The Raptors finished first in the Eastern Conference this season. Then they met LeBron.
The Raptors did not lose back to back home games this season. Then they met LeBron.
The Raptors did not lose three games in a row at any point this season. Then they met LeBron.
The Toronto Raptors are on the verge of their second straight sweep at the hands of The King and his Disciples and no matter how different this series feels, or how close the games have been, the result will be just as devastating to fans if Toronto can’t avoid the sweep.
Instead of resigning to the fact that this is likely the end of a once promising playoff-run, let’s entertain the idea that the Raptors have a chance to bring this thing back home. I spoke with Ashley Bastock from fearthesword.com to set up what could be another early exit from the Raptors.
Follow Ashley @AshleyBastock42.
Cam:So, the Raptors have now lost three straight games for the first time this season…and dating back to last year seven straight to the Cavs in the postseason. What are the chances this thing heads back to Toronto?
Ashley: If I had to give a percentage I would say there’s about a 10 percent chance of that happening. We all know LeBron James’ success in closeout games first and foremost. Prior to Game 6 against the Pacers, the Cavs were 10-0 in closeout games since his return. Also, there’s what is now a clear mental edge, regardless of what the Raptors say. This is a team that basically redesigned their entire system of play with the goal of knocking off LeBron James in the east. That would be discouraging for even the most mentally tough athlete.
But considering closeout games are the toughest, I wouldn’t say there is no chance that this series doesn’t head back up north. This is still a 59-win team
Cam: Thanks for your sympathetic optimism, but you’re right. This Raptors team was supposed to be deep enough, and talented enough to finally get past LeBron, and instead he’s having his way. If you’re Dwane Casey do you do anything different in Game 4 to try and slow him down?
Ashley: In my opinion, Dwane Casey has done too much over-correcting in Games 2 and 3. The reality of Game 1 is that LeBron didn’t play well, and the Cavs had some shots fall in OT that the Raptors didn’t. Going extra small in Game 2 with CJ Miles at the 5 created tons of problems when it came to Kevin Love. I know Serge Ibaka has been all but irrelevant in this series, but taking him out of the starting lineup in favor of Fred VanVleet also didn’t add anything in Game 3. And then there is the benching DeRozan in the fourth quarter. He was dreadful through three quarters, but Lowry hadn’t been much better. Part of me wonders if they could have benefited with him in towards the end of the game in giving themselves another strong facilitator on offense. But to answer your question– I don’t know if there will be any LeBron specific changes coming. Throughout the series Casey has seemed content to let him do his own thing, and has tried to not make a hero out of anyone else. Toronto just hasn’t been as good at that as Indiana was.
Cam: I’d agree that Casey has over-corrected too much, especially with his starting lineup in Game 3. That being said, you have to throw everything against LeBron when you’re down 3-0 for the second straight year. Raptors fans have been impressed with OG Anunoby’s defence at least, is there anyone on the Cavs that has been a bright spot outside of LeBron for you in this series?
Ashley: The resurgence of Kevin Love has been the biggest takeaway for me. Against Indiana, the Pacers opted to just stick Thad Young on him, essentially relieving him of help defense duties even when LeBron was driving. And it worked. In that series he averaged just 11 points and 9 boards. Against the Raptors he’s averaging 19-13. JR Smith coming alive has also helped. He had a slower offensive night in Game 3, but him shooting opens things up for LeBron and Love inside. And finally, I would have to throw George Hill in there as well. Had he been healthy for all of that Indiana series, it could have gone a lot differently. The Cavs have a clear advantage over the Raptors when it comes to turnovers, and he is a big component of that.
Cam: Why everyone on Cleveland decided to find their mojo against the Raptors is still a very sore spot with me, but it’s not all rainbows and butterflies in The Land. On Fear the Sword I read that Lue is considering changing the rotation to get Cedi Osman and Jose Calderon ( ex-Raptor alert! ) into the line-up. My only question…why?!
Ashley: It’s actually a move I don’t hate, and yes, one Ty touched on at practice today. Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson have both struggled throughout the postseason. Calderon brings some experience, and the ability to handle the ball under pressure and is great at setting up a pick and roll for bigs. Cedi may not add more scoring than Hood or Clarkson are at the moment, but we won’t know until we play him (and of course, the FTS faithful love him). And there is an element that he brings some fire to make hustle plays that Hood and Clarkson also haven’t really been making (although credit to Clarkson in Game 3 for coming up with some big steals). But still, I agree with what Lue said about not wanting Hood or Clarkson to lose confidence. Playoffs is a marathon and not a sprint, and you do need all the role players ready.
Cam: Hey, if Lue wants to mess with a good thing up 3-0 you won’t see any complaints from Raptors fans. Casey has flat-out been out-coached in this series though, and his final act may be on Monday night. If there’s one change the Raptors can make with their season on the line what is it?
Ashley: Stop switching so much on defense, as that’s when the Cavs are getting plenty of mismatches for Love especially. It’s a trap that the Cavs fell into against Indiana, and one they sort of remedied by only switching bigs onto bigs. But when you have anyone smaller than Love on him, he feasts inside.
Cam: He’s feasted on DeRozan all series, which is both a coaching and a player problem. Before I let you go, is there anything Raptors fans can lean on heading into what feels like Day Zero?
Ashley: Based on the first three games, I don’t have much that I can offer up. I think it’s a combination of that over-correcting that I talked about before. It got them into this 0-3 hole. With no answer to stop LeBron it’s hard to see any sort of light at the end of the tunnel for Toronto when it comes to this series. Or any kind of silver lining really. At this point in the season, there aren’t really moral victories.
Cam: I don’t want to ask, but it’s my journalistic duty to do so. Prediction for the game and final thoughts?
Ashley: Cavs win Game 4, 106-95. The Raptors might put up a bit more of a fight tomorrow if they manage to take the Cavs role players out of the occasion. But in the end, LeBron is LeBron. It’s hard to see him not putting this series to bed tomorrow.
It seems like we’ll see the same starting lineup from Games 1 and 2 after the disastrous start of Game 3, but we’ll know closer to tip if Casey feels like going off the wall again in the hopes of saving the season and (maybe?) his job.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
INACTIVE: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie
Lue spoke about getting Calderon and Osman into the rotation, but how that looks is yet to be determined.
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
INACTIVE: Kendrick Perkins, Okaro White
Game 4: Cleveland (-6)