By Frank McLean
Boy I was wrong. I thought that maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers were vulnerable and maybe, just maybe there was a slight chance they could be beat.
Boy I was wrong.
That was not the Cleveland Cavaliers team that went 21-20 in the second half of the season. The team that slipped defensively over last year. This team sure looked a lot like that Cavaliers team of the last two seasons in Game One versus the Raptors.
The score was 116-105 Cleveland, just in case you turned the television over to the Blue Jays game Monday night were they actually were winning their third game in a row over the Yankees.
Game One for the Raptors was typical of their playoff history since they entered the NBA, they lost. They are now 1-12 in the opening game of a playoff series.
Now let’s find the positive, they actually competed, but they just were not good enough to steal a victory. They would fight back go on a few runs to cut into the Cavalier’s lead and at one point in the second quarter went on a 18-3 run to only trail by a single point. But they couldn’t get over the hump.
It’s a fact in the NBA that your star players have to be your star players, and LeBron James was just that, dropping 35-points and grabbing 10-boards. That’s what your star player does. He makes a statement in Game One of a series, making sure your team does not lose home court advantage.
James has made comments about respecting the Raptors and it’s not a line that he shoots to the media, he does. He has also made comments about how rabid the Raptors home fans are. He knows the Raptors, if they play perfect basketball, might be the only team in the East that can upset the Cavaliers and the additions of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker give them the best line-up in the history of the franchise. Based on the fact the Raptors won Games Three and Four in their playoff series at home last year, he knows that it’s not the Indiana Pacers they are playing who they beat four straight in round one.
Now if you’re the Raptors what do you do?
Tuesday at practice head coach Dwane Casey sounded more like a sports psychologist than coach.
“Hey, they put their pants on one leg at a time, too,” Casey said. “I haven’t seen them jump in and pull them both up at the same time.”
So what’s the plan? Maybe it’s time to go back and play a little tough physical basketball like I don’t know, like they did in the 1980’s.
The other second round series between the Celtics and Wizards has turned into not only a modern day scoring bonanza but some old time physical basketball too.
Heck Isaiah Thomas lost a tooth in Game One.
“All that’s in play,” Casey was coy Tuesday at practice. “We gotta get a little closer (to them). I don’t know if they felt us last night (Monday) whatsoever. We were half a step off, respecting their speed a little too much, we gotta make them feel us a little bit better.”
The Raptors do not have much room to make mistakes in any game against Cleveland. The margin of error is so small you can’t see it with the naked eye.
Conn Smythe, when he owned the Toronto Maple Leafs, had a saying about being successful in hockey. “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the ice.”
Maybe the Raptors have learnt, “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the court.”
We’ll see if that’s the plan in Game Two. It might be their only chance.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.