Every Toronto basketball fan exhaled a sigh of relief on Thursday night as the Raptors defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 92-89. It was the first time the Raptors won a best of seven series in less than seven games, but it wasn’t pretty.
The Raptors averaged 14.3 turnovers in the series against the Bucks and gave up huge leads. All-Star DeMar DeRozan was inconsistent throughout the series; in Game 3 not only did the Raptors get embarrassed on the road by the Bucks 77 – 104, but DeRozan was held to just eight points, all from the free throw line — no field goals. However, the Raptors got rid of the first-round monkey off their back and now look forward to Cleveland(2)-Toronto(3) Eastern Conference semifinals series that begins Monday at Quicken Loans Arena at 7 p.m. ET on TNT.
It’s a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, where the Cavaliers took the series in six games. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith counted out the Raptors from the jump, but once Toronto won two back-to-back games, Smith delivered a public apology to all of Canada.
That is what Toronto basketball is all about — they don’t go out without a fight and they surprise you.
However, the Raptors and Cavs have new additions since last season. The Cavaliers have home court advantage despite both teams having a 51-31 record this season, the Cavs took the 2016-17 regular season series against the Raptors 3-1. Three of the four times these two teams met this season was during the first six weeks. This means they still had Terrence Ross and no P.J Tucker or Serge Ibaka. Their final clash and final game of the regular season was the one the Raptors won. Ibaka and Tucker were present for this match up, but LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all sat, while DeRozan sat and the Toronto’s starters had their minutes limited. Essentially, Monday will be the first time these two teams face off in full effect.
While it seems that the Raptors poor performance against the Bucks proved them no way able to surpass the Cavs, take a look at the numbers.
The Cavaliers had an 111.0 defensive rating in their four-game series against the Indiana Pacers. Yes, it was a sweep, but they ranked the fourth worst mark of all playoff teams. On one hand, Cleveland’s had no problem outscoring their opponent, but on the other, the largest margin of victory was only by 6 points and Indiana scored over 100 in every game. Toronto will have no problem putting up number against the Cavs, that’s for sure — they just have to be able to stop their opponents from scoring. It could be possible, since Toronto won Game 4 against Milwaukee with their offense and defense, by holding Milwaukee to just 76 points.
But doing so won’t be easy. The Cavs had the second highest offensive rating of all playoff teams in the first round at 115.9, just behind San Antonio at 116.8. LeBron James, who is looking to bring home a second championship to his hometown averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks per game on 54.3 percent shooting and 45 percent from three against the Pacers.
When it comes to guarding LeBron, the Raptors won’t have as much trouble as they did last year. DeMarre Carroll was brought in last season but wasn’t in good health. P.J Tucker had proved that he was the missing defensive piece we needed, and he is sturdy enough to play physical against James. It doesn’t stop with him, though, because Ibaka, Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell are available and bring the intensity. Ibaka’s ability to stretch the floor is a great asset to the offense, and he brings rim protection that is similar to Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors are optimistic when it comes to help from Jonas Valanciunas this time since Valanciunas barely made an impact last playoff series against the Cavs with an injured ankle.
LeBron and the Cavaliers had a week off to rest, study and prepare for Dwane Casey and the Raptors, but Toronto always comes to play.