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Monday, May 16, 2016

Cleveland Versus Toronto Preview

Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Cleveland (57-25) vs. #2 Toronto (56-26)

Season series: Toronto, 2-1

Toronto can win if...the Raptors' All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can be both productive and efficient while DeMarre Carroll spearheads the defensive attack versus LeBron James to the extent that the other Raptor perimeter defenders can stay at home on Cleveland's three point shooters.

Lowry averaged 23.4 ppg during Toronto's 4-3 victory over the Miami Heat but he shot just .401 from the field, while DeRozan scored 22.1 ppg on .388 field goal shooting. For Toronto to beat Cleveland, Lowry and DeRozan must both continue to score 20+ ppg but they both need to elevate their field goal percentages to the .450 range.

No single defender can shut down a motivated and committed LeBron James but if Carroll can limit James to James' regular season averages without requiring a lot of help then the Raptors can avoid succumbing to the record-setting three point shooting that devastated Detroit and Atlanta in Cleveland's pair of early round sweeps.

Cleveland will win because...each of the Cavaliers' All-Stars is performing at a high level, opening up the court for an unprecedented three point shooting barrage; meanwhile, collectively Cleveland is rebounding and defending well.

During Cleveland's 4-0 destruction of the Atlanta Hawks, James averaged a "ho hum" (for him) 24.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 7.8 apg and 3.0 spg. The only blemish on his record was subpar free throw shooting (.591). Kyrie Irving averaged 21.3 ppg and 6.3 apg while shooting .484 from the field (including a blistering .667 on three pointers) and .867 from the free throw line. Kevin Love contributed 19.0 ppg and a team-high 13.0 rpg. Love shot just .324 from the field but he shot an outstanding .475 from three point range; remarkably, he made 19 three pointers and just four two pointers during the series.

Cleveland shot 77-152 (.507) from three point range against Atlanta and if that production/efficiency continues there is no way to beat this team; of course it is not likely that the Cavaliers will shoot that way again but if James is aggressive enough to regularly collapse the defense then the Cavaliers will at the very least have many wide open shots.

Other things to consider: On paper and in popular perception, Toronto is inferior to Cleveland--but the Raptors have two All-Stars and only finished one game behind the Cavaliers in the regular season standings. Toronto is the type of team that has challenged James in the past during the playoffs (a good team that is hard-nosed and has several good but not great players). Tyronn Lue is a rookie coach and it will be interesting to see how he responds if the Cavaliers face adversity during this series, particularly if that adversity comes in the form of James becoming disengaged/disinterested (as has happened repeatedly during LeBron James' career after the first round of the playoffs).

LeBron James has led his teams to five straight NBA Finals appearances (2011-2014 with Miami, 2015 with Cleveland), which is a noteworthy feat even in the somewhat depleted Eastern Conference. His playoff record against clearly overmatched teams is nearly impeccable and that is not meant sarcastically; there is a lot to be said for beating the opponents that you are "supposed" to beat and there are many star players who have been much less effective at this than James has been.

However, at the end of his career James will be compared not with "ordinary" stars but rather with Pantheon-level players such as Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. James has won two NBA titles but he has also lost four times in the NBA Finals, with the Finals MVPs in those series going to demonstrably inferior players (Dirk Nowitzki is the best player of that quartet but no one would argue that Nowitzki is the same caliber two-way player as James).

In contrast, Johnson went 5-4 in the NBA Finals, including 2-1 versus Larry Bird's Boston Celtics and 2-1 versus Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers. Michael Jordan went 6-0 in the NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant went 5-2 in the NBA Finals.

James has already established himself as a Pantheon-level player even if he never wins another playoff series--but in order to truly measure up with the players to whom he is most often compared this is the kind of series that he needs to win and then he needs to add one or two more rings to his collection.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:18 PM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Monday, May 16, 2016 11:37:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I'm thinking sweep. Maybe 4-1 if Lowry has a monster night in there somewhere. Carroll couldn't stop Lebron in Atlanta where he had Millsap and Horford behind him, he's not gonna be able to stop him with Patterson and Biyombo/Jonas.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2016 12:47:00 PM, Anonymous Space Ghost said...

This series a point that is often overlooked.

Lebron James can fill up a stat sheet, but he does not do what is necessary to lift his team, not nearly enough anyways.

What I thought would have been an easy sweep turns into games where lebron's stats look great, yet his teammates' performances lack, and the biggest question that remains, actually comes from lebron's stats:

if he is so highly efficient, why doesn't he just scale his shot volume upwards up until he provides his team with a sufficient lead to close games?

lebron is highly conscious and highly sensitive of the criticism from the media and the general public.

he's a great player, but he hasn't done nearly enough to improve his game aside from learning how to recruit players effectively that will allow him to cherry pick his efficient field goals.

its frustrating watching a talent that is scared and doesnt live up to the max potential.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2016 1:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good points Ghost. But, do we ever think that maybe James is maximizing his potential? Maybe he's just not that good. At times he does, but he often doesn't take charge and at least try to do everything possible to win. TOR's a solid team, but I can't think of one title team in nba history worse than them, and Jonas hasn't even played yet in the series, and I'd put CLE top 2-3 in the East without James. CLE should be dominating TOR, especiall without Jonas. I think it was at the end of game 3 with TOR up 12 with about 2 minutes left. James had one-on-one with Biyombo, and decides to pass crosscourt to Smith who is 10 feet behind the 3-pt line with 5 seconds on the shot clock. I was confused with that decision, but hey, his efficiency remained the same.

At the same time, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but maybe James is treated a little unfairly every once in awhile. Did Bird, Magic, Kareem, Wilt, Hakeem, etc always take charge and do whatever it took? I seriously doubt it. I see Kobe/Jordan doing this, and Russell tried but was limited in many areas of the game. Look at Duncan, who several times in his career played the passive one and didn't take charge. I think Duncan often couldn't based on his limitations, while James usually could though often chooses not to. If we don't blame Duncan for not doing whatever was necessary always, then either we should blame Duncan and/or stay consistent with James and others a bit more.

TOR looked dead in the water, and probably still are, but we have a series now.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2016 5:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While there definitely is something to the concerns about James' willingness to take up the mantle in some games, I will say that in my opinion, that has not been the main problem.

The Cavs may well have done better if they just told James "Hey, go out there and take 30 shots." Still, the approach of having him spread the ball around had been working quite well thus far in the playoffs.

When each night you have a couple teammates that combine for shooting like 7-26 or 4-28, that's quite an unfortunate turn of events. I would feel more comfortable criticizing James for that if he had been regularly tossing those guys hand grenades, but a lot of those missed shots were good looks they just couldn't make.

In previous games, they were burying opponents by making those shots, so it's at least reasonable (maybe not optimal, though) that they stuck with that game plan through a rough patch.

Now that the rough patch has turned into two straight games with such poor help, though, I won't be surprised if the plan for tonight is to push up Lebron's usage.

As the previous poster said, hey, at least there's some drama to watching the East now.


 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2016 9:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Things:

* I said all season that Love/Irving were a tirefire in the PnR, and Toronto is mercilessly punishing them for it. CLE may need to separate their minutes as much as possible.

* Biyombo might get a max this offseason if they push this to 7.

* Man, Kyle Lowry sure looks good when he's got Irving on him instead of Hill or Dragic.

* Tyron Lue, let's see what you've got. You lose this series, you probably lose your job.

* CLE needs to figure out how to protect the rim better. Might be time to dust off Mozgov, or Lebron needs to dig into the Dr. J *hyper-athletic ambush you from behind* shot blocker playbook to try and make TOR a little more tentative.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2016 9:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lowry was looking pretty good vs MIA, too. I don't think Irving is guarding him all the time, and where's the help at the rim if he gets past him? I just think Lowry goes in spurts somewhat. He's a very good player, but clearly no superstar. Lowry was atrocious on the road at CLE, but great at home vs CLE. Game 5 so far look similar to games 1/2 for Lowry. If you blame Irving for games 3/4, then make sure to praise him when Lowry stinks it up.

Anonymous, that's exactly what Ghost and I are referring to you about James doing whatever it takes. Sure, the gameplan might be to get everyone involved often. But, when his teammates are struggling, then he has to say 'enough is enough,' and start doing it more himself. It's great if his teammates can make open shots, but no matter how good of a shooter you are, your shot won't be there every night. It's dumb basketball to keep feeding your much-lesser teammates the ball if they aren't doing anything. At least take a chance and be a little more aggressive himself.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2016 10:29:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

*Sigh*

Lowry vs. MIA: 23/5/6, 40% shooting

Lowry vs. CLE: 25/8.5/6.5, 64% shooting

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2016 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

EDIT:

I;m a moron. I was looking at Lebron's stats, not Lowry's, for the second series.

Actual stats: 18/5/4/ on 47% shooting. Way less dramatic, but still a bit change.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2016 12:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lowry was 23/5/6 on 40% shooting vs MIA. I'd take his MIA stats over his CLE stats overall. Like I said, he goes in spurts and has had very inconsistent play so far.

If Irving is going to get blame for Lowry's games 3/4, then he deserves even more credit for Lowry stinking it up in games 1/2/5.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2016 5:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

TBF, I said he looks better against Irving than he did against Dragic or Hill (both of whom he shot in the mid to low 30s against), not against MIA as a whole. He shot better against Richardson/Stuckey, and while I haven't paid as much attention to this series, I suspect he's shot much better against Irving than he has against Shumpert or Delly.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2016 9:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe he is, but I doubt it's very much. And I'm sure whatever his struggles were vs MIA had more to do than just one player, just like any other defense. And if Dragic was as great as you say he is defensively, he should actually be guarding Lowry more, who plays the same position as Dragic.

 
At Friday, May 27, 2016 4:04:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Anonymous-

I've accidentally stumbled back into a conversation with you about Dragic, I see, and that's my fault for mentioning him as part of a larger point.

He was the primary defender on Lowry for most of the first 6 games before Spoelstra went away from it, presumably to hedge against foul trouble. He did take him off Lowry in some fourth quarters- usually Losses- citing a need for "length," and Lowry invariably torched Miami in those quarters.

 

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