Cleveland Cavaliers 116
Toronto Raptors 105
Prior to the Cavaliers’ opening game against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue stated that he felt the first five or six minutes could be a bit dicey. With his team not having played in eight nights and not doing much in the way of scrimmages—instead opting more for conditioning and film—he felt it could take a bit of time for the defending champions to get their sea legs back under them. The Cavaliers, however, had other ideas as they stormed out to a 12-point first quarter lead on the shoulders of highlight plays and solid defense.
In one moment of the game midway through the first quarter, LeBron James stripped the ball from Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, tipped it to Kyrie Irving and immediately pointed to the glass. Irving cruised down the right side of the court and, while he could have easily laid it in for two, lobbed the ball high off the glass as James soared past the trailing Ibaka, corralled the ball with his left hand and threw down a thunderous alley oop.
The play itself stretched the Cavs’ lead to 10-3, but it was a moment that felt so much bigger at the time, and one that would carry the team throughout the rest of the game. The Cavaliers seemed to use the energy from the first quarter, have Quicken Loans Arena fans dump fuel on it, and roll through the rest of the contest despite a few ups and downs with the reserve unit.
“It’s always a concerted effort, but you have to play–you can’t just talk about it,” James told WFNY of the quick start. “We can talk about having a great start and holding a team, but you still have to play the game. I liked our energy. It was very, very good, and it was sustained. It was a mystery because we had that eight-day layoff. Sometimes you can come out with a lot of energy and it can just go away, but for 48 minutes, we kept that intensity up and it worked in our favor.
All in all, it was James who finished with a game-high 35 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 10 boards and four assists. Kyrie Irving, while not as efficient, was fight behind James with 24 points and 10 assists, a career high in the playoffs. The Cavs’ front court duo of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson finished with 29 points and 23 rebounds while stifling Toronto’s Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas who shot just 9-of-21 from the floor, having to earn many of their buckets away from the hoop.
“It was very good to see, especially after the layoff,” said Lue following the game. “The guys came out pushing the basketball and with a defensive mindset. It was good to get off to a good start, especially when you haven’t played in a while. … We had the chance to figure it out last year. We took it day by day. I stayed the course for what we did last year, had a few conditioning days. It was harder than playing the games, but you have to give credit to the guys for staying with it.”
50 — The percent of three-pointers hit by Kyle Kover, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert on the night, combining to go 8-of-16 from deep. Shumpert was the first person off of the Cavs bench (more on this later) after not playing a single minute in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers, each of the four main reserves playing around 17 minutes each.
“We didn’t get close to the shooters,” said Toronto head coach Dwane Casey following the game. “Defensively, we didn’t play with the type of physicality that we needed to. We know that the shooters are going to do. You’re going to slow James down, you’re not going to stop him. There are other things we have to do within our scheme. We have to react quicker in those situations.”
4 – Cavaliers turnovers through the first three quarters. The team credited much of their defensive success on this as it allowed an older, slower team to not have to play in transition for most of the game. Also in the “little things” category, the Cavs hit 22 of 25 free throws through the first three quarters as well.
29 to 20 — Speaking of free throws, Casey was asked about the disparity between the two teams, but he didn’t bite. Instead, he stated that his team didn’t earn trips to the line by playing passively and settling at times. Cavs fans will recall that it was Casey who, in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, went in on how the officials were calling the game, as LeBron James was dominant through Games 1 and 2. Just something worth keeping an eye on in the event he tries to play that card once again.
12 – The weight of the right-armed curl done by LeBron James after he ran into a beer lady on the sideline following a near three-point play.
James would say after the game that nothing he does in those situations are premeditated. And despite the advertising he gave Great Lakes Brewing Company, he added that he wasn’t much of a beer guy. “If it was red wine though, I may have taken a sip,” he joked.
“Everything” — What Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan said needs to change.
3 — The number of minutes played by Dahntay Jones before he was ejected for a second technical foul. Impressive efficiency from the veteran who also managed to go 1-for-1 from the floor with a dunk.
Dahntay Jones just got ejected after three minutes of play. Amazing.
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) May 2, 2017
67.7 — The percent of Jones’ $9,000 compensation from the Cavs that will have been spent on said ejection (which will cost $6,000). Earned, not given, you guys.
A few — Words with Coach Lue following the game.
We’ll see you Wednesday night back at The Q.