The Cavaliers hadn’t played since April 23rd, when they finished off their sweep of the Indiana Pacers. Well, they looked very well rested as they ran the Toronto Raptors off the floor with a 116-105 Game 1 victory that wasn’t even remotely as close as the Final score appeared.
Cleveland was defined by its big runs in this game, closing each quarter with a monster spurt. On the offensive end, the Cavaliers kept the Raptors within striking distance by missing some open looks, but when things were clicking, they looked nearly unbeatable.
Defensively, Cleveland did a better job than they had done the entire series against the Pacers. Part of this is the simple fact that the Raptors just don’t have anybody as good as Paul George. Every single pick and roll action initiated by Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan was trapped at the point of attack, and the Raptors bigs were not able to make them pay as playmakers. Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson all failed to take advantage of the four-on-three situations that the Cavaliers afforded them. Chalk this defensive gameplan as a win for Tyronn Lue.
Lue also talked yesterday about how the key to the defensive gameplan was to force DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to make field goals, not free throws. That was mostly a success, as the two combined for just nine free throw attempts. That’s a number you can live with, and the Cavaliers certainly made that choice.
Jonas Valanciunas’ role in this series was a topic of debate, as it’s hard to find a spot to naturally fit him in. He can’t really guard Channing Frye out to the three-point line, and Tristan Thompson has done a great job on him in the past. Those concerns were validated, as Jonas was completely exposed defensively whenever he was on the floor and wasn’t able to make the Cavaliers pay on the other side of the ball.
Heavy lifting was done for the Cavaliers by their three stars. The Big Three finished with 77 points with LeBron James leading the way with 35 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in an too-easy performance. Kyrie Irving was a master facilitator in this one, finishing with 10 assists to only three turnovers while putting 24 points up on the board. Kevin Love rebounded from a brutal Game 4 in Indy with 18 and nine boards.
Richard Jefferson was the odd man out in the rotation in tonight’s game, collecting a rare DNP. It doesn’t appear that Tyronn Lue wants his playoff rotation to extend to 10, even though the team has useful bodies.
I don’t think this means RJ is out of the playoff rotation moving forward. The team just happens to need Iman Shumpert to stick on the Raptors guards, and Toronto’s bigs aren’t imposing enough that you can’t play Kyle Korver in the minutes RJ normally gets.
For the Raptors, a beating like this is tough, but not necessarily a death knell in the series. The Raptors have lost roughly 700 consecutive Game 1s, and when they lose in the playoffs, they lose bad. That hasn’t stopped them from being fairly successful in the last two postseasons, including winning two against these Cavaliers last season.
That said, this could have been worse. The Cavaliers bench unit that features LeBron and four shooters missed a ton of wide open looks, and isn’t equipped to defend well when they’re not scoring. All the reasons that this series might be tough for Toronto reared their ugly head, and Dwane Casey is going to have his work cut out for the rest of the series.
Game 2 tips on Wednesday night at the Q. We’ll see if Toronto can make this a series.