Twenty years ago, the Toronto Raptors were completing their inaugural season under then-head coach Brendan Malone with star player Damon Stoudemire taking home the Rookie of the Year award. Flash forward two decades. The classic “Dino” uniforms are now an occasional throwback, Malone is now an assistant under Stan Van Gundy at the Detroit Pistons and Stoudemire is nearly a decade retired and the head coach at Pacific University. The Raptors are also in the Eastern Conference finals.
Let me start by saying congratulations to the Toronto Raptors on taking the season series from Cleveland, winning 2 of 3 regular season games, and also on the excellent performance in Game 7 to finish off the Miami Heat. That said, the ride ends in the 5th game of this series in Cleveland and “We the North” will have finished the deepest post season run in franchise history.
It is significant that, one year ago, a much less polished Cleveland team took a now historic Warriors team to 6 games in the NBA Finals and are firing on all cylinders in this postseason. In the Finals last year they had no Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Channing Frye or Richard Jefferson, all of whom are playing important roles for the Cavs in these playoffs. Irving is leading the team in scoring at 24.4 ppg and Love leads the team in Rebounding with 12.5 rpg and is scoring 18.9 ppg. All this with Lebron playing his do-it-all role, leading the team in assists at 7.3 while scoring 23.5 ppg and grabbing 8.8 rebounds per game, truly forming a Big 3. The story doesn’t end with the big three, however. The Cavs have shot the 3 with incredible efficiency having 4 players (Frye 57.1%, Irving 53.8%, Jefferson 53.3%, and JR Smith 50.8%) above 50% playing big minutes in this year’s playoffs. It seems like whenever anybody does miss, Tristan Thompson grabs an offensive rebound and gives the Cavs another possession.
The Cavs won all 8 playoff games against the Pistons and Hawks and have been challenged by both teams in different ways. Having played the Hawks in the second round, a team that spaces the floor and has two dynamic point guards, certainly helped to prepare them for the Raptors, especially with their center and post up threat Jonas Valanciunas missing Game 1 (and possibly Game 2). The Raptors have played two series that have gone the full 7 games, against the Pacers and Heat. This team is coming in battle tested and hungry and they have a very talented backcourt with All-Stars DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry, leading the Raptors in scoring at 20 ppg and 18.6 ppg respectively.
Bismack Biyombo played very well in Game 7 of the Heat series with 17 points, 16 rebounds and 2 blocks, including a bunch of massive dunks! He was awesome and will need to be a factor for the Raptors to have a chance to win any games. They will need a big shooting series from both Corey Joseph and DeMarre Carroll, but barring injury they will struggle mightily to win 1 game and I won’t be surprised if it’s another sweep for the Cavaliers.
I think the Cavs will double team Lowry on the pick and roll and force the other Raptors to beat them. They will expect DeRozan to continue to shoot with little efficiency and on the offensive end they have just way too much talent for this to be a competitive series.
I think the Raptors will have all of Canada behind them and the crowd will be awesome! Somehow they will manage to win Game 3 or 4 but that will be it, at best.
Cavs roll to the NBA Finals in 5.