CLEVELAND – The Toronto Raptors are in trouble.
Perhaps that was the case before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Raptors andCleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland’s dominating 115-84 victory over the Raptors in the series-opener on Tuesday reinforced the point.
“It’s one game,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “The series is not over by any means.”
He’s right, and he also added: “They’re a problem.”
A problem for Detroit, then Atlanta and now Toronto.
The Cavaliers are 9-0 in the playoffs, steamrolling opponents with a punishing offense and winning games by an average margin of 12.8 points, best in the league
None of this is a knock on the Raptors. This is more about what Cleveland is doing, especially on offense, and Tuesday’s victory was destruction of another kind.
In Cleveland’s first two series against Detroit and Atlanta, it won with a barrage of three-pointers, including an NBA-record 25 threes against the Hawks in Game 2.
Toronto made a decision in Game 1 to try and prevent the Cavs from knocking down three after three after three.
So Cleveland, which made just seven threes in Game 1, just went inside and did its damage at the rim, outscoring Toronto 56-36 on points in the paint. The Cavs made 28-of-38 (73.1%) shots in the paint, which is 17.2 percentage points better than the league average, according to stats.nba.com.
“You take away the three, but if you're not careful, you're giving up layups, and that's where we got to get that balance, and I think that's the key for this whole series,” Casey said.
LeBron James scored 24 points – 22 of them on shots inside the restricted – and he made 11-of-13 shots. Irving made 11-of-17 shots, including 6-of-8 inside the paint. They were 22-of-30 from the field.
James is the steam locomotive barreling down the track. Irving is the high-speed train. James uses his strength and size to finish. Irving uses creative angles, spin on the ball and has a shot-makers touch at the rim.
“Tonight, we were able to get downhill and get to the basket and get a lot of layups, and they didn’t collapse as much as the previous teams have,” Cavs coach Ty Luesaid. “We just take what the defense gives us. If they open up that paint, we’re going to drive and attack the basket. If not, then we’ve got to be able to step up and knock down the threes.”
During the playoffs, James has shot down the notion that the Cavs are a three-point shooting team, despite their prolific three-point shooting in the playoffs.
“As I keep telling you guys every single day, we’re not a jump-shooting team,” he said late Tuesday. “You guys kept looking at me crazy about it. We’re not a jump-shooting team. We’re a balanced team, and whatever the game dictates, we’re able to adjust to that.”
That’s been the problem for Cleveland’s opponents. Take away one strength, the Cavs exploit the defense in another area because they have the talent and depth to do it. They won this game with a quiet game from Kevin Love, who had 14 points and four rebounds, his first game without a double-double in the playoffs.
Toronto isn’t healthy, making the task tougher. Jonas Valanciunas is out with a sprained ankle, DeMar DeRozan has a bad right thumb, Kyle Lowry could be bothered by his right elbow and DeMarre Carroll is still recovering from knee surgery. That’s the heart of the roster right there.
The Raptors need to make defensive adjustments, and without question, they can play better. And even then, it still won’t be enough.