The initial meeting of the Eastern Conference’s two best teams had the Cleveland Cavaliers besting the Toronto Raptors 94-91. On the basis of this highly competitive contest, it’s clear how the Raptors can beat the defending champs in any given game and playoff series, and also why they cannot do so.
The Raptors can run but are too inefficient playing at top-speed. Tightening their fastbreak and early offense situations are certainly doable.
They were able to get out and go mainly because their two bigs controlled the glass–Jonas Valanciunas had 17 rebounds, and rookie Jakob Poeltl grabbed seven in his 11 minutes on the court. Accordingly, Toronto had a 51-40 edge here.
Good defensive rotations forced LeBron into committing six turnovers.
DeMar DeRozan was able to get just about anywhere he wished to go, and was routinely open on isos and when dribbling off weakside, high, and/or double-screens. His numbers were impressive—12-28 for 32 points—but he did miss several open jumpers.
Corey Joseph did an excellent job in defense of Kyrie Irving and was also productive on offense—4-7, eight points. Like DeRozan, he was open on isos and when presented with various screens.
DeMarre Carroll did a more than acceptable job defending LBJ.
Their offense created dozens of uncontested shots and put up 90 shots to the Cavs 79.
The offense was most effective when DeRozen, Lowry, and Joseph played together.
After Kevin Love went on a scoring spree early in the first quarter, Patrick Patterson shut him down.
Lowry made several bad decisions with the ball and also missed five layups—including two in the last 90 seconds. He also missed a critical free throw with 2:37 left in the game.
Hit enough treys—4-16—to make the Cavs pay for jamming the middle on defense.
Terrence Ross was awful at both ends.
Valanciunas was slow helping on ball penetration and failed to show on high screens.
Toronto’s ball movement was erratic as evidenced by registering only 12 assists on their 35 buckets. The Cavs had 20-33.
Toronto’s weakside defenders were frequently sucked too far into the middle on ball penetration. Skip passes then found open wing shooters undefended, allowing the Cavs to shoot 12-32 from triple-land. Irving alone was 5-9.
In the endgame, LeBron simply took over—driving and drawing a key foul, then making an on-target pass while on the move to an open Irving, who bagged a trey that iced the game.
Although the Raptors played hard and never quit, their play was sloppy. This is certainly understandable so early in the season. There’s no doubt that their ragged play will get sharper as the season progresses—but so will the Cavs’.
In any event, the continuing rivalry between those two outstanding teams will be fascinating for the next 6-8 months. Barring injuries to key players, it’s to be anticipated that the Cavs and the Raps will square off in the conference finals.