In a series that begs the question; just how good is the home cooking? The Cavs lead 3-2 after a hard fought battle in Game 4 in Toronto and an absolute thrashing of the Raptors again back in the comfy confines of the Q in Cleveland in Game 5.
The season series has seen the two best teams in the East never lose at home. A good sign, if you’re a Cavs fan, having home court advantage. It also has you wishing this team could go up North and stick their foot on the proverbial throat and end this in Game 6.
Game 4 was an instant classic! It had everything you could ask for in a high level sporting event. The stakes were high, the competition was excellent, the level of play was fantastic, and the crowd was phenomenal. Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan are the 1st teammates with 30 points & 60% shooting in a conference finals since Charles Barkley & Thunder Dan Majerle did it for the Phoenix Suns in 1993.
The two stars of the Raptors, had their highest combined point total ever in their biggest game together, combining for 67 points on 28-43 shooting.
The Raptors got another monster night from Bismack Biyombo with 14 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, countless changed shots, a 15 foot jump shot in the first quarter and stellar 1 on 1 defense when he was matched up with LeBron James.
Kyle Lowry led the first half charge with 18 points, going 3-4 from deep, helping the Raptors to a 57-41 half time lead. The Cavs shooting 3-22 from the 3 point line in the first half certainly didn’t help their cause.
Kyrie Irving came out hot in the 3rd quarter with three straight buckets early to cut the lead to 10. Lowry answered later with a driving layup to put the Raptors back up 15 with 3:47 left in the quarter. The 3rd quarter ended 78-69 with the Raptors leading and the Cavs looking for answers.
It seems as if whatever buttons being pushed by David Griffin since taking over as GM in Cleveland is working. The second unit being used by Coach Tyronne Lue (promoted after the firing of David Blatt) with the off season signing of Richard Jefferson and newly acquired Channing Frye was completely unstoppable for the first 7 minutes of the 4th quarter. They were 11-11 from the field and only the brilliant play of DeRozan and Lowry in particular kept the Raptors from being dealt a fatal blow. This was back and forth basketball at its best! Like two great fighters going toe to toe and neither person missing for minutes at a time!
The Cavs finally got a stop and a driving layup by LeBron gave them their first lead of the game at 84-83 with 8:20 to play. This after trailing by as much as 18 at one point. It seemed like they were going to grab the upstarts by the scruff of the neck and put them to bed but Toronto kept answering each blow with one of their own. DeRozan and Corey Joseph both had great driving layups sandwich a lob pass from James to Richard Jefferson, followed by a James driving dish to Jefferson again for a dunk to lead 90-89.
Not to be outdone by his All-Star teammate, a 3 point play by Lowry tied the game at 92 and the back and forth continued until a 7-0 run by the Raptors gave them a 5 point lead with just over 2 minutes to play. Kyrie Irving with the shot clock running down hit a DEEP three in the face of Biyombo to cut the lead to 2 points 101-99 with exactly 2 minutes to play.
On the next possession, the Cavs forced a DeRozan miss but Patrick Patterson grabbed a huge offensive rebound and got the ball to a cutting DeRozan for a sweet hanging layup to push the lead back to 4. The Cavs followed that up with a miss and Lowry put the game on ice, crossing over JR Smith on a drive to the hole to end it 105-99 and send the series back to Cleveland tied 2-2.
Heading into Game 5 the pressure was on the Cavs and although LeBron wouldn’t agree, it was a must win situation for Cleveland. How would they answer? Would Kevin Love step his game up? Would the second unit have similar success out of the double high post set that has become almost unstoppable? Game 5 was a different story altogether and it was evident early that the Big 3 was ready to ball!
Kevin Love started early, scoring on the first possession of the game in the post after a Tristan Thompson offensive rebound and a few minutes later added a deep three in transition. His next touch was a pretty fade away jumper off the post again as he attacked Luis Scola early to give the Cavs a 15-7 lead, starting 3-3 from the field. He added another 3 pointer from the corner to start 4-4 and put the Cavs up 9 off a sweet baseline drive and dish from the King 27-18. The next three possessions saw Kyrie make a sweet crossover move on Jonas Valanciunas and drop a floating left hander. A JR Smith steal and two hand power dunk as well as a transition bomb by Kyrie put the Cavs up 34-18 and left the Raptors looking shell shocked! It didn’t stop there as the second unit came in and Channing Frye buried a corner three off a Matthew Dellavadova pass and a Richard Jefferson alley-oop dunk off a LBJ pass out of the vaunted double high set saw the Cavs leading 43-22 only 16 minutes into the game. The onslaught continued with a highlight reel play seeing the Cavs double up Toronto 62-31 off a jump ball corralled by Kevin Love, him throwing a Wes Unseld like outlet pass the length of the floor to a streaking James, who went high to catch it like Randy Moss over a helpless DB and slam it home for another dunk. The following possession saw Love bury another transition three off a Delly pass and the Cavs lead 65-31. The rout was on and the game was over! The Cavs ended the half up 65-34, which was the largest halftime lead in conference championship history.
The Cavs defense was excellent from the outset as they set a tone early trapping DeRozan and Lowry on ball screens, hounding them all night, and holding the All-Star pair to 27 total points. Coach Lue said “Here at home we came out early and we had it in our minds to be aggressive, to be physical and jump on those guys early and we were able to do it.” LeBron James added “We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively.”
They did exactly that. They answered the bell and came out fighting like a champion and ended this one early. Kevin Love scored 25 points on 8-10 shooting in 24 minutes of basketball with the Cavs +31 when he was in the game. The Big 3 combined for 71 points on 27-44 shooting, including 6-10 from deep. As a team, the Cavs shot 44-77 for 57% from the field, including 10-21 from 3 point range and won the rebounding battle 48-27. Tristan Thompson had heard enough about Biyombo and held him to 4 total rebounds for the game.
Dwayne Casey had this to say after the game: “They Kicked our butts…that’s the bottom line…you get outrebounded by 21 and have 19 turnovers. Physically we didn’t meet that standard tonight and for whatever reason we haven’t met it here in this building. So that’s the bottom line, that’s the ball game, it’s been all 3 games.”
The Cavs won this contest 116-78 and now head north to the coast of Lake Ontario up 3 games to 2. They will attempt to end the Raptors season tomorrow night on their court. One thing is certain, they better be ready for a fight because this Toronto group is a different beast once they cross the border.