By Frank McLean
It’s the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers meeting up in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year and for the third time in a row overall. And everyone knew that if this Raptors team was going to make it to the NBA Finals they would have to hook up with LeBron James for another post season battle.
The Raptors had lost the Conference Final two years ago four games to two and were swept in the second round last year.
Their playoff record is not that great if you only look at the fact the Raptors are two and eight overall against Cleveland and their only two wins were at home. Toronto winless in the post season at Quicken Loans Arena.
But there are some differences this time around.
First the Raptors will have home court advantage for the first time thanks to finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference. Including their three home playoff games with the Washington Wizards the Raptors are 37-7 at home and the Air Canada Centre is as tough a place for any visiting team to play in as any building in the NBA.
The Cavaliers only made one appearance in Toronto this year but they were thumped 133-99, thanks to the new Raptors style of play of distributing ball until someone has a good look and takes it. As opposed to the isolation style of ball where the focus was on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and all the Cavaliers had to do was shutdown the guard duo and that pretty well did the Raptors in.
They are also a tougher road team, including the Wizards, they are 26-18 overall and let’s not forget how big the game six win was in Washington. Not only did it clinch the series early for a change, eliminating an anything-can-happen seventh game, but it proved that this team can win pressure-packed road playoff games.
LeBron James talked about the different Raptors team he and the Cavaliers will be facing this time around on Sunday after they eliminated the Indiana Pacers in a first round series.
“Kudos to Dwane Casey. First of all they’ve got like 10-to-12 guys who come in and produce every single night. We know the head of the snake is DeRozan and Lowry, but those guys off the bench they come in with the same attitude and the same confidence as the starters. We don’t have much time to prepare so we’re going to go into Game one and just kind of wing and just go from there.”
The big question about the Cavaliers is how tired is James?
In their series with the Pacers it looked like James was playing all by himself against whoever the five players the Pacers had on the floor. James, single-handed, won this series.
In Sunday’s game seven he scored 45-points nine rebounds and eight assists, but with the Pacers trailing by two, 76-74 after three quarters, James was on the bench with a minor injury. And when James got back into the game they were able to get the lead to nine and they never looked back.
But James admitted after the game that he is tired and that he wanted to go home. He did say that with only one day to get ready for the Raptors they are going to wing it.
They didn’t have an easy first round series, don’t have home court in the second round, and that’s what happens when you finish fourth.
So, is this the year the Raptors take care of the Cavaliers?
Things are different for this third playoff series in three years between these Eastern Conference rivals, but one thing everyone was sure of. These two teams were going to have to meet one more time in the playoffs and maybe the third time is the charm for Toronto.
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.