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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Cleveland Versus Toronto Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#2 Cleveland (51-31) vs. #3 Toronto (51-31)

Season series: Cleveland, 3-1

Toronto can win if…DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are the second and third most productive players in this series--LeBron James will almost certainly be the most productive player--and if the Raptors do not have multiple games during which they score less than 95 points.

The Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks 4-2 in the first round but Toronto scored 92 points or less in four of those games. If the Raptors have four games with 92 points or less versus the Cleveland Cavaliers then they will be swept; the Cavaliers are an inconsistent team defensively but they are an offensive juggernaut, averaging 110.3 ppg in the regular season (fourth in the NBA) and 112.8 ppg in their first round sweep of the Indiana Pacers.

The Raptors fell down 2-0 versus the Cavaliers in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals but rallied to extend the series to six games; I had predicted that Toronto's physicality and two All-Star guards could cause some trouble for the Cavaliers and--after some initial jitters--the Raptors validated that assessment. If the Raptors can earn a split in the first two games then they have a solid chance to ultimately win this series. The Cavaliers are talented but vulnerable.

Cleveland will win because…LeBron James is rested and dominant, while his All-Star teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are also playing at a high level.

A good case can be made that the Raptors are capable of beating the Cavaliers (see above). However, I expect that James, Irving and Love will rise to the occasion after cruising through substantial portions of the regular season.

As a basketball purist, I don't like the Cavaliers' attitude that they can flip the switch whenever they want to do so--but the reality is that they will probably get away with this, at least until the NBA Finals. James averaged 32.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 9.0 apg, 3.0 spg and 2.0 bpg versus the Pacers, while Irving contributed 25.3 ppg and Love added 15.3 ppg and 9.3 rpg. Tristan Thompson provides inside muscle (team-high 11.0 rpg versus the Pacers), while Channing Frye, Deron Williams, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver space the floor with timely three point shooting. The key question--which may not matter or be answered until the NBA Finals--is if this group is willing and able to play championship level defense on a nightly basis.

Other things to consider: At times, the Cavaliers look like a team that will not take things entirely seriously until at least the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors are good enough to win this series if they play at their absolute best while the Cavaliers do not play their best but it is hard to picture the Raptors winning if both teams play their best. Both teams surely understand this and that could have a psychological impact on the series: perhaps it will make the Cavaliers overconfident or perhaps the Raptors will press because they know (or believe) that they must play at a very high level to prevail.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:23 AM



At Saturday, April 29, 2017 5:31:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Cavs in 5. Honestly, the Raptors were lucky to escape a series with an inexperienced Bucks team.

By productive, did you mean that DeRozan and Lowry are better than Kyrie? Kyrie can be inconsistent, but neither of those guys are better than him.

At Saturday, April 29, 2017 6:43:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

If you had asked me before the Milwaukee series who I would take between Toronto and Cleveland I might have picked Toronto, but after watching that series I ultimately just don't think they're mentally tough enough. Lowry and to a lesser extant Derozan at this point have a large enough sample size as unreliable post-season performers that I just don't trust them to show up in top form often enough to beat Lebron.

That said, I expect a long series. I am not sure Cleveland can meaningfully slow down Toronto on the nights when Lowry and Deroza *are* feeling it, and Toronto has a pretty steady diet of strong defenders to throw at Lebron, with Carroll/Tucker/Ibaka all likely to see time on him.

At Saturday, April 29, 2017 2:39:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Have there been many NBA champions who have successfully gotten away with coasting during the regular season, only to turn it up during the playoffs, like the Cavaliers have been doing? I know the 1993 Bulls were accused of coasting during the regular season. The 2001 Lakers were hit with such accusations as well but they certainly did step it up during the playoffs, obviously.

At Saturday, April 29, 2017 3:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't think that DeRozan or Lowry are better than Irving but for Toronto to win they both have to perform better than Irving in this series. James is and will be the best player on the court, so Toronto has to counter by having the next two most productive players. If LeBron puts up his ho-hum 30-9-8 and then Kyrie puts up 28-5 while Lowry and DeRozan post pedestrian numbers then Toronto has no chance. Toronto needs to slow down Irving and Love while also getting their stars going.

At Saturday, April 29, 2017 8:21:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

David, thanks for the analysis.

Some claim that the Bucks was a great preparatory lesson for Raptors, due to their superior defense to the Cavaliers. But I think the Raptors had to sacrifice a couple of games to figure out the Bucks: curtail their fastbreak offense by avoiding turnovers or missing long shots. That slowly tilted the pace back to the Raptors' favor by dragging the hyper-athletic but inexperienced Bucks into a halfcourt slugfest.

But this will play into the hands of the Cavaliers, who are much better suited at the halfcourt, thanks to LBJ and his coterie of shooters. While the Raptors seem better equipped to handle the Cavaliers' bigs than last year, they will never run their offense through Valanciunas. Lowry and DeRozan will not sacrifice enough touches.


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