November 28, 2022

New Year, Same Raptors

Is it possible to have both a moral victory and an actual victory in the same game?

If so, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what happened for the Cavs last night in Game 1. Not to sound too much like Captain Obvious over here, but winning on the road for any team in the playoffs is extremely important, especially when you can do it in the first game. That statement holds true more than ever in this series.

Coming off their thrilling Game 7 defeat of the Pacers on Sunday, the Cavs had to be exhausted after only one day off. In fact, even the super-human freak LeBron James admitted he was tired in their postgame press conference. The Raptors, on the other hand, were well rested from conquering the Wizards in their series, 4-2. Still, they’re notorious for lackluster Game 1 performances in the playoffs.

Despite the fact Toronto was once again the better team all through the regular season, combined with having multiple days to prepare, the outcome played out the same way as we’ve seen many times before with their team. They just could not overcome their own mental roadblocks late in the game.

As the clock ticked later and later into the 4th quarter you could visibly see the doubt creeping in the Raptors’ heads. With around a minute left, after a little bit of pressure from the Cavs defense, DeRozan called a timeout. His teammates voiced their frustrations with his decision as they headed to the bench. The culmination of their inability to close against LeBron and the Cavs though came with only seconds remaining. Valanciunas missed multiple point-blank layups to break the tie as time expired. With a defeated look on his face, knowing he could’ve won it for them there, he collapsed to the floor with his hands on his head.

The Cavs jumped out early in overtime, but after some questionable officiating, a clutch shot by Kyle Lowry and great defense on LeBron, the Raptors had another shot to take this one away. Down one, the Raptors looked to their rookie Fred VanVleet to hit the game-winning bucket. His shot bricked off the rim and the Cavs secured the rebound and the victory.

While only one game, winning here was a huge steal for the Cavs. Even with poor shooting from LeBron and Kevin Love, they pulled it off and snatched the home-court advantage away from the Raptors. The one should weigh heavy on Toronto’s already fractured confidence going forward. They’re matched up against LeBron’s worst team in the last eight years with their most complete team in the same period, yet they still suffered the same fate as years passed.

By no means does this mean the series is over, but the Cavs maintaining their mental edge in this rivalry is a great sign.

Image: ESPN

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