Toronto won two Game 7’s during this playoff campaign, while Cleveland swept through both of their two series, and you clearly heard the enthusiasm coming from the Raptors faithful when they exclaimed at the end of Sunday’s game, “we want Cleveland!” Well, you want ’em, you got ’em… for the right to get to the NBA Finals.
History aside, the Cavaliers are clearly the overwhelming favorite after disposing of both Detroit and Atlanta in four-game sweeps, and naturally, the question facing Toronto – despite winning the season series (2-1) – is whether or not they can win one game. For any victories to happen, they’ll have to hope for the return of center Jonas Valanciunas to the lineup, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters after Sunday’s series-clinching win that he isn’t certain of a return date for his starting center.
The last time the two teams faced each other was back in February and basketball followers – and even #WeTheNorth supporters – will agree, we’re watching a totally different Cleveland team now. They are much more efficient on offense, destroying opponents from three-point range; and defensively, they will throw their best tandem – J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert – to slow down Toronto’s All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, forcing the other Raptors to beat them. As LeBron James said, “We are a completely different team than the regular season.”
I couldn’t agree more with that assessment. The Cavs have been terrific this postseason, and while they haven’t had to deal with a lot of adversity since April, as long as they have LBJ on that roster, beating them – for any team in the East – is a monumental task. As I watched them against the Pistons and the Hawks, I was impressed with their performance, especially on the opposition’s home court, as they were never rattled. They clearly handled their business at home, raising it to another level defensively when they’ve gone on the road, and playing at an extremely high level right now.
We certainly know of Cleveland’s offensive capabilities and if they continue their blazing touch from long distance, this will be a quick series. The extended rest they’ve gotten over the first two rounds will prove beneficial yet again, and much like the Hawks in the previous series, if the Raptors don’t win game one, the additional time off will serve Cleveland well again as they await their opponent in the NBA Finals.
I’d like to see the Cavs get a serious test this postseason, especially from someone in the East. Toronto may be capable, and they certainly won’t roll over and make it easy for Cleveland, but I don’t believe it myself. The Cavs are fully healthy right now and they’re seeking revenge as they knock off opponent after opponent, with the hopes of getting another shot at Golden State, but until that happens, Toronto’s set to become their next victim.
Get those brooms ready again, Believeland.