Cleveland Cavaliers – 125
Toronto Raptors – 103
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t scared of any shot, be it an off-the-backboard alley-oop or a three-pointer from two feet behind the line. They aren’t scared, either, of taking shots at the pride of the Toronto Raptors.
On Monday it was LeBron pretending to take a drink of a Great Lakes Brewery Dortmunder. On Wednesday, it was LeBron spinning the ball—twice—without a care in the world before draining a three and leading the Cavaliers to a 125-103 win to take a 2-0 series lead over a team many felt would be Cleveland’s toughest challenge in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers have a certain look when things are going right. They don’t just move the ball to find open looks; they penetrate, move the ball, attack, move the ball some more, pump fake, find a guy in the corner, and bury it. On Wednesday night, things were going right, especially on offense.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said before the game that in Game 1 the Cavaliers “didn’t feel us.” As you could see in the clips above, the Cavaliers felt mostly just the bottom of the net on Wednesday. Against the Raptors’ defense, the wine and gold have so many guys that can dribble and shoot that it makes for impossible decisions for any defense, but especially a Toronto one that looks completely lost. Close out too hard and they blow by you. Don’t close out fast enough and they can drain the three. If you stay home on shooters, James and Kyrie Irving will live at the rim. Switch everything and the Cavaliers will find the weakest link and exploit it.
Cleveland made their first eight threes on Wednesday on their way to a 12-point first quarter lead. They would go on to extend that lead to 30 points on the backs of James’ and Irving’s massive third quarter, one in which the two scored 36 of the team’s 37 points.
James finished with 39 points on just 14 shots, shooting 21 free throws and going 4-of-6 from long distance. He added six rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. Irving continued to find the open man, dishing out 11 assists (one more than the career playoff high he set a game earlier) while managing to score 22 points on a rough shooting night.
Head Coach Tyronn Lue admitted the Cavaliers’ focus is to stop Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, even if it means giving up looks to some of their other players. DeRozan finished with just five points, making just 2-of-11 shots with only three assists. The focus on DeRozan didn’t come without a price, as Raptor big man Jonas Valanciunas exploded for 23 points in 20 minutes. Those points were not a back breaker, however, as he was unable to chase sharpshooter Channing Frye off the three-point line, letting Frye score 18 points on just nine shots, going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Lue credited J.R. Smith for taking on the hardest defensive assignment both against the Pacers and now against the Raptors, even coming in during timeouts and saying, “don’t worry about me, I’m gonna continue to get stops.” With Smith guarding Paul George and now DeRozan, it allows James to freelance and create turnovers out of the Cavaliers aggressive trapping of ball handlers. With the Raptors guards forced to get out of double-teams and forward Serge Ibaka looking a step slow on decision making when acting as the relief valve, Toronto committed 13 turnovers. The increased number of transition opportunities has certainly helped fire up Cleveland’s offense.
The Cavaliers defense as a whole played at a level that was missing in the regular season and even in the first round series against the Pacers. They ended the night with a 99.7 defensive rating, bringing their rating down to 101.4 points per 100 possessions for the series. Even Kevin Love attempted to provide some rim protection in help opportunities, an area he has traditionally shied away from in favor of looking for the rebounding opportunity.
Now, let’s look behind the box score:
125 – The new Cavaliers record for most points in a playoff game.
30-4 – Cavaliers record against the Eastern Conference since LeBron rejoined the Cavaliers prior to the 2014-15 season.
2 – LeBron’s place on the all-time playoff points list, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during Wednesday’s game.
10 – Kyrie has totaled 10 or more assists in both games of this series so far. Irving catches a lot of flak for his passing ability, but this year, he has had his highest assist rate since James returned to the Cavs and has shown the ability to get others involved when his shot isn’t falling.
1 – Lie told by LeBron James when he said, “we’re not a complacent team” postgame. The true test of this will be Game 3 in Toronto on Friday.