Second Round Opponent Analysis: Toronto Raptors

After a close call with the Indiana Pacers in the first round, the Cavs look to bounce back against the Toronto Raptors. The Cavs took the season series against the Raptors 2-1, with both of their wins coming in the final month of the season. Just like last season, the Cavs face the Pacers and Raptors in back to back rounds and while the Cavs won all eight playoff games versus the two teams last year, the Cavs had much more trouble getting by the Pacers. Much like the Pacers, the Raptors enter this series with essentially the same team as last season, but the Cavs have a new supporting cast which could make this year’s series a completely different experience. As the Raptors attempt to break their streak of losing to the Cavs in the playoffs, let’s see who on their roster is most likely to make that happen.

At point guard is four-time all-star Kyle Lowry. Lowry has regressed since his last two 20+ point per game seasons but is certainly still an offensive threat in any game. He excels from both beyond the three-point arc (40%) and the free throw line (85%), while he averaged a career high in rebounds per game this season at 5.6. Lowry had a solid first round of the playoffs, making 47.4% of all field goals and grabbing more than eight assists per game. Lowry has transitioned himself into a perimeter-heavy shooter, taking almost 63% of his shots from deep, a greater percentage than Stephen Curry. Lowry has historically been a streaky shooter, as he has had some notable streaks of extraordinary shooting in consecutive games, but also has games like the last regular season matchup versus the Cavs, where he shot 2-11. If I had to comment on Lowry’s effect on this series, I believe he is the Raptors’ make-or-break player. If Lowry can’t shoot, he is almost a non-factor offensively, but when Lowry is on fire, the Raptors are very difficult to defeat.

DeMar DeRozan remains at shooting guard for the Raptors and is having yet another stellar year. He averaged 23 points per game and 5.2 assists to go along with 45.6% shooting. While not a terrific perimeter shooter, DeRozan is one of the best in the league at the mid-range jumper, particularly when contested. He is the primary scoring option for the Raptors and the Cavs will most succeed when DeRozan is tightly guarded at all times or off the floor entirely. While that sounds typical for most players of his caliber, DeRozan can be shut down if he doesn’t get into a groove early on. DeRozan is going to average 20 points per game this series, but the Cavs need to prevent him from scoring 30 or 40 to win four games.

OG Anunoby starts at small forward as a rookie and is a new face for the Cavs since last playoffs. Honestly, there is no reason for the Cavs to allow this man to score more than 10 points unless they are just double teaming someone else. Anunoby is not a scorer and is probably not going to be relied on for consistent shot attempts. Anunoby is a quality defender, however, but if he has to guard LeBron I’m not sure if that will matter. He also won’t see as much time on the court as the other starters, but should still play 20 minutes of tough defense and great hustle.

At power forward, Serge Ibaka makes his second postseason appearance with the Raptors. Ibaka averaged 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks this season, maintaining similar numbers his whole career. Yet, his days of shot-blocking dominance are almost over and he has had not the same low-post presence since the league has shifted to a more perimeter-centric offense. Ibaka wasn’t terrific in his two starts versus the Cavs this regular season, but his three-point shooting has made him more of an offensive threat in recent years. Ibaka has shot the ball less often this postseason, averaging 8.8 points on 7.3 shots attempted per game. Obviously, the more import focus for the Cavs in regards to Ibaka is making him guard the perimeter, rather than inside where he thrives.

Rounding out the starting five is center, Jonas Valanciunas. He is an underrated center, in my opinion, as he is averaging 12.7 points and 8.6 rebounds this season, but only while playing 22.4 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, Valanciunas averages 20.4 points, 13.8 rebounds and about 1.5 blocks, which could be considered all-star worthy numbers. Valanciunas has tried to extend his range to the three-point line, but he still takes a vast majority of his shots from close to the basket or via a short jumper. Valanciunas was particularly effective with his jump shot against the Cavs this season, averaging 15.7 points from 66.7% shooting. The Cavs cannot let Valanciunas win rebound battles or dominate the pick and roll as they the Cavs allowed many other centers do throughout the season. If the Cavs manage to keep him at or below his season averages in scoring and rebounding, I think the Cavs are in great shape to take this series.

Much like Indiana, the Toronto bench is one that should be taken with great attention. The player of most concern for the Cavs is possible sixth man of the year candidate, Fred VanVleet. VanVleet averaged 15.7 points per game against the Cavs and made 13/22 threes, but doesn’t even average nine points on the season. VanVleet has had a nagging shoulder issue which kept him out for almost the entire first round, so it will be worth noting his injury heading into tonight. Pascal Siakam was a key part in Toronto’s series-clinching game six victory over Washington and was an effective asset offensively against the Cavs during the season, grabbing four assists in each game as a power forward off the bench. Austrian center Jakob Poeltl had two double-digit scoring nights for the Raptors against the Cavs and has proven himself as a reliable rebounder. Guard Delon Wright wasn’t very outstanding versus the Cavs this season, but can be a difficult guard to score on due to Wright’s 6’5” build and quick hands (he averaged 2.3 steals in the first round). Finally, the Raptors to like to use either C.J. Miles or Norman Powell as a small forward off the bench, with Miles being the three-point threat and Powell the wing defender.

While I was wrong on my series prediction against Indiana where I said the Cavs would win in four or five games, I did acknowledge a plethora of players would who give the Cavs trouble and indeed did, such as Bojan Bogdanovic, Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo.

I think the Raptors are a much better matchup for the Cavs and have proven so in last year’s playoffs and this year’s regular season. Lowry is my x-factor because his shooting is highly reflective of his team’s success in big games. Other players I would look out for include Valanciunas, VanVleet, Siakam, and of course, DeMar DeRozan. I want to say the Cavs will have an easier time versus Toronto, but I am worried about home court for the Raptors, where they play significantly better than on the road and have yet to lose there in these playoffs. If the Cavs can beat out the Raptors on our own home court, then I think this series ends in the Cavs’ favor in six games.

Photos: ESPN

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