NBA Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Cleveland vs. Toronto

May 20, 2016 •

So far, it’s been so easy for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals against the Toronto Raptors. The Cavs have dominated the Raps from every angle possible and have won on almost every stat. And take into consideration they have been winning in the double digits despite having not shot the ball well from behind the arc against Toronto, shooting 35 and 33 percent respectively in games one and two.

When they faced up against Atlanta, it seemed like all their three point wwre going in, but in the conference finals they are averaging a little less at 20.5 three point attempts a game. But even with less 3s, the Cavs have put on a skills clinic, taking care of business at home by winning both games with their eyes closed. They have shown off their roster’s versatility showing teams that they can beat you in so many other ways.

Tomorrow night, pride will be on the line, as the Raptors have one of the best fanbases and home courts in the NBA, with their #WeTheNorth campaigning. So the Raps will have to come out with their best effort of the series in Game 3, no matter how out matched they are. The Cavs will have a hunger and intensity to make sure the Raps stay down and get into an impossible 0-3 hole.

The main problem is that the Raptors can’t slow LeBron James down in the paint, and even protecting the arc, the damage has been done up close to the rim. James all season admitted to struggling from outside the paint, but he was so good getting to the paint that it didn’t matter. He has only gotten better through the playoffs, in his two games against Toronto he has continued to dominate the rim. He’s in shape experts say in a way fans haven’t seen in a long time.

The Raptors could say one reason for that is the absence of Jonas Valanciunas. Strangely enough though, when he was on the roster they were even worse protecting the rim against Cleveland in the regular season allowing 21-of-31 makes from the inside. His replacement Bismack Biyombo has also been overwhelmed by the Cavs, while the other outside defenders just can’t keep up with all the different offensive threats that the Cavaliers have.

It seems like the playoffs for the Cleveland Cavaliers has been a cake walk to the Eastern Conference finals. Their momentum will probably overcome any possible adversity they’ll face along the way to the NBA Finals. The East just has not been a test for them and the Raps are no different.

It’s clear now that Toronto might only win one game in this series and that’s if the Cavs fall asleep. The Raptors without Jonas Valanciunas due to an ankle injury, and with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan struggling, the Cavs would have to fall back into their bad habits of the regular season and play down to the level of their competition. They are just so good at not letting a talented Raptors team find their rhythm because it’s not like the Raps are a bad team. They simply are not good enough.

The secret to the Cavs success is Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James combining for 68 points in Game 2 on a combined 24-43 shooting. Their chemistry and the dynamic energy the share with the rest of the team has been off the charts in the playoffs. They have the magic.

Going into Game 3, the Cavs will likely just bring more of the same. They’ll beat the Raps up on the boards, defend without fouling and post off the paint. No player on Toronto has played this far into the post season before, so their legs are looking tired. And their faith is waning. As long as the Cavs continue to play sharp defense and unselfish offense, the Raptors being able to match that and create a more explosive offense to steal a game away from the Cavs seems unlikely. Unless DeRozan and Lowry start combining for 70 points tomorrow night, this team just won’t keep up with everything Cleveland can do. Toronto’s offense simply just can’t keep up. That’s a testament to the Cavaliers more than a knock on Toronto.

Lowry will probably have a better game in Toronto nonetheless. He’s had a lot of mental struggles at this stage of his career not expected from a player of his caliber. Especially after his leaving the bench in Game 2 in what seemed like a mini-breakdown. But even if he does play better and add in a home court advantage, Toronto still won’t be winning this game.

Our Pick: Cavs over Raps, 109-91