With momentum on their side, the Toronto Raptors go back on the road for game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, to face a slightly stunned Cleveland Cavaliers team.
But with the Raptors suddenly figuring it out against the Cavs, they have lost their last four games on the road in the postseason: Twice in Cleveland by a combined 50 points, and twice in Miami during the previous series. Dwane Casey himself has said he’s pretty sure it’s going to be a very different animal in Cleveland. The Raptors, feeding off fans enthusiasm and energy in the first two games, will have to find another source of “electricity” for game 5.
But maybe it’s all about the game plan: DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry need to keep attacking the rim, challenge the Cavaliers interior defense and force them into uncomfortable switches on the perimeter. Defensively, they’ve done some things they need to keep at: Keeping Kevin Love on the outside and eliminate the Cavs attempt of establishing him on the post and around the key, while putting an extra defender in LeBron James’ path to the basket, which has made him hesitant in the last two games, killing off their biggest problem.
James hasn’t needed to, or tried to yet, but if Love keeps missing open shots and Kyrie Irving is lukewarm at best, he might be forced to start trying to take over games on his own. The Cavaliers are at their best when Irving is leading the scoring and James doesn’t force himself on the offense. However, the Cavaliers can’t just hold him as some kind of nuclear deterrent. Maybe a different kind of approach in game 4 would have put them in a much more comfortable position, without knowing they have to go back to Toronto for game 6.
But defense seems to be the problem for the Cavaliers now. Their switches are bad, sometimes too slow, and overall their help on Lowry and DeRozan driving to the basket has been lacking. Yes, they need to figure out how to get their close range shots and rhythm going again, but figuring out their defensive woes first is the biggest thing on their to-do list.
Maybe there’s also pressure involved when factoring in different scenarios in this game. The Raptors might be a team playing this late in the season for the first time, but after two game 7’s and having to come back from behind more than once, they’re incredibly comfortable with the pressure and fear of elimination. Now all they need to do is figure out how to make their home cooking work south of the border.