Carter Rodriguez (@Carter_Shade): The Cavaliers came away with a statement win against the Raptors on Monday night, dominating end-to-end in a 116-78 blowout. This was the kind of outcome the Cavaliers probably expected during their time in Toronto for games 3 and 4, but the Raptors have made it a competitive series.
Despite the Game 5 blowout, the Cavaliers still have to win one across the border if they want to avoid a Game 7. In that spirit, we've invited Harsh Dave from Raptors HQ to discuss the series. Have the Cavaliers figured the Raptors out, or should we expect another tough game up North?
Harsh Dave (@IamHarshDave): It's tough, I'm tired of the see-saw the Raptors have been on this entire playoff run, truth be told. They go up 3-2 against Miami, get trounced in Game 6, win handily in Game 7. The fans experience euphoria and then two consecutive blow outs follow in Cleveland. Then they give us the two wins in Toronto. It's crazy and it's been completely unpredictable. This loss was the worst of the lot though, so while I want to paint a more positive picture for the Raptors, it's tough to do so moments after losing.
One pattern has held steady for the Raptors during the playoffs and that's that they play well at home. I think win or lose, the Cavaliers can expect a tough game back in Toronto. At the very least, hopefully they give an effort the fans can be proud of if they bow out of the postseason on Friday. What are your thoughts on it?
CR: It's been a genuinely weird Raptors run from an outside perspective. On one hand, it's clearly, by every available metric, the most successful season in franchise history, right? They've won two games in the East Finals, for god's sake. On the other hand, it's been so aesthetically ugly, and they've had to get some fortunate bounces along the way. They've probably been as frustrating in the playoffs as the Cavaliers were in the regular season. I'm not sure how to process it, but I think in hindsight, that team will be remembered fondly.
The Cavs obviously took control in this game, and did it early on. What did they do differently to create such a different outcome? When assigning credit or blame, how would you divvy it up between crediting the Cavs and blaming the Raps?
HD: I think Ty Lue did a great job exploiting little flaws the Raptors showed at the end of Game 4. In essence that's what playoff basketball is about -- even if you lose a game, you try to find advantages that may carry forward in the next game.
The first thing I noticed was the Cavs clearly made it a point to trap everything on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on the perimeter. Without an effective outlet option, the Raptors struggled with the trap in the 4th quarter of game 4 and all game today.
I also thought it was really smart to get Kevin Love engaged early. As fans, we're quick to dismiss the mental, intangible aspect of sport, and getting Love rolling early against Luis Scola was a nice touch.
In a 40-point blow-out, it's hard to credit one team and blame the other fully. The Cavaliers had a fantastic game plan, had awesome energy, and had all of their key contributors firing in building up their lead. But the Raptors also looked awful right out of the gate, missing shots that went in over the past two games, and still had no counters to the small-ball lineup that the Cavs used so effectively in game 4.
You seeing it the same way?
CR: Yeah, mostly. I think the Raptors just have no answer for the 1-4 pick and roll that Mike Prada excellently illustrated. With LeBron as the screener and Frye as a spacer on the weakside, the help defender either has to abandon Frye, who spits hot fire from three, or to let LeBron rumble unopposed to the lane. It's just not a winnable situation, and the Raptors are going to have to figure out how to force the Cavs to pick a less palatable option.
It's not just schematic though. I love Richard Jefferson, but dear lord, he had his way with the Raptors today. I can't entirely figure out why this Raps team comes out so flat on the road, but it showed on Wednesday night.
Bismack Biyombo only had four rebounds after taking Tristan Thompson's lunch money in games 3 and 4. DeMar DeRozan got to the line, but he only shot 2-8 from the field, and the Cavaliers and J.R. Smith especially playing much more engaged defense.
I can't help but feel like the Cavaliers have this series in hand, but we thought that after the first two games. That said, Dwane Casey already made his strategic gambits, and the Cavaliers have made their adjustments. I'm not sure the Raps have somebody who can hurt the Cavs in the short roll after the trap, and the shooting for each team has regressed to the mean. Do the Cavs finish this off in Toronto, or can the Raptors send this sucker to a Game 7 (and give all of us a heart attack in the process)?
HD: You're right, the Jekyll and Hyde home-road act is giving me nausea, especially when you point out the stark difference in rebounding and shooting depending on which arena the games are being played in. I think Dwane Casey has done an okay job of putting the ball back in the Cavs' court. In games 3 and 4, they treated LeBron like a non-shooter and used Biyombo as the clean-up man in the paint. The Cavs happened to miss enough shots while the Raptors were able to find effective (albeit unsustainable) shooting in attacking the Cavs' lack of rim protection.
With Lue having made the next chess move, the 1-4 dribble hand-off and the trapping defense as we've alluded to above, both teams basically know what's coming. If Lowry and DeRozan have hot shooting nights, or even just good shooting nights, I think the team will have enough energy be competitive at home. My heart wants to say the Raptors push it to 7 and end up losing at the Q, but my mind says the Cavaliers have figured Toronto out, and they'd need a herculean effort from Lowry and DeRozan to steal one back. After this postseason, I just can't bet on that happening.
CR: I'm on board with you on this one. If the Raptors had a little bit more in the way of talent or Lowry was a little bit healthier, I'd imagine that Dwane Casey might be able to make some moves on the chessboard, but as it stands, I think he played his cards. Biyombo should play better, DeRozan might shoot a little better and I'd expect the Raptors to do a much better job in transition than they did in Game 5, but on balance, I think this one ends in 6.