Through the first 10 games of the playoffs, it appeared as if the Cleveland Cavaliers would run the table in the Eastern Conference and head into the NBA Finals without a blemish on their 2016 playoff resume. And through two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, that undefeated stretch was nearly expected.
In Game 3, however, the Raptors let the Cavs and the rest of the world know that they were not ready to die, playing their best game of the playoffs, winning 99-84 behind DeMar DeRozan's game-high 31 points and Bismack Biyombo's franchise playoff record 26 rebounds.
Facing their first real test of adversity, how will the Cavs come out and respond in Game 4? Will they shake off easily their worst performance of this year's playoffs and leave the 6 with a chance to advance the NBA Finals in Game 5? Or will they again struggle in Toronto and give more life to the Raptors?
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors
When: Monday, May 23 at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Air Canada Centre
Enemy Blog: Raptors HQ
Music: No Problem - Chance the Rapper
Things to watch:
- Outside of LeBron James, J.R. Smith and Channing Frye, no one played well for the Cavs -- especially Kyrie Irving, who shot 3-of-19 from the field and scoring only 13 points, the lowest he's scored this playoffs. From the start, he couldn't get anything going from anywhere on the court. Nothing was dropping both inside and outside of the arc and he was shutdown at the basket by Biyombo's rim protection. For as bad as he was in Game 3, this is the first bad game he's had in this year's playoffs. Saturday was the first time he shot below 41 percent from the field. For contrast, his counterpart Kyle Lowry has had 13 games in the playoffs this year where he has shot at least 41 percent. I fully expect Irving to rebound from his Game 3 performance.
- As said before, Irving wasn't the only one to struggle in Game 3. The other member of the Big 3, Kevin Love, was nearly as bad as Irving was. He scored three points on 1-of-9 shooting, but made is night bad was his ineffectiveness on the glass, only grabbing four rebounds. This isn't the first time Love has struggled shooting in the playoffs this year, but has made up for those bad shooting nights by being a menace on the glass. He'll certainly need to shoot better for the Cavs to take Game 4, but if he again fails to control the boards, his almost becomes unplayable, as he was in Game 3 when he didn't play at all in the fourth quarter.
- DeMar DeRozan is playing very well this series. Although he hasn't gotten to the free throw line as much as he usually does. Through the first games of the conference finals, he's shooting 49.2 percent from the field. As well as he is shooting, the law of averages says that there's little chance that this shooting clip will continue. DeRozan has never been the model of taking smart shots, and his 35.5 percent shooting percentage in the first two rounds holds to more of what DeRozan is than how he's playing against the Cavs. How long can those contested midrange jumpers continue to fall for him?
- Will we see a more aggressive LeBron in Game 4? After being somewhat passive throughout the playoffs (while still being able to get his), he's hasn't really went into full-blown attack mode that we've seen out of him in the playoffs before. Tyronn Lue said he should have went to LeBron more in Game 3, as he only took 17 shots. If Irving struggles early like he did in Game 3, expect LeBron to attack relentlessly, considering the Raptors have had no answer for him all series.
Fear the Sword's fearless prediction:
In Game 3, the Raptors played borderline out of their minds and the Cavs played like a pile a crap, and yet it was still a game with just over three minutes left in the game. I don't expect that to happen for either team, and any other way will result in a Cavs win. Cavs win 107-95 and head back to Cleveland with a chance to win the series in Game 5.