By Ben Browne
The Toronto Raptors wrote an all-too-familiar script in Game 1 of their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night.
They lost Game 1, and in so doing, fell to 1–12 in series-openers in franchise history. Their only Game 1 victory came in Round 2 of the 2001 Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers, a series they would eventually drop in 7 games.
The Raptors knew what kind of opposition Cleveland was going to provide. They knew they were the underdogs. The goal was to go into Cleveland, a place where they have only one victory in their last seven trips, and set the tone for a difficult series.
Unfortunately, though, that didn’t materialize.
They got off to a poor start in the first quarter, which, in the playoffs, will do you in no matter where you play. In a place like Cleveland, their 12-point deficit at the end of the first quarter put them even further behind the eight ball.
That 12-point Cavs lead rose to 14 by halftime, and to as high as 25 in the 2nd half. Although the Raptors made a few runs, and cut the Cleveland leas to 2 one point, it never really felt like they were ever in the game. Each time the Raptors would go on a run, Cleveland would respond with one of their own, demoralizing the Raptors every time. That’s something that separates good teams from great ones. A good team may give up the lead, whereas a great one, like Cleveland, would bend, allowing a team back in, but never break, thwarting the opposition’s chance at a comeback.
One of the major things that did the Raptors in was their inability to effectively defend the 3-point line. They allowed the Cavaliers to attempt 34 threes, and go 13–34 from behind the arc, amounting to a 41.2% shooting percentage.
Not only did the Raptors allow Cleveland to shoot far too many 3-pointers, they allowed them to shoot far, far too many open 3-pointers. It’s one thing to allow a team to shoot 34 three-point shots when most of them are contested. If they shoot and make that many contested 3-balls, then tip your cap. It’s another thing, however, to allow them to shoot 34 three-point shots when many of them are wide-open looks. And that is what the Raptors did. Far too many Cavaliers had clean looks with defenders not five feet in front of them, and when shooters of that caliber have that much time and space to shoot, it’s lights out.
Here are some of the Cavs’ individual 3-point-shooting numbers from Monday night:
Kyrie Irving: 3–8 (37.5%)
Kevin Love: 3–6 (50.0%)
Kyle Korver: 2–4 (50.0%)
LeBron James 2–5 (40.0%)
Combined, those Cavaliers shot 43.4% from downtown in Game 2. Those four players were four of the top five 3-point shooters on Cleveland’s roster this season. (James was tied for 5th with Deron Williams, who was did not make a 3 in two attempts on Monday.) The other member of the top five was Channing Frye, who was 1–3 in Game 2. They also combined to take 23 of Clevelands 34 three-point shots. The rest of the team went 4–11.
Cleveland’s entire rotation is full of 3-point shooters. As Matt Devlin has said countless times on broadcasts throughout the season, “The 3 is the Key.” That could not be a more accurate assessment of the Cavaliers’ game. Their 3-point shooting will either put teams away, or allow them to hang around. Usually, it puts them away.
So, as the Raptors get set for Game 2, the message that must be uttered pregame by Head Coach Dwane Casey is to better defend the three. If the Raptors fail to do so, they have no chance of winning this series. It is critical to keep these Cavalier sharp-shooters inside the 3-point line and minimize their 3-point damage. Better close-outs, better communication and better rotations are all part and parcel to achieving this goal, and all those components will need to be there in full force in Game 2 for the Raptors to have any hope of returning to Toronto at one win apiece.
Ben Browne also writes for Canada Football Chat. You can find him on Twitter here.