The Toronto Raptors have reached a new height of playoff success, appearing in the franchise’s first conference finals. Awaiting them is a Cleveland Cavaliers team thinking Finals or bust. Will the squad with nothing to lose get the better of the defending conference champs?
The Raptors and Cavs will meet in the Eastern Conference finals starting tonight at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The two teams met three times during the regular season, with Toronto winning twice. The home team won all three games during the season series, however, which might be a good sign for Cleveland, since they have home court advantage.
Toronto hasn’t had an easy ride this postseason. Both of its series, against Indiana and Miami, went seven games.
Its calling card all season has been its start-studded backcourt. The combination of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has been tough to stop. DeRozan has led the team in scoring throughout the postseason averaging 20.0 points per game. Lowry has averaged 18.6 points per game, including his 35 in their Game 7 victory over the Heat.
Toronto is sound defensively, but will miss rim-protector Jonas Valanciunas for at least Game 1 (sprained ankle). The Raptors know what they’ll get from their backcourt, but they need players from their supporting cast to step up. Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, and DeMarre Carroll will need to increase their production in order for Toronto to have a chance in this series.
Cleveland has had a joy ride through this year’s playoffs so far. It swept its first two opponents, Detroit and Atlanta, making the Cavs the only undefeated playoff team. Its roster is built around the “Big 3” of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Irving has averaged 24.4 points per game in the postseason, which leads the team. James has averaged 23.5 points per game, and Love 18.9.
Cleveland has caught fire from beyond the arc at the right time. The Cavaliers shot 51% from three-point range against Atlanta, and were the first team in NBA history to make at least 15 threes in four straight games. Cleveland’s defense has allowed an average of 97 points during the playoffs, but expect that to change when they face Toronto's backcourt.
While the Raptors are a trendy pick because of their backcourt, injuries to their frontcourt will make it difficult to win this series. Also, the way Cleveland is shooting, it will be very difficult to stop them. Not to mention: LeBron James.
The Cavaliers will win in five.
Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images (action), Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images (Lowry), Dave Sandford/NBAE via Getty Images (James)