To bounce back from a 3-0 series deficit is a daunting task. More specifically, it’s something that no NBA team has ever done in the history of the league.
History aside, if the Toronto Raptors do want to accomplish the (highly) improbable and launch a comeback versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, it obviously starts with making serious adjustments in how they guard LeBron James.
James has torched the Raps on the floor and psychologically. Whether it’s a timely bucket to force OT (see: Game 1), a demoralizing 43-point outburst (see: Game 2), or one of the most impressive and stunning buzzer-beaters in NBA playoff history (see: Game 3), the Cavs superstar has been front and centre in leading his team on the road to a potential second-round sweep over Toronto.
Needless to say, the basketball world has been watching James’s playoff brilliance over the Raptors closely. Among them is Kobe Bryant, who earlier this post-season broke down detailed game film of DeMar DeRozan in his new aptly-titled ESPN show, Detail.
Over a 20-year career Bryant earned a reputation as one of the brightest minds (and talents) in basketball. On Sunday he joined Caron Butler and Chris Mannix of Fox Sports’ Chris and Caron to discuss how James has been so lethal this post-season, and what teams like the Raptors need to be doing in order to limit him, particularly in late-game situations.
Bryant praised James for his ability to dictate the ebbs and flow of any given game in these playoffs.
“The game, especially in the playoffs, is all built on momentum shifts, and what he’s been able to do in these playoffs is control the momentum. When it shifts, how it shifts. When teams go on big runs, he’s been able to stop those momentums. It’s a very difficult thing to do, and he’s been able to dominate that this post-season.”
James is averaging a league-high 34.8 points per game in the 2018 playoffs, shooting 55 per cent from the floor, along with 9.5 rebounds and nearly nine assists. Through three games versus Toronto James is averaging 35.7 points and 11.3 assists in 43 minutes per game.
Bryant also paid due for James’ ability and willingness to evolve and expand his game, something James himself says Raptors bench boss Dwane Casey deserves a little bit of credit for.
“I think he’s understanding the importance of conserving energy,” Bryant said of the 2018 version of James. “You see him operate at the elbows, you see him operating below the free-throw line, deep corner. … He’s certainly evolved that in his game; he didn’t have that when he first came into the league.”
As for the biggest point in the scouting report?
“You have to stop letting him go left,” Bryant warned. “Every big shot that he makes is going left. He’s remarkable about getting to that left hand and being able to raise up and shoot. That’s the first thing I would do, disrupt his ability to go left.”
“It’s amazing,” he continued, “all those shots are either coming right shoulder from the post or off the dribble with his left hand. That’s the first thing I would look at if I was guarding him in these playoffs – make him do something different besides going to that left.”
Oops, too late:
Game four tips of Monday night in Cleveland with the Raptors season on the line.