NBA Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Toronto vs. Cleveland

If you ask Toronto fans who never stopped chanting #WeTheNorth, the Toronto Raptors say they, like their fans, never stopped believing that they could compete with the elite. They believed in themselves even when no one else did.

So last night in Game 4, marked their most dramatic game of this historic post-season run. The Raptors were able to claw their way back to even up the NBA Eastern Conference finals with a 105-99 victory over Cleveland, leaving experts and rivals reeling in wake of the win.

“Someone mentioned that we were in it just to win one game, we’re in it to compete for a championship,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said post game. “Nobody gives us a snowball’s chance in you know where to beat Cleveland.”

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points, and fellow all-star DeMar DeRozan added 32 more. DeMarre Carroll added in 11 points, while Bismack Biyombo ripped down a game-high 14 rebounds in an exciting victory that came just two games after the Raptors had been written off ater going down 0-2 in the series. Cleveland thought they wouldn’t have to come back to Canada, but they will now for Game 6.

“Honestly, we’ve been playing with our backs against the wall. We never cared what nobody else thought,” DeRozan said. “It was a challenge for us every single day. We’ve been counted out, and we liked that challenge.”

Hope now is not as far-fetched for fans and other Raps enthusiasts and band wagoners, since Biyombo, the energetic Raptors centre has been able to shadow and deter almost any Cavalier. He’s been the base of Toronto’s defence, and Cleveland has not been able to find a way to get around him in Games 3 and 4, and that’s why they lost.

The stats look good too for, Lowry and DeRozan were the first teammates to each score 30 or more points and shoot 60 per cent from the field in a conference final game since Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle for Phoenix in 1993. That’s monumental for this pairing that many were ready to call subpar stars. The Raptors have played 10 home playoff games, the most in the NBA so far; this will be Cleveland’s seventh, which fewest in the league on the road to the conference final. So if Toronto can keep that to their advantage all they have to do is steal Game 5 to win it at home in Game 6. Especially since the Raps are undefeated on home soil, unbeaten by any American team in the playoffs.

In Game 3, the Raptors were able to outscore the Cavaliers 33-23 in the second quarter on Saturday night to lead 60-47 at the break. They did the same in Game 4, 30-17 for a 57-41 edge at halftime on Monday night. But on Saturday, there was no comeback, but in Game 4 the Cavs tried to launch a comeback and almost got away with it as Lebron James and Kyrie Irving, who had 26 points on 11-of-21 shooting after a 3-for-19 night his last time out, were able to pull their team back into things. It just wasn’t enough.

James set up Richard Jefferson for a dunk with 4:53 left that put the Cavs up 96-94 in Game 4, but a DeRozan jumper 16 seconds later tied things up, he made two free throws after Channing Frye missed a three-pointer and the Raptors didn’t trail after that again.

“I thought at the start of the game, they hit us first,” said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue. “We still continued to react until I think late in that third quarter when we got aggressive, started blitzing the pick-and-rolls, just having trouble guarding at the point of entry one-on-one, attacking us one-on-one, taking the challenge defensively one-on-one.”

The Cavs slow start and shody defensive play were the post-game focal points for the Cavaliers in the media. Their play in Toronto stood in stark contrast to their dominating play on home court in the two opening lopsided wins that kicked off the series.

Yes the Cavs did nearly come back in Game 4, the difference being a couple missed shots that could have gone the other way, but then again the Raps have had a lot of luck on their side in the playoffs.

“We felt that we had an opportunity – just talking in the locker room – to not play well and still win that game,” said Lue. “We came up short. We had a few defensive breakdowns that you can’t have down the stretch of a game, especially in the playoffs, and they executed every time we made a mistake.”

How the Cavs respond Wednesday will show if the two losses to the Raptors were just a blip on the screen, or a serious omen of how the mighty will fall, and something all of the NBA’s elite teams will have to take notice of.

Our Pick: Cavs over Raps, 110-104