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Raptors News

Pre-game news & notes: VanVleet starts, Ibaka to bench

May 5 has not been kind to your boy the last few years.

The Toronto Raptors have their backs against the all against the Cleveland Cavaliers again. There’s not a whole lot left to say. They came out on the wrong end of a very tough Game 1 that could have swung on a number of bounces and rolls, and then they were punked by a dominant LeBron James performance in Game 2. They’re down 0-2. That explains itself.

“They should be pissed off, upset,” Dwane Casey said at shootaround. “I tell them not to read, hear or listen to. But a month ago everybody was crowning ‘em, and now everybody’s burying ‘em. We understand that. They understand that. That’s sports. That’s the business we’re in. So, it hurts. But the only way you can do something about it is come out here and do it on the court.”

Pissed off is one way to feel. Embarrassed is another. Either should produce a certain level of urgency and desperation, if the Raptors have anything left.

It was a tough loss. It was embarrassing,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We didn’t want to go out like that, especially on our home floor, drop two. It was one of those nights where you want to not think about it, understand you have practice the next day, look at film, go over and work on whatever we need to work on and lock back in…It’s been a while since we’ve felt good for a full 48 minutes.”

The game tips off at 8:30 on ESPN (Mark Jones, Hubie Brown, and Israel Gutierrez) and ABC and Sportsnet One on TV and ESPN and TSN 1050 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are Mike Callahan, Courtney Kirkland, and Josh Tiven.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 3, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

Raptors updates
Toronto sure sounds like they’re going to make a change to their starting lineup. The starters haven’t been the problem, of course, and they were actually pretty solid in Game 1. But Cleveland’s starters were never a great matchup for them, and since Game 1 didn’t bounce the right way such that Toronto could trust their group a while longer, they probably need to try something different since the margins are now so small. Head coach Dwane Casey mentioned after Game 2 that they’d consider a change, and he conceded at shootaround that it’s been a topic of discussion in the time since.

“A lot. We’ve thought about it a lot,” Casey said. “But those things will take care of themselves.”

There’s no perfect option here. Every choice would take something off the table on one end of the floor, and the popular suggestion in the comments – benching Serge Ibaka entirely – just isn’t going to happen. The more likely case would seem to be sliding Jonas Valanciunas to the bench in order to get an extra ball-handler or floor-spacer on the court while also letting Ibaka shift to guarding Kevin Love. That’s not entirely fair to Valanciunas, who has been one of the team’s best players in the postseason, but getting Valanciunas his usual minutes, just away from Love-at-center looks, is entirely doable. Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles, and Pascal Siakam would seem the likeliest candidates to draw in, and the Raptors could reach even further and dust off Norman Powell to chase Kyle Korver around. Whatever the case, a move of Valanciunas to the bench might mean the end of Jakob Poeltl in the rotation unless there’s foul trouble.

Check back before tip off for the starters.

UPDATE: Fred VanVleet draws into the starting lineup with Serge Ibaka shifting to the bench. Moving Ibaka to the bench is incredibly surprising given how Casey talked about keeping faith in him and about any change being made with matchups in mind; this wouldn’t seem to solve the matchup issue, but Ibaka was terrible in Game 2, so it at least makes some sense. The starters played six minutes together this season. I’d guess the plan is for one of Lowry/VanVleet to guard Korver and for the team to press a lot more, punishing Cleveland for trying to slow the pace and get into their sets slowly while getting out and running a bit the other way.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell
SF: DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles
PF: OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
OUT: None
INACTIVE: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie

Cavaliers updates
Cleveland has far fewer questions to answer. Their starters are getting whatever they want offensively and their bench has played better than expected. That’s not across-the-board – Jordan Clarkson’s decision-making is hilarious and Rodney Hood has been invisible – but Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson have provided a really nice spark for them in support of the five experienced starters.

In order for us to succeed our bench has to be very powerful, has to be very, very strong,” LeBron James said. “And that doesn’t mean scoring but defensively as well. They come in with a lot of energy. We got a lot of guys that come off the bench that can score the ball in Jeff Green and Jordan and Rodney, those guys can score the ball. So, whoever has the opportunity, who has the hot hand we try to keep going to it and I think right now Jeff Green has been playing exceptionally well and we want to continue that.”

If Ty Lue tweaks things at all, it’s likely to be in the Clarkson spot. Maybe Jose Calderon gets a shot, or Cedi Osman or Larry Nance factor in at some point. The nice thing about being up 2-0 is that there’s no real urgency to shuffle things, even if not every single piece is working. It’s unclear if Lue will make a preemptive adjustment to make sure the Raptors can’t better take advantage of James-less minutes. (Semi-related, the DeMar DeRozan-led bench looks have done fine in James-less minutes but fine isn’t good enough; Toronto should be playing the all-bench group or a Kyle Lowry-and-bench group there, or at least make sure Fred VanVleet is out with the DeRozan group.)

PG: George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Jose Calderon
SG: J.R. Smith, Rodney Hood
SF: Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman
PF: LeBron James, Larry Nance
C: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Ante Zizic
TBD: None
OUT: None
INACTIVE: Kendrick Perkins, Okaro White

Pre-game news and notes

  • LeBron James was downright cruel in basically acknowledging that he went out to beat the Raptors with jumpers in Game 2 as a sort of psychological warfare: “Two points ain’t two points. That’s a lie. Two points is not two points. I’ll explain it to you later. But I get coaches have said that for years, but two points is not two points.”
    • Dwane Casey maintains the team will live with the tough jumpers, as they probably should: “You’re not happy with a guy torching you for 43. There’s certain shots you want him to take and if you force him to take those shots, he’s a smart player, he’s going to figure something else out. My thing, as long as there’s competition, there’s competitiveness for space, fighting for space, not letting him be comfortable, getting to his sweet spot, as long as you make it a tough shot, that’s what you have to live with.”
  • A big part of Toronto’s struggle through two games has been its inability to force turnovers. The Cavaliers matched an NBA playoff record by only committing three turnovers last game, and it’s really preventing the Raptors from getting out and running in transition or attacking mismatches in semi-transition. Teams score better off of live-ball turnovers than any other situation, and Toronto is no different. The issue is that James has had the ball a ton and the Raptors don’t want to double and leave shooters open, so they’re left trying to be more aggressive within a conservative scheme.
    • Here’s Casey: “A lot of it is you have one player handling the ball in an isolation situation most of the time. There’s some things we have to do to try and speed him up or pick him up more or put more pressure on him. But it’s a byproduct of how they’re playing offensively. Now, we can do a better job when other players have the ball. But in those situations where he has the ball, unless you send another player to him, trying to trap him or going for steals with him are your options. But he handles the ball, I don’t know what the percentage is, but it’s a pretty high percentage.”
    • The Indiana Pacers did a better job in part due to their physicality in each matchup. James had 26 turnovers in the first round! So it’s certainly possible, even if the Raptors are a more finesse/scheme defense. They were a good team at forcing turnovers all year long. This would really help at both ends.


  • I’ll be posting some updates/quotes/T-shirt news/etc regularly on my Instagram story throughout the playoffs.
  • The viewing party in Maple Leaf Square opens up at 6:30.
  • Game 1 of this series did really strong ratings for TNT, up 17 percent from the same slot over the year prior and up 40 percent from Raptors-Heat Game 1 in 2016. Game 2 didn’t do as well for ESPN, dropping eight percent from the same slot last year.
  • Here’s DeMar DeRozan with the most relatable quote from an athlete of all time: “I never sleep. It’s probably a first for him, but that’s every night for me. Never been. If I tell you I had a great night’s sleep, something’s wrong.”

The Line
Game 1: Raptors -7 (series price -200) (Cavaliers 113, Raptors 112, OT)
Game 2: Raptors -6.5 (series price +135) (Cavaliers 128, Raptors 110)
Game 3: Cavaliers -4
Series: Raptors +550 (implied probability of 15.4 percent)

The line swung 10.5 points between games, far more than you’d normally see for a change in venues. After being heavy on the Raptors heading into the series and again through Games 1 and 2, offsmakers appear to be making a strong pivot off of them and guessing that they’re more or less done. If you’re still a believer, there’s huge money to be made on the Raptors in the series and to get out of the Eastern Conference. The over-under here is 216.

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