(Toronto, On) So here we go again. This is the third year that the top seeded Toronto Raptors and the fourth seeded Cleveland Cavaliers have met in the postseason. Toronto lost in six in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals before being swept in the second round last year.
But the Raptors have accomplished a lot of firsts during this year’s playoffs already. They won Game 1 at home, ended a playoff series unbeaten on their home floor, won a road playoff game after trailing at halftime, and for the first time ever, they ended a series earlier than their upcoming opponent.
Another big difference, and possibly the biggest of them all, is that the Raptors have homecourt advantage.
Toronto beat the Washington Wizards in six games, ending the series with a 102-92 victory in America’s capital city, as Kyle Lowry finished with 24 points and six assists. Backup point guard Fred VanVleet’s return sparked the vaunted Raptors bench, outscoring the Wizards’ bench, 34-20.
The Raptors All-Star backcourt, at least for one round, put an end to their postseason struggles. Lowry averaged 17.2 ppg and 8.3 apg, shooting 47.4 per cent from the field and 43.6 per cent from beyond the arc while DeMar DeRozan averaged 26.4 ppg and shot 38.5 per cent from three point land.
Meanwhile, Cleveland came off of a grind-it-out series that went the full seven games against the fifth seeded Indiana Pacers. James finished with 45 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists in the decisive seventh game as they outlasted the Pacers, 105-101.
It capped off a remarkable series for James as he averaged 34.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 7.7 apg while shooting 55.3 per cent from the field.
What was more concerning about that series, however, was the Cavs’ supporting cast, or lack thereof. Only Kevin Love finished the first round for Cleveland, averaging double figures (11.4 pgg), but Love shot just 33.3 per cent from the field.
The Cavs’ supporting cast played as poorly as they could in the first round and guys like J.R Smith, Jordan Clarkson, and Rodney Hood are not going to shoot that badly again. And, of course, they have the best player in the series in LeBron.
However, the Raptors are decidedly the better team and unlike Indiana, Toronto is the better offensive team and is more suited to decisively attack the double teams that Cleveland could potentially send at Lowry and DeRozan.
Ultimately, the balance and depth that Toronto has, with eight to 10 guys capable of scoring in double figures, combined with the factors of playing every other day and the fatigue surrounding the Cavaliers will be too much to overcome for Cleveland.
LeBron James, alone, is a scary thought and could steal a game or two by himself. But this Cavs team is significantly weaker than in previous years while the Raptors got stronger.
As long as the Raptors realize that they’re the better team and don’t let James psyche them out along with staying home on the Cavs’ shooters, this series should go Toronto’s way.
PREDICTION: Raptors in six
Written by Kajan Thiruthanikasalam