Things feel very different in the Eastern Conference Finals, as we head into game 4 between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who suddenly feel like this isn’t as simple as it should have been.
The Raptors beat the Cavs by 15 points, as Bismack Biyombo grabbed 26 rebounds and seemed to sometimes, on his own, outmuscle the entire Cavaliers team. Maybe it was a matter of energy and effort making the difference, but the defense the Raptors played on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, holding them to a combined 4-for-28 from the field, had the most to do with it. The defense swarmed them every time they had the ball, and it wasn’t just a bad shooting day by the two.
Both teams felt like the referees were unfair towards them. The Raptors have been preaching it all series, saying the 86-51 edge in free throw attempts Cleveland has is about the calls not going fairly in both directions. Dwane Casey complained after the game that Biyombo wasn’t getting calls, and was fined $25,000. Dahntay Jones of the Cavaliers was suspended from game 4 after delivering a low blow to Biyombo in the final minutes.
The Cavaliers (which we already posted about) have been chirping about officials all postseason, and especially in the series against the Raptors due to Biyombo and others giving LeBron James a very rough treatment. Even DeMar DeRozan admits that playing against Biyombo is miles from being a pleasant experience, but as a teammate, he loves him. Tyronn Lue, like he has been all season (since getting the head coaching job at least), keeps saying that James isn’t getting his fair share of calls because he’s “too” strong.
If you don’t foul him hard, he’s going to get an and-one and a three-point play. You’ve got to try to be physical with him so he can’t take the contact and finish at the rim. When you get around the neck, like Biyombo did last night, that’s different. But when teams hard-foul, you’re supposed to get hard-fouled when you’re going to the basket, especially being that strong and that powerful.
The most memorable moment from game 3 was Tristan Thompson accidentally hitting James in the face, resulting in James falling back, and everyone making fun of him flopping again. But at least from what he says, he’s not focusing on getting fouled and getting calls. The Cavaliers need to figure out how to get Irving and Love clicking again, or this series will really turn into something complicated. Meanwhile, Toronto are hoping that the slow recovery of Jonas Valanciunas speeds up, listing him as doubtful for game 4. Having their starting big man available could be a real game changer, even if moving Biyombo out of the lineup now isn’t a good idea.