In the sports themebook it falls under the chapter “leadership.” James has bought into the Cavs’ new up-tempo, ball-movement focused approach, everyone is following and Cleveland is benefitting.

The Raptors, like the Pistons and Hawks before them, are struggling with the knowledge that they are the second-best team on the floor, an acknowledgement that runs counter to the athlete’s creed.

Raptors, Cavs know there’s no gain without some pain | Toronto Star

“I know what it is when it happens to someone else, but I have no idea what it is when it happens to me,” James said. “I have no idea what a common foul and a flagrant is. I thought Tristan (Thompson’s) throw-down was a little excessive but he got up and made two free throws and that’s all that matters.

“I pretty much have chalked it up to common fouls with me.”

James was referring to Biyombo’s foul on Thompson in the third quarter. He was looking for a dunk on the play and hit the ground hard. Officials reviewed it and determined it also was a common foul. The only flagrant assessed in the game was against the Cavs, when Kevin Love caught Patrick Patterson with an elbow to the jaw at the start of the third quarter.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said James’ size — six-foot-eight and 250 pounds — and strength work against him in these situations.

“Nowadays to get a flagrant foul you’ve got to fall down and grab your head and roll on the ground,” Lue said.

“Still, a lot of times (contact on James is) a flagrant foul. If someone else gets hit they fall on the ground, grabbing their head taking 30, 40 seconds to get up and that just automatically, the second the referees go to the scorer’s table and review it they come up with a flagrant foul.”

Toronto Raptors aren’t buying Cleveland Cavaliers as ‘super team’ | cleveland.com

“We beat them [in the regular season], so we don’t feel like we have anything to fear like they’re a super team or anything,” Terrence Ross told cleveland.com. “But we’re just going out there to play our game and compete.”

The fourth-year guard said moments before the game that he found solace in the knowledge that they took down the reigning Eastern champs twice in the three meetings during the course of the season.

“It just gives you the confidence that you can play with anybody,” he said. “We’re here for a reason and we’re going to play to the best of our abilities.”

If Tuesday’s effort was playing at the best of their abilities, Toronto is in trouble. DeMarre Carroll, who didn’t have his best defensive night, said the Cavaliers looked like a team that has been off for nine days playing a team that had just came off a long series.

In a concerted effort to take away Cleveland’s potent three-point weapons, Toronto gave up a massive 56 points in the paint and were outrebounded significantly, 45-23.

First-rate problems with the Raptors’ second unit | Toronto Sun

Without Patterson and Biyombo to bring off the bench, Casey’s hands are rather tied.

If he takes Patterson out of the starting five — a group he has played with for nine games in the playoffs — Casey hurts himself offensively.

If Casey doesn’t, those minutes late in the first quarter and the first six or so in the second can be deadly.

“That’s the issue,” Casey said. “We’re now starting two of our good bench guys that led that brigade, that second unit, but some things we can do with the rotation, who we bring in, who we can bring back in and do a better job of making sure we have the right guys in, right combinations in.

“Issue we have is who do we have to guard certain players on their team,” Casey said.

“A lot of variables we have to work with as far as the groups we have on the court are concerned and then there are variables that hurt us offensively, we may be good defensively, but it hurts us on the offensive end, so we’ve got to figure that out before (Thursday) night.”

Compounding the issue for Toronto is the move the Cavaliers made coming into the series.

Just as Casey discovered how good placing his best player with his bench unit worked, Tyronn Lue began at the start of playoffs getting James out early to bring him back at the start of the second quarter with his second unit.

That group — James, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, and Matthew Dellavedova — are a plus 38 in 43 minutes in these playoffs.

Raptors’ bench continues to come up empty | NBA.com

But things have changed dramatically in the playoffs. What was a strength has become a weakness. The Raptors rank 12th in aggregate bench plus-minus in the postseason and have had, by far, the worst bench among the four teams still playing.

In Game 1, with starters resting on both sides, Cleveland outscored Toronto 22-2 in a six-minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters. It was the Cavs’ bench that took control of the game and at that point, the rout was on.

Toronto was only a minus-13 in 66 minutes with Lowry off the floor in the first round. Since then, though, the Raptors have been outscored by 71 points in 84 minutes with their starting point guard out of the game.

Part of Toronto’s bench problems has been the absence of Jonas Valanciunas, who was lost to an ankle injury in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. That pushed Bismack Biyombo into the starting lineup, where Patterson was already, because Luis Scola was largely ineffective in the first round.

All the lineup shuffling has taken what’s left of the Toronto bench out of its comfort zone. The lineup of Lowry, Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patterson and Biyombo hasn’t gotten consistent minutes together and didn’t play at all on Tuesday.

2016 NBA Draft Candidate @quese_22 and @raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri at the 2016 #NBADraftLottery.

A photo posted by Adam Silver (@adamsilvernba) on

How can Raptors flip underdog script vs. Cavaliers? | Sportsnet.ca

It makes sense that the Raptors are underdogs. The Cavaliers are the No. 1 seed after all and are the defending Eastern Conference champions.

They have LeBron James, who is gunning for his fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, sixth overall and trying to bring Cleveland its first championship of any kind since 1964 while earning his third title.

But are the Raptors really that prohibitive an underdog? Are their prospects as hopeless as Van Gundy and everyone else seems to believe?

That seems a bit much, given the No. 2-seeded Raptors won the season series against the Cavs and won 56 games to 57 for Cleveland, and given the Raptors have been rock solid through all kinds of adversity during the regular season and in the playoffs in particular and the Cavaliers have flipped coaches and had their share of not-so-infighting.

How can the Raptors flip the script?

It starts with Carroll who was signed as a free agent in the off-season to give the Raptors someone who can offer some resistance to some of the bigger ‘3s’ in the Eastern Conference, James the biggest and the best of them.

No one stops James but Carroll has had some success against him. Carroll missed 56 games this year with injuries but in the one game he played against Cleveland he helped hold James to 19 points on 5-of-15 shooting in the 37 minutes they shared the floor.