What kind of team would the Toronto Raptors be if they won their game ones of a series? With the defeat of Monday night, the Raptors add another loss to their record making them 1-10 in game one of any series. The Cleveland Cavaliers were coming off an 8-day break as they were able to sweep the Indiana Pacers in their first round match-up. On the other hand, the Raptors only had 3 days rest as they (barely) came out of game 6 with a win over the Milwaukee Bucks. You’d think that all that rest would weigh a team down but clearly not for the Cavs Monday night.
The Raptors shot 43.8% from the field and 38.5% from the three. They had 51 total rebounds and were even with the Cavs in turnovers, both teams having 12. When looking at the numbers from that game, it appears as though the teams were evenly matched. So what happened? What factors contributed to this 11-point deficit?
1. Start off on a good note shall we? - The Raptors once again dug themselves into a hole in the first quarter that they would not be able to recover from. Basketball is a game of runs, and it was no more evident than the first one that the Cavs served at the 7:30 mark when they were able to score 10 unanswered points; causing Raptors to trail 10-22. For the rest of the quarter, the Raptors were only able to come up with 8 more points and by the end of 12 minutes, it was 18-30. This set the tone for the rest of the game as the Raptors were always playing from behind, never taking the lead for the duration of the game.
2. KE = ½ mv2 – That’s the equation for kinetic energy and it takes into consideration the mass of the object and it’s velocity. How does this relate? Well Monday night I saw the mass that is LeBron James moving quiet quickly, therefore the Cavs just had more energy. That is not at all how that equation works but what I’m trying to say is that the Cavs had more energy and speed all throughout the game. This was evident at the 9:15 mark of the first quarter when LeBron James gets a steal off a bad pass from Kyle Lowry. Kyrie Irving brings up the ball in a hurry with James on his tail. You then see LeBron just point to the sky as if he’s saying to the basketball Gods that they need to send help from above as he is about to kill a man. Okay, so that was a tad dramatic but basically it was a nasty dunk by LeBron from a pass off the backboard. If LeBron had not mentioned their concerns regarding their energy levels after 8 days of rest, you would’ve forgotten just how much time they had off. The Cavs played off the sluggishness from the Raptors especially on transitions because they knew that if they slowed the game down, it would give the Raptors time to establish their defense.
3. Please no more JV – Look, I’m a huge JV fan and those dreamy blue eyes can work it’s charm on me any day but for this series, he’s just got to go! Everyone in the league knows that Jonas Valanciunas is not the best off a pick-and-roll (he’s actually horrible) and the Cavs exploited this any time JV was on the floor. Many had him as a good match-up against Tristan Thompson because of his size. But on Monday night, it was evident that JV was not cutting it due to his lack of speed and decisiveness against Thompson and even Channing Frye. His numbers show this as he was -21 in net rating and only contributed 6 points and 6 rebounds. Unfortunately with his speed and inability to guard the perimeter, I don’t see a meaningful role for JV in this series.
4. It’s raining 3’s, hallelujah – As Jack Armstrong said many times throughout the night, the three will be a factor in the game as the Cavs got hot with their three point shooting off the bat. Fans need to understand that the pace of a game can change because of the 3-point shot. The Cavs only made 4 more three’s compared to the Raptors but that’s a 12 point difference you see. The Raptors shot 38.5% and the Cavs were 41.2%. You also have to consider that the Cavs have more options for the three-ball. When 4/5 starters can make that three-point shot without hesitation, the three pointer can be your saving grace. This shot was not only working for the Cavs but it worked for the Raptors too during their spurts of bounce-backs. Serge Ibaka was 3/3 from beyond the arc and PJ Tucker would’ve had at least 2 or 3 counted if he wasn’t a habitual line stepper as Josh Lewenberg describes him. You also see a strong presence of long ball from the Cavs bench with guys like Channing Frye and Kyle Korver having this shot in their back pocket. As for the Raptors, the only player off the bench that can make those shots is Norman Powell. Considering this league is now a shooter’s league, the Raptors need to do a better job of protecting the perimeter along with getting their own shooters hot.
5. As Troy Bolton would say, get your head in the game - This series will be as much a mental game as it is a physical game. When a team goes on 10+ point runs, make high-light worthy dunks against you or decide to do comedy skits during the game by drinking beer, it gets in your head. You start to question whether or not this is even a challenge for the other team. The Raptors need to really believe in themselves and understand that if they were good enough to get here, they’re definitely good enough to compete. This is going to be a collective effort from the coaching staff down to the bench players. I’m sure words are said in huddles or behind closed doors of what needs to be done but the Raptors need to win and lose together. They need to continue to hold each other accountable for their mistakes but they need to also step-up to fill the gaps that their teammates have left open. That means making the shot that was intended for someone else or covering the man that someone couldn’t get to. This team needs to play for each other because when all things are going against you, only your teammates know exactly the struggle you’re going through.
The Raptors play game two on Wednesday night and history shows that if they go 0-2 in a series, there’s no bouncing back. But with that being said, we all have to understand that this is just one game of the series. Players and fans know that the Raptors have been here before and have the ability to find their way out of this. Will Coach Casey learn from the last series that waiting too long to make adjustments may cause more harm than good for his team? Will our All-Star continue to show up in order to support the rest of the guys against this offensive juggernaut that we call the Cavaliers? Or will the Cavs prove that they are just too much to handle for this team? I guess we will have to wait until Wednesday night to see if they’ve learned from their mistakes or if old habits really do die hard. For now, let's just remember that it’s the first team to win four that will move on, not the first to win.