By Mike Holzheimer
Two very familiar foes will meet again in a NBA Eastern Conference playoff series, and one opponent is hoping history does not repeat itself.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have sent the Toronto Raptors home prematurely during the last two postseason encounters. That statistic alone has everyone wondering is such a postseason reality truly weighing on the minds of Raptor players, and is this is too much for Toronto to overcome?
The Cavaliers, in an unfamiliar role as the series underdog, will take on the conference’s top-seeded Raptors tonight in Game 1 of their conference semifinal showdown from the Air Canada Centre.
The Cavs were able to win the regular season series against Toronto, 2-1, but those numbers hardly matter at this particular time of the postseason. The Raptors finished off the Washington Wizards in six games during their opening round of the playoffs, while Cleveland had to go the distance against Indiana to advance to tonight’s action winning Game 7 on its home floor.
One key stat might be the fact that Toronto defends very well what Cleveland likes to do offensively— the 3-ball. The Raptors allowed Washington to attempt only 26 percent of its shots from 3-point range, the lowest rate by any team in the first round of the playoffs.
Most experts would agree that as guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan go, so go the Raptors. The Cavs will need a true defensive stopper in the backcourt to keep the Toronto “dynamic-duo” in check. J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver, who will be relied upon heavily for their long distance scoring, must defend Toronto’s guards. A taller Jeff Green might be an answer defensively, while the Cavs front-line defense can certainly look to play off Toronto’s “bigs” to help in checking and contesting the shots from Lowry and DeRozan.
Center Jonas Valanciunas must be forced away from the basket offensively and not get solid position inside the key. The Cavalier offense should also center around making Toronto’s big man come out and guard Cleveland on the perimeter. OG Anunoby showed some offensive aggressiveness against Washington with at least 25 field goal attempts and hitting well over 90 percent of those tosses.
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