For a Raptors squad that supposedly has a deeper lineup and an overhauled offensive philosophy, one would think that they’d dictate the terms against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their third-straight postseason matchup.
Initially, they did. But as evidenced by their fourth quarter meltdown, Toronto apparently still hasn’t shaken off the LeBron jitters.
‘Fearful’ seemed to be the appropriate depiction for the approach that Dwane Casey’s boys made as the game passed. They started off on the right track; by keying on the rest of the shooters in Cleveland’s starting lineup (with Kevin Love playing center), LeBron was forced to create and take tough shots on his own. The result was an abysmal opening quarter, with James going 3-for-5 from the field and the rest of the team shooting just 4-of-18. DeMar Derozan (11 points) and Kyle Lowry (eight points, five assists) also had hot starts to put Toronto up, 33-19.
Old habits die hard, though. Cleveland slowly chipped away the deficit with a 38-point second quarter while shooting 14-for-22 as a team. Then in the fourth, a tough LeBron fadeaway over OG Anunoby with 30 seconds left tied the game at 105 apiece.
Toronto, who played like a team with its tail between its legs, still had a chance to redeem themselves. But instead of setting up a play for one of their two stars, they drew up a shot for main bench guy Fred VanVleet (who’s had a nagging shoulder issue), who then proceeded to miss a wide-open trey. In complete Raptors fashion, they then missed three put-back attempts.
The numbers looked horrible: they shot an abysmal 5-of-24 from the field in the fourth period and missed their last 11 (!!) attempts. They had 14 turnovers against the Cavs’ six. Jonas Valanciunas, who had 21 points and 21 boards, was 7-of-19 for the game and often bricked point-blank shots.
Choking must be standard procedure by now for these Raptors.
To attribute Cleveland’s win to Toronto’s mishaps, though, would be shortchanging the terrific effort that James’ supporting cast put out last night. JR Smith was the first Cavalier other than LeBron to breach the 20-point mark in the playoffs, Kyle Korver had 19 points on five threes, and the maligned Tristan Thompson built upon a stellar Game Seven performance from first round to wind up with 14 points and 12 boards.
The good news for them is that LeBron’s supporting cast, who has been underwhelming all season long, probably won’t be able to sustain this one-game rejuvenation that they experienced.
The bad news? James isn’t gonna shoot 12-for-30 or miss seven threes for long.
They were supposed to have changed. But having their track record played in a supercut in Game One’s loss makes it hard to be optimistic (again) about DeRozan, Lowry and Toronto’s composure – no matter how drastic the leaps they’ve made this season.