6 Reasons Why The Raptors Are A Better Matchup For The Cavs Than The Pacers
6 Reasons Why The Raptors Are A Better Matchup For The Cavs Than The Pacers
The Cleveland Cavaliers have come off what was a gruelling and challenging series against the Indiana Pacers in the first round. It took a herculean effort from LeBron James to lift them over an opponent that actually scored more overall points through the series than the Cavs as the contest went the distance. With the load that James had to take on, as well as the struggles of his supporting cast in just the first round, there has been speculation the Cavs will likely lose in this next round to the more favoured number one seed Toronto Raptors. They’ve met in the previous three postseason campaigns, but this season has people feeling it was the Raptors best shot at dethroning the King.
What people failed to understand though, is the playoffs is, and has always been about matchups and situations, and this Cavs-Raptors series will be no different. Whilst the Cavs looked terrible throughout the Pacers series besides James, this series against the Raptors will suit them much better, and here are six reasons why the Raptors are a better matchup for the Cavs than the recently defeated team from Indiana.
1. THE CAVS HAVE STARTED THIS SERIES ON THE ROAD
This is a massively underrated factor in this series for a couple of reasons. In their last series against the Pacers, the Cavs got jumped early in the series and dropped Game 1 on their home floor. In doing so, it completes changes the outlook of the entire series moving forward. Game 1 in the best-of-seven is always a “feel out game”, and for the road team, it’s a game you can steal, but for the home team, it’s absolutely not a game you cannot afford to lose. Instantly, the Cavs lost home court advantage against the Pacers, and gave the Pacers a sense of belonging and a feeling they could beat defeat them. It well and truly set the tone for rest of the series, as every game from there on out was basically a must-win for the Cavaliers.
Now, the tables have been turned as the Raptors find themselves in exactly the same position. The Cavaliers weren’t expected to win Game 1, they came off a physically and mentally exhausting Game 7 with only one day in between that was used to travel to Canada in preparation for the start of the series. They didn’t lead until overtime, and all of a sudden all the hard work the Raptors put in during the regular season to capture the number seed and home court advantage has been thrown out the window. It was absolutely a game they couldn’t afford to lose, and now they have. Every game for them is now a must-win. If the Cavs take Game 2 this series is over, that’s how significant starting the series on the road was for the Cavs. All they had to do was split the first two games, one of which they weren’t expected to win anyway and they take control of the series. The Raptors are now facing a potential 2-0 deficit that will end their series. If the Cavs however started this series on at home, winning Game 1 wouldn’t be as momentous as it is now.
2. THE RAPTORS ARENT GOOD ON THE ROAD
Carrying on from the previous point, the Cavaliers’ home court advantage has become even greater as the Raptors over time have proved they are a significantly worse team on the road than they are at home. This is the case for nearly all NBA franchises, but if you’re serious about reaching the Finals and potentially playing for an NBA championship, you have to be able to win on the road, and the Raptors aren’t that team. Even in the first round, they dropped two games on the road to the Washington Wizards in underwhelming fashion. They did in fact close them out on the road, but Game 6 in that series was tight, and the Wizards’ poor execution contributed to their early exit. With the Cavs now holding the home court advantage in this series, the road for the Raptors has become even more difficult. The Pacers came into Cleveland with no fear and took it to the Cavs, but you can’t help but anticipate the Raptors putting out a similar showing like they did against the Cavs at the end of the regular season where they held a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter only for James to take over the game and defeat them yet again. Based on what we’ve seen from the past, it doesn’t look good for the Raptors on the road in this series.
3. LEBRON JAMES NULIFIES THE RAPTORS’ SECOND UNIT
All season long the Raptors have had arguably the best second unit the entire association. Despite not being household names, the Raptors reserves have moved the ball better than most, and generated consistent production on both ends of the floor which has aided their entire season and propelled them to the number one seed in the East. Unfortunately for them, this series will see a change in that production because of one man – LeBron James. We saw the Pacers second unit attack the Cavs inside, as the talented big men for the Pacers posed a matchup problem every time down the floor, but with the Raptors it will be a much different result.
We saw something interesting in the Cavs-Raptors Game 1, with James coming out with a bit more than three minutes remaining in the first quarter. This was odd because James usually plays the entire first quarter religiously, but it was a stroke of genius by the Cavs coaching staff and absolutely intentional as coach Tyronn Lue confirmed after the game as James then started the second quarter with the second unit. This completely changed what the Raptors reserves could do, and changed the eventual outcome of the game as the Cavs clawed their way back after finding themselves in an early 14-point hole during the first period. Be prepared to see this the entire series, as James’ basketball IQ and feel for the game will actively seek out favourable matchups that nullify one of the Raptors biggest strengths – their depth.
4. THE CAVS’ ROLE PLAYERS WILL PLAY BETTER IN THIS SERIES
It’s no secret the Cavs role players were truly horrible against the Pacers in the first round. The offense was stagnant, overly dependent on James and no one could shoot to save their lives. This allowed the Pacers to “cheat” off their men and focus on James by shrinking the floor. They were able to switch everything on the defensive end and eliminate driving lanes for James by gambling space off shooters because they weren’t hurting them. This series against the Raptors will be different, as we’ve seen already, the Cavs’ role players will be much better. Expect Kevin Love’s production offensively to increase, as he remains at the center positon with Jonas Valancuinus not accustomed to defending the perimeter, Love can get joy being wide open to knock down shots. Expect James’ assist numbers to skyrocket as well, as he will continue to find his teammates throughout the series. James can score when he wants against the Raptors, but the thing that has hurt them more than anything in the past is the four-time MVP has killed them with his passing perhaps even more so. His reads through the pick and roll are phenomenal, and he sees the play before it happens. With all eyes on James his passing will really be on show yet again against these Raptors. The extra attention willenable his supporting cast to shake loose and play their natural game. Also, for the players alongside James for the first time in the postseason, the initial hurdle (which is always the hardest) has been overcome, and with that, they can settle into their respective roles during this series. It was the first time someone else besides James has scored 20-points or more in a game (J.R. Smith), and expect that number to rise with multiple Cavs’ finishing in double-figures already after Game 1.
5. NO ONE ON THE RAPTORS CAN REALISTICALLY GUARD LEBRON
With all great players, you can only hope to slow them down, and it takes a collective team effort to decrease their production. When you look up and down the roster of both the Pacers and the Raptors, in my opinion, the Pacers had more capable bodies and a more suitable complimentary playing style to try and deal with James than the Raptors. Keeping in mind the previous points about how the Pacers switched defensively on James, it was a steady dose of 6’8” Boban Bogdanovic, big men Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young, and serial pest Lance Stephenson. When thinking about it, all those players are big, strong, athletic (except for maybe Boban) and long. With their floor shrinkage and mentality to switch on defense, the Pacers did the best they could in making life difficult for James. If you look down at the Raptors roster, I can’t see anyone who can realistically even try to matchup with James. In previous seasons Demare Carroll gave James everything he had, but he doesn’t call Air Canada Center home anymore. They’ve tried CJ Miles, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, but none of those players to me seem like they can remotely handle James at all. Their best defense may be to in fact double-team James, but like we’ve touched on, his passing will destroy them. I just don’t see how the Raptors will matchup with James throughout this seven game series. The Pacers did an admirable job and he still had 3 games of 40+ points. The bad news for the Raptors is James wasn’t efficient in Game 1 and the Cavs still won the game.
6. THE CAVALIERS AND LEBRON JAMES ARE THE RAPTORS KYRPTONITE
There is always a sense of optimism around the Raptors and their players before they start a series against James and the Cavs, but that quickly vanishes as they jump the ball up. It’s hard to put a finger on, but James holds a dominant physiological edge over the Raptors and their hopes of beating him. They’ve run into an all-time great player at the peak of his offensive powers, and they simple don’t have an answer for him. They fancy their chances against anyone else in the Eastern Conference, but once they see James on the floor in a Cavs uniform they can’t seem to ever get the job done, which couldn’t be said about the Pacers, who licked their lips at the challenge. Of course it’s a combination of James’ greatness and the points we touched on earlier, but the psychological advantage is there whether anyone wants to admit it or not. It would be even worse for the Raptors now after Game 1 with the Cavs only taking a lead in the overtime period. They were that close, James said it was one of his worst games of the season, he shot poorly, and they still lost. The Cavs and James remain their ultimate kryptonite.