If there is one thing that Toronto Raptors fans can take comfort in coming away from Tuesday’s 31-point loss in Cleveland, it’s that the team dropped Game 1 against both Indiana and Miami and came back to win the series. Of course, they had home court advantage in both those series and there was no point in those opening games where the opposition went on a 17-4 run to start a quarter. And the opposition didn’t have LeBron James either.
This one started as a shootout, with the Raptors getting out to a 7-0 lead and ending the first quarter down five. From there, however, Toronto appeared to be out of ammo and unable to run with the Cavaliers, who finished the half leading 66-44 and appeared to be having all kinds of fun on the court. By the close of the third, Cleveland was up 95-67 and Game 1 was a done deal.
Kyrie Irving led the way for the Cavaliers with 27, while LeBron James added 24, including two on a monster baseline dunk late in the second quarter. DeMar DeRozan paced the Raptors, collecting 18 points on 9-for-17 from the floor, while Kyle Lowry struggled mightily, hitting just 4 of 14 shots from the field for eight points before both teams turned to their benches down the stretch.
Playing in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, Toronto didn’t have an answer for the Cavaliers, who broke from the three-point bombing barrage they used in the opening two rounds in favour of attacking the basket at will. The Raptors guards could not contain Irving and James was able to get his way whenever he had the ball.
Watching the two teams share the floor, Toronto looked out of place. Part of the problem for the Raptors is that they continue to play without Jonas Valanciunas, who missed his fifth consecutive game after spraining his ankle in Game 3 of Toronto’s series with Miami. The Lithuanian big man helps balance the floor for the Raptors and brings an offensive presence in the middle that his replacement, Bismack Biyombo, doesn’t offer.
While “The Biz” has been solid in Valanciunas’ stead – and put up 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting Tuesday, he’s not someone Cleveland has to commit to guarding, which allows them to pressure the ball-handler and play up on Toronto’s shooters.
The other issue is that Toronto continues to get too deep into the shot clock before attacking, which leads to far too many tough looks and contested shots. Against a team like Cleveland that wants to get out and run and has the thoroughbreds to do it, missed jumpers lead to easy rebounds, quick outlets and layups on the other end, especially when Kevin Love is the trigger man in the defensive zone.
Toronto doesn’t have the horses to match Cleveland in a full court game, so it’s on Lowry and DeRozan to initiate strong half court sets, get good looks and create for their teammates or else this series that started with an ugly loss on Tuesday could get real messy and be over in a heartbeat.