Toronto held a double-digit lead in Game 1 of its second-round series against the Cavs before blowing it in impressive fashion Tuesday night. Here are four takeaways from Cleveland’s 113-112 overtime win.
The Raptors Stay Shook
It’s a tale as old as time: The Raptors can’t beat the Cavs. When Toronto blew a big lead, the game veered straight into the easy narrative—which was then compounded by Dwane Casey’s quizzical coaching moves down the stretch and the Raptors’ inability to hit shots when it mattered most.
The Raptors got off to a perfect start. They forced LeBron James into tough shots and neutralized the shooters surrounding him. They got scoring from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and efficient play from their bench mob. LeBron didn’t get to 20 points until the fourth quarter, and at one point, Toronto led by 14.
But it all crumbled, because that’s what these Raptors do in the face of LeBron. Toronto lost the lead in the fourth and looked visibly shook in crunch time, getting called for a three-second violation and a five-second violation. Jonas Valanciunas totaled 21 points in the game, but he missed six shots at the rim in the final seven minutes of regulation—all of which could have given Toronto a comfortable lead. Instead, the game went down to the wire, and the home team rolled out the red carpet for LeBron to do his thing:
The Raptors still had a chance to take the lead, but Fred VanVleet missed a wide-open 3 and Valanciunas missed one of several putback attempts. In overtime, apparently invigorated by the fear emanating from every player and fan wearing white at the Air Canada Centre, LeBron and the Cavs finished it off.
Toronto finished the night with 14 turnovers, and the Cavs took advantage by scoring 21 points off of them. This series is simple in theory. Despite having LeBron, the Cavs are the ones with a roster disadvantage, and they’ll go as he goes. But the Raptors are too good and too deep this season to be making untimely mistakes. For at least one more game, LeBron still owns the North.
Breaking News: LeBron Got Some Help
Look at LeBron’s stat line (26 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds) and you’d think he once again had to carry the Cavs like they had a G League roster. But LeBron actually got the aid in Game 1 that he could have used in the last round against the Pacers. Tristan Thompson, Jeff Green, and Kyle Korver combined for 49 points. J.R. Smith added 20. Four non-LeBrons scoring in double digits may be as rare as Halley’s Comet, but it happened.
It didn’t look like that help was coming in the first quarter. LeBron totaled three of the Cavs’ seven makes, and the frame ended with Jordan Clarkson, of all people, in isolation, air-balling an off-balance 3. But the Cavs’ role players arose in the second quarter. By the time the half ended, LeBron, shockingly, was his team’s third-leading scorer.
LeBron finished with 26 points, which is low compared to the performances he had to engineer to beat the Pacers. It was a promising sign. Toronto’s strength is its depth, and Cleveland can counteract it only with some spread-out production of its own.
Valanciunas vs. Thompson Is a Matchup to Watch
After suddenly starting Thompson in Game 7 against the Pacers and playing him 35 minutes, Ty Lue leaned back on lineups with LeBron plus shooters against the Raptors despite the poor defense that comes with them. Valanciunas exploited that approach in the third quarter by going off on Kevin Love in the paint for 13 points, five rebounds, and a block.
But Thompson, who has three DNPs this postseason, was a major factor throughout. His presence gave the Cavs some sorely needed rim protection, and he played at least some part in turning Valanciunas into a ghost in the fourth quarter (when he went 1-for-7). Thompson also grabbed five offensive rebounds and six total boards in the fourth quarter and overtime. Overall, Cleveland finished with 13 offensive rebounds—a stat that’s important because it’s now officially a trend. The three games in which the Cavs have tallied double-digit offensive rebounds during these playoffs have all resulted in victories.
The Raptors started off shooting well from the perimeter and appeared to be on their way to a win. But the game became a grind, and Thompson was able to win the battle in the mud. We’ll see whether Casey can find a way to neutralize him in the next game. The adjustments from both sides begin now.
Kendrick Perkins vs. Drake: The Other Matchup to Watch?
Drake and Kendrick Perkins exchanged more words postgame pic.twitter.com/Z0rdXDe1uL— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 2, 2018
As if the high-intensity finish to the game wasn’t enough, Perkins and Drake had beef. The disagreement apparently spilled over into the arena’s tunnel:
This went all the way into the tunnel, with Drake calling Perkins a "f------ p----" and calling for him to come out. "I'm here in real life," he said. He was mad. https://t.co/3DJ2HBvrWN— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) May 2, 2018
Before you make that Kendrick vs. Drake joke your entire timeline has already made, consider that Perkins told ESPN he was calling “game” to his former teammate, Serge Ibaka, at halftime. The Cavs did win, so Perkins wins this round.