At the end of the 2017-2018 regular season, the Toronto Raptors had most people convinced that they were different – that their battle cry of a “culture reset” was in full effect, with no end in sight. With the best record in franchise history of 59-23 and numerous records broken within the season, the Raptors really looked like they belonged on top of the East Conference. This continued through the first round of the post-season as they were able to get through a 6-game series against the 8th seed Washington Wizards. The Toronto Raptors were finally able to sit atop the East awaiting their next opponent, a position which was very new to them. They had fans and now even the media believing the they had a (semi) clear path to the Eastern Conference Finals, with some even daring to say the NBA Finals…
But enter King James and his Cavaliers.
For the first time in LeBron James’ career he, along with his team, faced potential elimination in the first round of the playoffs. The continuation of the Cavs’ season was dependent on one game, as the Indiana Pacers forced a game seven. But it was the King and his Cavaliers who were victorious as they were able to walk away with the W on their home court in Quicken Loans Arena, winning 105-101.
The road to the second round was not easy for the Cavs’ and most especially for LeBron James. It’s safe to say that this man single handedly carried his entire team in order to keep their post-season run going. We at The Post Up, and most especially the writer of this article aren’t the biggest LeBron fans but we also aren’t blind. To ignore what LeBron James did in the first round just wouldn’t be right. Here are some fun facts about King James and his first-round performance:
- For the first time in his career, he has played all 82 regular season games prior to game 1 of the first round.
- He averaged 41 minutes per game with 34.4 points, 7.7 assists, 10 total rebounds and shot 54.01% from the field.
- He played approximately 286 minutes out of 336 minutes that he could’ve played which equates to him being on the court 85% of the time. Mind. Blown.
- He scored 40+ points in 3 out of 7 games and logged more than 40 minutes in 5 out of the 7 games.
We could continue, but we’d rather not...
With how LeBron’s game 7 post-game interview went, Toronto fans thought their boys had this round in the bag given that LeBron said he’s burnt out and ready to go home. Oh, how naïve we Toronto fans were! Two games in the second round and “here we go again” nightmares are starting to creep in and the “same old Raptors” narrative is starting to make their rounds.
The Raptors were able to win all home games during the Washington series and so going into the second round, the Raptors owned a 28-16 home record, the best in the league. Having home court advantage for the first two games would’ve helped this team tremendously but that idea seems to be a wash now. The Cavaliers have not only won the first two games of this series but they were able to do this while on the road – one of the hardest things to do especially in the play-offs. During game 2, we caught sight of a little boy crying his eyes out as he watched his beloved Toronto Raptors crumble right before his eyes in the second half. That little boy represented the emotions that many Raptor fans feel at this moment – confusion, anger, heart break and simply a “what the f@&%?!” mentality.
Just with the eye test, it’s not crazy to say that the Toronto Raptors are losing this series because of their own mistakes. It would seem like it’s a complete dominance of King LeBron and his team considering they’re up 2-0 but they too are not the same team that swept the Raptors last season. The Cavaliers have not done much to amaze many fans and most of the frustration is towards how the Raptors are playing rather than the Cavs being the better team. Though it’s going to be a tough comeback, one blatantly obvious thing that the Raptors need to do if they want the series to come back home is to get stops and make shots.
With a team like the Cavaliers, you cannot afford to trade baskets and to hope that you can just outscore them would be foolish. In the two games, the Raptors have shot 48.3% (83/172) from the field and 36.2 % from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Cavs have shot 49.5% (92/186) from the field in the two games and 41.7% from the three. If the Raptors are to rely on their scoring abilities, guys like Serge Ibaka, who is currently shooting a very disappointing 23.1% from the field, must show up and make their shots. Even DeMar DeRozan, who elevated his game this season with the 3-point shot has been missing in that regard, going 0 for 9 so far from the three. During the regular season it was all hands-on deck for offense and it should be no different now. Specific guys, like Kyle Lowry and CJ Miles need to be more aggressive when it comes to their shots because that’s what made this Raptors squad so different. So far, CJ Miles, who was brought on as a 3-point specialist, has only attempted 5 threes in two games. Mind you he’s 80% from the three but we need more from him. Another elephant in the room is the lack of production from the #benchmob. In the two games, the bench has only contributed 72 points of a total 222. Considering that this bench was deemed as one of, if not, the best benches in the league, the Raptors play-off run won’t get very far if this second unit keep up this performance.
With the Raptors down 0-2 and the series now heading across the border, The Post Up wants to remind you that it’s not about who wins first but it’s first to four wins. However, that idea isn’t as comforting as it used to be and the likelihood of a 4-0 sweep is becoming more of the reality. During the post-game interview for game 2, Coach Casey was asked how they were going to rebound from this loss, especially when they’re heading to Cleveland where they haven’t had much success winning. He started off by saying that this isn’t the team that earned 59 wins during the regular season and made it through the first round. His solution? Well he did elude to potential line-up changes because he knows that they need to find better options for offense than their current go-to guys like Serge Ibaka. Coach Casey also knows that they need to pay attention to more than just LeBron James because they can’t lose track of other guys. For example, Jeff Green who may have not been there during the first round has been huge coming off the bench for the Cavaliers. So far against the Raptors, he is shooting 75.0% from the field (9/12) and 71.4% from the three (5/7). Even J.R. Smith has shown up as he’s averaging 57.9 FG% (11/19) and 77.8% from beyond the arc (7/9). As Coach Casey said, this Raptors squad needs to pay attention to the finer details of this team because if they continue to go unnoticed, it will be the extinction of yet another disappointing season.
Only time will tell how this team will adjust to this Déjà vu moment and these guys need to dig deep if they want to keep playing. But what is it going to take? What do these guys need to hear in order to wake up? Well, as Coach Casey said, “Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. I’m sure ya’ll already have it written and so nobody is going to feel sorry for us. And so the only thing you can do is play for pride and prove the fact that we’re the better team than we showed tonight.” So let’s hope there’s enough pride left in this squad to make it out of Cleveland alive and bring it back to Toronto...