With Cavaliers vs. Raptors set to begin on Tuesday, several members of the Fear the Sword staff answered questions about the series. Check out the answers below.
1. On a scale of 1-10, how much of a threat do the Raptors pose to the Cavs?
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): Three. Kyle Lowry causes a lot of problems for the Cavs on both ends and he's really coming into form as the Eastern Conference Finals start. He can maybe go off one game and win it himself if a few other chips fall right and that's sort of concerning. But other than that, the Cavs are a lot better everywhere and have a lot of clear advantages. The 2-1 regular season series lead for the Raptors doesn't really matter anymore.
Scott Recker (@scottmrecker): 6. Of course, there's a much smaller chance than 60 percent that Toronto advances to the finals, but I think this is the first series that the Cavs will be challenged intensity-wise. There will probably be moments of frustration, where the Cavs fall off of the current cloud that they're floating on. The Raptors will come out swinging and definitely test the Cavs at times, but the "threat" of the Raptors leans more toward the "push you to the limit, and run you down" level, rather than the "take four out of seven from you" one.
Alex Ralston (@Aralsto): 4. Kyle Lowry seems to have turned a corner in the last few games of the previous round and will provide a challenge to Kyrie and Delly. But outside of that matchup there isn't another Raptors player I am concerned about, the Cavs have superior talent and are more healthy going into the series.
Alex Raulli: 2. I'm just not worried about the Raptors at all. Yes, they have a talented team that fits together pretty well. They won 56 games in the regular season, which is a nice accomplishment. But they've struggled through seven games against both Indiana and Miami. Few of their playoff victories have been convincing, although they did a good job closing out Miami on Sunday. And they just match up poorly against Cleveland.
Aaron Perine (@SumitLakeHornet): 3. I mean, theoretically they could pose an existential threat. I mean, that meteor that killed all the dinosaurs kind of came out of nowhere too. But, I see no way, (outside of injury), that the Cavaliers don't handle this in five games or so. Too much talent, too many injuries on the other side.
Justin Rowan (@Cavsanada): 2. I might go higher if Jonas Valanciunas was going to play/was himself. The Raptors have historically played the Cavs close for whatever reason and their ability to get to the free throw line can be, frustrating at times. Toronto also has the same nightlife advantage that can make J.R. Smith disappear and show up on a hotel rooftop a few days later. But with lingering injuries to Lowry and DeRozan and bootleg Tristan Thompson playing at center, I just don't see where they have a match up advantage.
Daniel Rowell (@DanielJRowell): Five. I'm on the fence on this one. I think the Raptors are a talented team that have given the Cavaliers trouble during the regular season. The postseason has been a very different look for both teams. The Cavaliers are undefeated and shooting at some impressive but maybe unsustainable percentages. The Raptors have been through 14 games and worked through a set of injuries and shooting slumps in what looked like a group finally finding it's stride against Miami in Game 7. I think this is the biggest threat that the Cavaliers have faced in the postseason and with the Raptors forced to play small with Jonas Valanciunas out for the foreseeable future, it will be interesting to see if the Cavs can keep up the Three-veland look or if they are going to come back down to the mean. It's Cavs in 4 or Cavs in 6, but I'm half-worried.
Ryan Mourton (@Ryan_Mourton): One? Two? I dunno man. Like, Lowry can get hot, so can DeRozan, but they play below the arc and don't defend the arc well. Jonas is hurt.... Their spacing is a mess.... I just don't know. Lowry can go supernova but the rest of the team is a giant shrug.
Trevor Magnotti (@IllegalScreens): Five. If the Raptors are healthy, they have the flexibility on both ends to give the Cavs some issues. Defensively they can defend LeBron better than any other team the Cavs have played, and offensively their drive-and-kick game could give the Cavs' defense some problems. However, that's if they're healthy. They are so very not healthy, so I'm not too concerned that they'll be a threat to win the series.
2. Who gets the better of the battle of the point guards and why: Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry?
CM: It'll be a push. Irving's been way, way better in the postseason than he was in the regular season, while Lowry is again peaking and really carried Toronto over the final few games. If the Raptors didn't need him so much offensively that I think it's going to hurt his defense, I mean lean Lowry just in terms of style. But this version of Irving is one I'm not sure Lowry can totally contain.
SR: Kyrie, four out of six nights. The Cavs starting five is lights out right now, making it harder for the Raptors defense to focus on Kyrie than it will be for the Cavs defense to focus on Lowry. That being said, Lowry is capable of going into superhero mode, and after watching him almost hand the Warriors their first loss on December 5 by dropping 42, beating the Cavs on February 26 with 43 and throwing 35 and 36 on the Heat in games 6 and 7 respectively, it's a good bet that he'll pour it on the Cavs a few times.
AR: Lowry. The Raptors are likely going to have to run everything through Lowry if they have any hope of making the series competitive, assuming Jonas is still out. Kyrie will be an important part of what the Cavs will try and do against Toronto but he isnt Cleveland's only option on offense. I fully expect Lowry to have a great series but I believe the rest of the Raptors squad will struggle.
ARaulli: Lowry may win this battle, but not nearly by enough of a margin for the Raptors to win the war. Lowry is a very good defensive player, and while Irving is very capable of attacking him I expect our offense to feature LeBron James and Kevin Love more often in this series. On the other hand, Lowry and DeRozan will be carrying the vast majority of the offensive burden for Toronto. So Lowry will simply have a bigger role. Efficiency wise I'd favor Kyrie, but it really could go either way.
AP: Lowry, because he will have to in order to give Toronto a puncher's chance. There are so many other threats on the Cavs. Kyrie will probably see a slight reduction in his scoring but his vision and playmaking will hurt the Raptors in other ways. What Toronto needs to worry about is Demar Derozan and if his thumb will be okay over the course of this series.
JR: The Cavs focus on offense so far in the playoffs has been moving the ball, finding what areas of the defense can be exploited and then attacking from there. The Raptors need Kyle Lowry to play so well that he creates a match up advantage every night. So while I believe Irving is the better player and his production will likely be close or equal to Lowry's, I just don't see him needing to put up as many shots or playing as many minutes as Lowry. The Raptors were 29th in three point defense and have no answer to the Cavs stretch bigs, I think that'll be where the Cavs attack in this series.
DR: Based on their postseasons so far, I think it's going to be Kyrie Irving. He didn't have a great regular season as he came back from injury, but Irving is as good if not better than he was in 2015 and Lowry has had some on and off shooting nights in the playoffs. I do think Lowry has been a better overall player this season, but Irving has to do less with that way his teammates are fitting around him and that makes all the difference in this battle.
RM: Kyrie. This is somewhat based in fact, someone based in still being salty about those corny a** iPhone tweets for the All-Star game. We didn't need to see that two years in a row man. It's probably be a push, but RT for a chance to win an iPhone and find out my real opinion on the matter.
TM: Irving. Lowry was awesome in the final two games against the Heat, but the Cavs are a far worse matchup for him than that depleted Heat team. The Cavs love to wall off the paint and attempt to prevent penetration from opposing guards, and while they open up the drive-and-kick this way, Lowry isn't a good enough passer, nor are his shooters strong enough, for that to become a significant problem. Plus, there's the fact that Lowry's elbow, which has behaved lately, could still get whacked one time and swell up again. Irving gets the edge here, simply because he'll have an easier time getting what he wants against the Raptors than Lowry will against Cleveland.
3. Jonas Valanciunas is ‘no where close to a return'. How much of a deal is this?
CM: Huge. The Cavs have really utilized their size in the the first two rounds and Valanciunas is a guy who, while not perfect, can help up front. With the Cavs being a team that can get a lot of shots inside, Toronto needs all of the bodies it can get if/when Bismack Biyombo and Patrick Patterson get in foul trouble. Valanciunas was playing great against the Heat before getting hurt and was really beginning to a emerge in a way he hadn't before. It's a clear loss for Toronto if in fact Valanciunas can't play. Think of it this was: if you're Dwane Casey, would you rather have Jason Thompson or Valanciunas out there?
SR: I think it might be a good thing for the Raptors. Jonas Valanciunas is a better player than Bismack Biyombo, but Biyombo is more of a physical presence who can challenge shots in the paint — something that's extremely important against the Cavs. Patrick Patterson can run in transition and stretch the floor. The only chance the Raptors have against the Cavs is to control the pace and throw out high-risk, high-reward line-ups, and I don't think Jonas fits well into either of those.
AR: I think it is a huge deal. The Cavs have played more lineups with Frye or Love at center in the playoffs and the results have been fantastic on offense. Having the threat of Jonas on the inside would have been a massive boost for Toronto. Its entirely possible that a big Jonas game or even a good Jonas stretch could have resulted in Mozgov seeing the court, which would have been a huge benefit for the Raptors and also taken the Cavs away from using more impactful lineups.
ARaulli: It means Bismack Biyombo will get a lot of burn, which is bad for Toronto. The Cavaliers aren't pushovers on the boards like the depleted Miami team they beat in round two. Kevin Love is a match-up nightmare for him. Bismack will have to choose between leaving the rim unprotected while guarding Kevin on the perimeter, or watch him rain fiery death from beyond the arc. And it's unlikely that Bismack can win the match-up on the other end.
AP: Anything that allows LeBron James to live in the paint is a cause for concern. I can't lie, I felt a tinge of satisfaction at Bismack Biyombo looking like the poor man's Tristan Thompson in the semis. But, against actual post players? Valanciunas' absence means that the raw energy big will have to battle with a frontline that the Raptors haven't seen the likes of in these playoffs. Also, if he gets in foul trouble, how do you keep the Cavs from forcing their way into the paint at will? Creating more questions is never good.
JR: Huge deal. Valanciunas was playing much better than either Lowry or DeRozan and is the only seven footer Toronto has that can walk and chew gum at the same time. Without his ability to get post up buckets in the halfcourt, it makes things far more difficult for Toronto offensively and gives the Cavs plenty of reason to play Frye or Love at center without consequences.
DR: I don't know if it's that big of a deal. Valanciunas was great for the Raptors in the Playoffs up until his injury, but they've been fine with Biyombo. According to nbawowy, in games against the Cavaliers this season, the Raptors were better offensively with Valanciunas off the floor (121.7 vs 108.3 OffRtg). And the Cavaliers have been trying some more mobile lineups with Love and Frye at the five. The question will be how many minutes we'll see from Tristan Thompson, who can't space the floor as well as Love or Frye but is maybe the best rebounder of either team. Defending the paint against DeRozan and Lowry will likely buy more time for Thompson.
RM: The series. Valanciunas gave them a strength the Cavs had to plan for and struggle to match up against, Biyombo clearly does not. You get good defense and rebounding from him, but he's not coming close to what Jonas does offensively. Toronto's chance to contend probably ended with Jonas turning his ankle.
TM: This is a gigantic problem. The Heat exploited the fact that the Raptors had one rim protector in the second half of the series by just throwing Biyombo in the PNR and then feasting on open shots at the rim because the Raptors couldn't leave the Heat's shooters open. Now that they got past that, here's a LeBron/Tristan PNR. And another one. And then here's the Love/Frye frontcourt. And oh, you walled off LeBron OOPS you left Matthew Dellavedova open to do that. Without Valanciunas to defend over the top, the Raptors are going to have a very hard time containing the Cavs' PNR or Tristan on the glass.
4. Name one thing the Raptors do that will give the Cavs problems in this series?
CM: This guy:
SR: They play with a Oklahoma City-like tenacity, a fire that comes from being left out of the conversation too many times. Game seven do-or-dies say a lot about a team. In the final game against Miami, the Raptors outrebounded them 50 to 30, had 27 second-chance points compared to Miami's 9 and led in fast-break points 16 to 6.
AR: Bismack Biyombo looked like Tristan Thompson during the Raptors last series against Miami. Biyombo was all over the boards, offensive and defensive, providing the Raptors with more scoring opportunities and energy. Normally having Thompson gives the Cavs a huge advantage in second chance points but Toronto actually leads all playoff teams second chance points in the postseason.
ARaulli: Honestly, I' struggling to pick something out. The Raptors draw a lot of fouls, so we'll have to keep an eye on that. Force them to make shots from the field, not the line. But it's not really a major concern. They are a team with no glaring weaknesses, but also few great strengths. That might allow you to win a series or two in the Eastern Conference, but a contender needs to be elite at SOMETHING. They aren't, and it will show.
AP: They feature the first wing that can actually possibly stay with James on the perimeter in DeMarre Carroll. He will make it tough to just scoot on by him. Lowry also plays Kyrie pretty well so there's that. Without Valanciunas, the Raptors still face a bit of an uphill battle.
JR: Getting to the free throw line. The Raptors, primarily DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, live for getting to the free throw line and drawing fouls. Foul trouble on the big three or any of the Cavs key members could make a game closer than it should be. The Cavs need to make sure they make Toronto make field goals not free throws.
DR: I think the scoring from DeMar DeRozan will be a problem. The Cavaliers have good all around length but don't quite have the same paint-protection with this year's Mozgov and now Frye/Love. DeRozan can be great when he gets shots inside and gets to the line and I can see that happening a lot with the Cavaliers starting unit and a likely defensive matchup with JR Smith.
RM: They can get hot taking bad shots, I guess? They love to jack up the shots you want them to take and when they go in, you get the last 3 games of the Heat series. When they don't, you get the bulk of their other playoff games.
TM: God bless them, this team is so good at making the shots your defense wants them to take. Much like the 2012-2014 Spurs, the Raptors are totally fine with exploiting the fact that NBA defenses want them to take certain shots. You want to let DeRozan jack up 20-footers? He'll do it, and he'll make a ton of them. You want to give Biyombo free runs to the rim? If he catches the pass, someone's getting dunked on. Want to wall off the paint? Too bad, Lowry and DeRozan will just get your bigs in foul trouble. The Cavs are going to have to defend this team completely differently than how they defended the Hawks and Pistons. We'll see if they have the flexibility to do that.
5. Make your series pick. Is this the first series where the Cavs will lose in the playoffs?
CM: *Activates Ryan Mourton hater mode* CAVS IN FOUR.
SR: Cavs in 6. I think the Raptors grab two.
AR: Cavs in 5, Lowry has a crazy Game 3 to avoid the sweep.
ARaulli: Cavs crush them twice in Cleveland. Back at home for game three, Toronto tries to fight back but ultimately falls a little short. Cavs close it out in game four by a comfortable margin.
AP: Cavs in 5, I'm going with the gentleman's sweep here. I feel like 1 Lowry game will carry the day. But, I would not be the least bit surprised to see the gravy train keep on rolling.
JR: As someone who's watched all 82 games, plus playoffs for both Cleveland and Toronto and covers both teams I just can't see what is left of Toronto getting a game. I think Atlanta is better than Toronto without a healthy Valanciunas and I'm going with the Cavs sweep.
DR: Cavs in 5. I think that there is at least one game where the Cavaliers fumble. This team was too inconsistent in the regular season to be as perfect as they have been so far. I hope it's a sweep but at least one loss on an off shooting night (and maybe two?) seems likely.
RM: Fo. Fo. Fo. But maybe five, who knows man we're all dying slowly anyway.
TM: Cavs in six. If the Raptors get some guys healthy, I think they can win one game with the Terrible Shot Bonanza I discussed in the last question, and I think they'll steal one in Toronto when they potentially have Valanciunas back.