Raptors Even Up Series vs. Cavaliers
Do we really have a series on our hands in the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals? The Toronto Raptors didn't roll over and become the third straight victim of a Cleveland Cavaliers sweep. The Raptors stepped up, defended their home floor and we now have a series tied at two games apiece. With two of the remaining three games in Cleveland though, does Toronto have a real chance to pull a monumental upset? Let's look at how the Raptors were able to win Games 3 & 4 and assess how that will translate going forward.
The first thing that jumps out is that Toronto was able to win games that were both offense and defense-oriented. The 99-84 win in Game 3 was a relatively ugly affair. The Raptors only shot 44 percent, while the Cavs struggled to 35 percent. Game 4's 105-99 win was much more efficient on both sides, with Toronto sizzling at 54 percent while Cleveland shot 47 percent, a number usually good enough to win playoff games.
The second thing that jumps out is that the Raptors won even with LeBron James doing this thing. Over the two games, James scored 53 points, had 17 rebounds and handed out 11 assists. He shot a stellar 20-for-33 from the floor. Cleveland can reasonably expect their star to maybe rebound a bit more and get a few more assists going forward, but the shooting percentage will also decline.
Finally we came to the biggest thing which is the rebounding of Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors center has hauled down forty rebounds over two games. He was the key to a massive 54-40 edge in Game 3 when Toronto played like a desperate team and Cleveland played like a team with a cushion.
Biyombo's performance stands in sharp contrast to similar players on Cleveland. Notably, Tristan Thompson struggled, getting just 11 rebounds in two games. Thompson performs a similar function to Biyombo. He's not expected to score, just defend and hit the glass. Thompson is normally one of the NBA's outstanding offensive rebounders, but he fell silent in the middle games of this series.
And if Thompson was silent, Kevin Love was positively asleep. Love produced a double-double of 13 points/11 rebounds - which would be fine if it weren't the total for two games, not one. He was completely AWOL in Game 3 and mediocre in Game 4. Media critics have long said that Love is good for stats during the regular season, but that he won't deliver when you need him most. These games gave those critics considerable ammunition.
Now we come to the Toronto backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Both have been outstanding in these wins. DeRozan knocked down 32 points in both Games 3 & 4, and did it with efficiency, shooting 26-for-47 in the process. Lowry, an up-and-down player in the postseason, shot 21-for-33 combined and scored 20 points in Game 3 before exploding for 35 in the Game 4 win.
That's how it's happened. Now, can it sustain itself? There is much good news for Toronto. They've shown they can win even with LeBron playing at a high level. They've shown they can win both offensive and defensive-type games. There's no reason to think that Biyombo can't crash the boards.
But before you run out and bet Toronto to win the series, we have to consider that role players - like Thompson, and to a lesser extent Love, who has taken on a "role player" type of persona in this offense - are often the ones most likely to be affected by homecourt situations. They can be lifted by a home crowd and distracted by a hostile one, whereas stars like a LeBron have steeled themselves to be immune to the surroundings.
Furthermore, Lowry and DeRozan simply can't keep shooting this well. They're both good offensive players to be sure, but shooting in the 55-60 percent range against a playoff defense is just surreal.
There's still no shortage of value to be found on Toronto. They're be getting (+11) in Game 5 on Wednesday night in Cleveland. The moneyline is a lucrative (+650). Even if the Raptors lose that game, they'll likely be getting points for Friday's Game 6. The Raptors are showing that they can make bettors some money even if it's hard to imagine them winning the Eastern Conference Finals.
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