Save for a very brief run in the second quarter, the Toronto Raptors never appeared to have much of a chance in Game 1 of their second round series versus the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Prior to Game 1, Dwane Casey spoke about the smokescreen that is the Cavs’ poor regular season defensive numbers, citing that Cleveland can flip the switch on defence. Sure enough, it was the Cavs’ defensive accomplishments and how they managed to shut down the Raps that got plenty of attention last night. Here’s what the opposing media had to say:
Fear the Sword (SB Nation)— Cavaliers handle Raptors for easy 116-105 Game 1 victory
Defensively, Cleveland did a better job than they had done the entire series against the Pacers. Part of this is the simple fact that the Raptors just don’t have anybody as good as Paul George. Every single pick and roll action initiated by Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan was trapped at the point of attack, and the Raptors bigs were not able to make them pay as playmakers. Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson all failed to take advantage of the four-on-three situations that the Cavaliers afforded them. Chalk this defensive gameplan as a win for Tyronn Lue.
Lue also talked yesterday about how the key to the defensive gameplan was to force DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to make field goals, not free throws. That was mostly a success, as the two combined for just nine free throw attempts. That’s a number you can live with, and the Cavaliers certainly made that choice.
Jonas Valanciunas’ role in this series was a topic of debate, as it’s hard to find a spot to naturally fit him in. He can’t really guard Channing Frye out to the three-point line, and Tristan Thompson has done a great job on him in the past. Those concerns were validated, as Jonas was completely exposed defensively whenever he was on the floor and wasn’t able to make the Cavaliers pay on the other side of the ball.
ESPN Cleveland— After seven days off, LeBron James and Cavs rout Raptors in Game 1
It was clear that a primary facet of the Cavs’ game plan developed during their seven days off was to slow down DeMar DeRozan, who gave the Cavs problems last season during the Eastern Conference finals.
The Cavs had used some traps against Paul George during the previous round, but they gave DeRozan, and to a lesser extent Lowry, double-teams to try to keep him from getting momentum toward the rim. DeRozan managed 19 points but was just 7-of-16 from the field. Over the first three quarters, DeRozan was a horrifying minus-29 in plus/minus, a number that showed just how effective the Cavs’ strategy was. DeRozan finished a game-worst minus-32.
In all, it was clearly the Cavs’ best defensive performance of the postseason. The Raptors racked up some points in the fourth, but when the game was being decided, the Raptors shot only 43.3 percent through three quarters, with just eight free throw attempts. Overall, the Raptors were held to 43.8 percent from the field and 20 free throw attempts for the game.
Cleveland Plain Dealer— Kyrie Irving proves to be Game 1 difference-maker
Irving, the tone setter, knocked down outside shots and finished tough drives to the basket. He also pushed the pace, something Lue is demanding in this series against the stingy Raptors defense.
But Irving was just getting started. So were the champs.
The Raptors made a few runs throughout the game, closing to within three at one point midway through the second quarter before the Cavs capped another double-digit playoff win at home against Toronto.
In a matchup of Eastern Conference All-Star point guards, going against Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Irving recorded his second career postseason double-double. He tallied 24 points to go with a playoff-high 10 assists while shooting 7-of-16 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point range.
…But Irving relishes these showdowns against Lowry and gave the Cavs what they’ve grown used to this time of year.
It’s that kind of performance that the Cavs will need in order to have the same success against the Raptors as they did during last year’s conference finals. Irving needs to play like an All-Star, he needs to win the point guard battle with Lowry — or at least, keep it close.
That means creating shots for himself off the bounce but also spraying the ball out to deadeye shooters, an advantage the Cavs have against Toronto.
Plain Dealer— Tristan Thompson ready to claim ‘free money’ at foul line if Raptors continue hacking strategy
Desperate, the Toronto Raptors’ typically stingy defense being shredded with relative ease, head coach Dwane Casey had no other recourse. He went to the last-resort strategy, fouling Tristan Thompson — the Cleveland Cavaliers’ worst free-throw shooter — on purpose.
“I am not surprised, especially in the playoffs,” Thompson said of the strategy. “Teams are going to throw that at you and try to junk up the game a little bit. I just got to get up there and knock them down and keep practicing in practice. Try not to be a liability out there.”
Down 16 with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Patrick Patterson wrapped up Thompson, who shot a career-worst 49.8 percent from the stripe during the regular season.
It’s usually a sound plan. Teams would probably rather see Thompson at the line than watch Kyrie Irving wiggle his way into the paint, LeBron James race past helpless defenders or the Cavs launch open 3-pointers. After all, Thompson went 3-of-7 in the first-round series against the Indiana Pacers.
But as soon as it happened Monday, Thompson shrugged it off and confidently walked to the line before burying both.
“Free money,” Thompson said of his approach. “Just have to go up there and knock ’em down. Free money. That’s how I view it.
…After making the pair, the Raptors abandoned the tactic.
Lastly, Shaq, Charles, and TNT’s Inside the NBA crew came to the same consensus as many writers covering the Raptors: Toronto was playing scared (1:00 mark):