Despite being grounded at the airport, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up making the trip to Toronto, although I almost hoped they hadn’t. The Raptors looked comfortable at home while the Cavaliers didn’t look so hot. Toronto’s dominant performance led them to a 99-84 victory followed by a 105-99 win at home. If Cleveland wants to prevent Toronto from taking the series, they must work on these three aspects, pronto.
Two Legs of the Tripod
First and foremost, two of Cleveland’s big three must perform better. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shot a combined 14.3% (4/28) from the field in Game 1. This kind of efficiency is detrimental to the Cavaliers offense. It is their worst combined shooting percentage since becoming teammates. This poor shooting night shouldn’t happen again, but for Love this isn’t a new struggle. The forward is averaging 17 ppg, but is only shooting 36% from the field. He usually gets to the foul line, but failed to get there in Games 3 and 4.
However, Irving bounced back a little, but still continued to struggle in Toronto. He scored 26 points on 11/21 shooting. Also, he was 3/8 from behind the arc. His shooting woes can’t continue if Cleveland wants to win this series. Irving is a facilitator for this offense. When he isn’t in rhythm, the opposing team forces him into poor decision making. The Raptors have held Irving to just 35% shooting and 26.7% from deep.
If Cleveland doesn’t want to fall short of their championship aspirations, both Love and Irving just need to sink their shots. They seemed to resort back to their old ways. Love must find ways to be effective if he isn’t producing points. This was not the case on Saturday as he only grabbed four rebounds. Love did record seven in Game 4, but it wasn’t enough in a losing effort. Irving was holding on to the ball again and only recorded one assist in Game 3. I understand he was struggling and trying to find a rhythm, but the lack of ball movement is a killer.
Changing of the Guard
On the contrary, the Raptors guards both showed up to play on their home court. They shot 51% from the field and 44.4% from deep in Game 1. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan outscored Cleveland’s big three, 52-40 in the first game and 67-65 in the second. Again, they finished with ridiculous numbers shooting 50% from three and 65% overall.
Toronto is now 5-1 this postseason when their guards combined for at least 50 points. Needless to say, this should be the Cavs’ focus on defense. Cleveland contained Lowry in the first two games, but DeRozan is another story. His numbers have increased every game and is shooting with confidence. In Game 3, 22 of his 24 attempts were contested and DeRozan converted 45% of those shots. Cleveland might put a bigger, more physical body to defend him going forward. The mission is to shut down both Toronto guards.
Win Previous Match ups
Ultimately, if Cleveland wants to win Game 5, they must find success where they found it before. Tristan Thompson and Love need to crash the boards because they lacked the fire in Game 3. Thompson only recorded two offensive boards and constantly lost the battle with Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo out-rebounded the entire Cavs starting lineup, 26-25. No team can win when one man is grabbing every single missed shot. Not to mention, Cleveland has to do a better job than 20 points in the paint. It got better in Game 4 with 36 points, but they couldn’t hit their outside shots either. As stated above, Love and Irving need to make those buckets, but LeBron needs to attack to rim again. He passed up on multiple opportunities to drive when defended by Lowry.