The Cleveland Cavaliers and especially LeBron James are right where they’re used to be, the Eastern Conference Finals. For the Toronto Raptors, as a franchise and for their players, this is a new experience.
The road to this point has been very different. The Cavaliers still haven’t lost a playoff game in 2016. The Raptors have already played 14 games. Two game 7s, and seemed to have changed throughout this postseason. Kyle Lowry has been counted out and suddenly turned into one of the best players after reaching a low point. DeMar DeRozan has gone through the same process. They’ve also learned how to do it without Jonas Valanciunas, who’ll also miss the next game.
And Valanciunas not playing is a big deal for Toronto. They made it out of their series with the Raptors by finally realizing that small ball isn’t something bad for them. However, playing that way doesn’t give them any kind of advantage against the Cavaliers, who sometimes struggle against a big-bodies big man like Valanciunas. Bismack Biyombo isn’t a bad player and sometime surprises with some offense out of nowhere, but it’s hard to see him giving the Cavaliers any problems, or forcing them to change defensive decisions.
James seems to be quite comfortable with Kyrie Irving leading the scoring in the playoffs. James has been waiting for this opportunity for this opportunity for quite some time. Yes, it does look like his ego gets in the way sometimes, but for now, it seems like playing a different role, one that’s more about facilitating and not carrying the entire offense on his shoulders like he had to last season, is more to his liking and his age, giving him a chance to rest up for when he’s really needed.
The Raptors aren’t as good defensively as the Hawks, at least they weren’t in the regular season. The first thing they’ll be monitoring and trying to stop is the Cavaliers three-point shooting. Cleveland shot an incredible 50.7% from beyond the arc in their series against the Hawks, making almost as many 3-point FG as they did 2-point field goals. Kevin Love finished with 19 three pointers in the series, and even James, struggling with his long ball shooting all season, made 42.7% of his long range attempts.
Another sweep? Hard to say. The Raptors didn’t finish second in the East for nothing, but the playoffs are different, and against a well-tuned machine like the Cavaliers, heroics from DeRozan and Lowry might not be enough, not to forget the Cavaliers are a better defensive team than the Heat. It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the Raptors give the Cavaliers problems in game 1. Rust plays its part, and the two sweeps weren’t without their road bumps.
However, when looking at this series with a broader view in mind, it doesn’t seem like the Raptors have enough to offer in order to make the Cavaliers’ game plan change drastically, or suddenly fail, when it’s been working so well until now.