Third Time’s a Charm: How do the Raptors Matchup with the Cavaliers
The trilogy is set to commence tonight.
For the third time in as many years, the Toronto Raptors will go up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a best of seven playoff series and for the second time straight year, the two teams will meet in the Conference Semifinals. Two years ago, the Raptors made it interesting, stealing two games on their home floor in the Eastern Conference Finals, while last year, the Toronto squad faltered – falling on its face and seeing themselves get eliminated in a four game sweep.
This year things are different.
Things feels different.
For the first time in three years, the Raptors were waiting on the Cavs. LeBron James is tired. While the Raptors closed out the Washington Wizards in six games, Cleveland barely escaped a hard-fought seven game series against the Indiana Pacers – a series which took everything out of James to single-handedly carry his team out of the first round.
The Raptors are the favourites now – ranked top five in both offence and defence. Toronto has home floor now. They have the edge on paper, and the head-to-head matchups will say likewise. With the series opening tip just hours away, we take a look at these very matchups today!
PG: Kyle Lowry vs. George Hill
Dealing with some back spasms, George Hill was pivotal in the fourth quarter of Cleveland’s game 7 win over the Indiana Pacers.
Now, he will matchup with All-Star Kyle Lowry, who had himself a night as the Raptors eliminated the Wizards in game 6. Averaging 17.2-points and 8.3-assists per game in the first round, Lowry was lethal from beyond the arc, shooting 43.6% for the series. If the Raptors get the same Lowry that they did against the Wizards, especially Game 6 Lowry, Hill and the rest of the Cavs will be in for a difficult series. Advantage: Toronto Raptors
SG: DeMar DeRozan vs. J.R. Smith
An aggressive DeMar DeRozan came to play for the Raptors – one who can kind of shoot threes as well.
Averaging 26.7-points per game to this point in the playoffs, DeRozan also shot 38.5% from long range against the Wizards. While often times, DeRozan still likes to move back to his isolation-style ways on offence, the Raptors have been able to find plenty of success with him on the court. The Raptors All-Star has also shown the ability to play-make, find the open man and move the basketball at which point, the Raps are at their best.
Meanwhile J.R. Smith is exactly who has has been for a while now – an oft-inconsistent streaky shooter who the Raptors will have to keep at bay for if Smith gets going from beyond the arc, the Cavs will become tough to slow down. Advantage: Toronto Raptors
SF: O.G. Anunoby vs. LeBron James
LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world. While the rookie O.G. Anunoby is the type of defender who can have better luck against a guy like James, expect James to carry the load yet again. Despite his claims of being exhausted, James will be ready to go come game 1 and it will be up to Anunoby and the Raptors to be physical with The King in an attempt to slow him down. Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers
PF: Serge Ibaka vs. Kevin Love
Despite a rough couple of months to end of the regular season, Serge Ibaka has shown glimpses of breaking out during round one of the playoffs.
Logging in a big game 1, Ibaka quieted down afterwards, but the Raps will need him to come up big in his anticipated matchup with Kevin Love, who’s performance was extremely underwhelming. While Love is still an All-Star, this series may even come down to which of the two breaks out first. Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers
C: Jonas Valanciunas vs. Tristan Thompson
While Jonas Valanciunas is coming off a phenomenal series against the Washington Wizards, Tristan Thompson struggled for the most part in round one.
To make matters worse – Kim Kardashian has unfollowed him on social media.
With the Lithuanian on the court, the Raptors have simply been more efficient on offence, while taking advantage of the pick-n-roll game. Thompson did log in a 15-point, 10-rebound effort in game 7, but it will be his consistency, which will be under question for the majority of the upcoming series: Advantage: Toronto Raptors
Head Coach: Dwane Casey vs. Tyronn Lue
At times, Tyronn Lue has seemed like he’s lost his team – playing second fiddle to LeBron’s voice.
Dwane Casey on the other hand is a Coach of the Year candidate. He has truly made a name for himself this season, being a vital aspect of the “culture reset” that the Toronto Raptors have undergone. The Raptors have changed their entire offence, while maintaining their defensive prowess. Not only that, but he has made Lowry and DeRozan buy into the process.
The Raptors are deep and well-coached, while the Cavaliers sideline has some questions. Advantage: Toronto Raptors
The Bench Mob is finally healthy as Fred VanVleet is back in the fold.
The Cavaliers have struggled getting any sort of production from their starters (outside of LeBron), let alone their bench. Meanwhile, the Raptors can even go 12-men deep. The Cavaliers will struggle and will need big efforts from their role guys if they hope to matchup with the best bench in the NBA. Advantage: Toronto Raptors