The Toronto Raptors went into Cleveland for the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs and just like in the regular season, they were easily blown out on the road against the best in the East. In a surprising turn of events, it’s been the infrequently used veteran James Johnson who has far and away the best plus/minus stat of head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation players in this series, leading the Raptors with a -6.5 points in 19.5 minutes per game.
DeMar DeRozan (-16.5 points) leads Toronto in scoring with 20 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting from the field, but it’s Johnson in second at 10.5 points on 69.2 percent shooting and 75 percent from the three-point line. Kyle Lowry (-11.5) misplaced his jump shot again as he’s just 1-15 from deep, but he does lead the Raptors on the glass with 5 rebounds per game – not that leading his team in rebounding is a good thing. Bismack Biyombo, where are you?
The good news for the Raptors is they are returning home for Games Three and Four. Home sweet home is where Toronto took two close games from the Cavaliers during the regular season.
“We are going home,” Johnson said after Game Two. “We got to play well at home. That’s the end of it. They did what they had to do protect home court and now we got to go home and protect ours.”
There is a tendency to get ahead of oneself when a team seems to be establishing a trend and it would be very difficult for any team to recover from a 0-3 hole in a seven game series, but the Raptors haven’t lost to the Cavs at home yet this season and Johnson wasn’t having any of the negativity.
“We are not 3-0 yet though,” James said. “We are going to stick to our game. They are playing really great basketball right now. We are not playing our normal attack (of) gritty get to the line basketball and I think that’s going to change.”
Johnson has always been a solid one-on-one defender who only gets exposed badly at the defensive end when his man is playing off the ball. Putting Johnson on LeBron James is putting him in a position to succeed as virtually all of the Cavs offense runs through James. At the other end, Johnson is almost as big as James and can play almost as physical and when he’s hitting his jump shot, Johnson is a tough cover.
With James constantly complaining his way to a friendly whistle, the Raptors need both Johnson and DeMarre Carroll to soak up the fouls James is going to get the benefit of. Hopefully, Carroll can find his own three-point shot in the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre so these two can average over 20 points combined in the next couple of games.
It’ll be two weeks since starting center Jonas Valanciunas turned an ankle, so there is a reasonable expectation he’ll be able to play one or both of the games at home. However, the Raptors will need a lot of other players to step up their game to hold off the surging Cavs and your backup small forward really shouldn’t be leading your team in any category.