Raptors hope to reverse history vs. Cavs
TORONTO -- The Cleveland Cavaliers have eliminated the Toronto Raptors from the playoffs two years in a row.
The Raptors have a chance to reverse that trend this year, starting Tuesday night when they host the Cavaliers in Game 1 of their best-of-seven second-round playoff series at the Air Canada Centre.
The Cavaliers won their way into the second round by defeating the Indiana Pacers in seven games with LeBron James producing 45 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while playing 43 minutes in the decisive game Sunday.
"I'm burnt right now," James said after the game. "I'm not thinking about Toronto right now until tomorrow, I'm ready to go home. Can we? I'm tired. I want to go home."
James averaged more than 41 minutes per game in the series, averaging 34.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists.
The Raptors will be the more rested team, having wrapped up their first-round series against the Washington Wizards in six games on Friday.
When Raptors coach Dwane Casey was asked what his team could learn from the way the Pacers played the Cavaliers, he said: "Playing hard. They played their behinds off, put themselves in position to win."
The Cavaliers defeated the Raptors in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 before going on to win their first NBA championship.
Cleveland swept Toronto in four games in their second-round series last year.
That series loss led the Raptors to change their approach by spreading the attack around more instead of relying so much on their All-Stat guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They also have developed a potent bench led by guard Fred VanVleet, who missed most of the series against the Wizards with a sore shoulder but played 19 minutes in Game 6.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, still depend so much on James, who became the NBA's career playoff leader in steals and minutes played during the first round. He became the points leader in 2017.
James ranks first in points (6,404), first in minutes played (9,415), first in steals (399), third in assists (with 1,543), sixth in games played (224), seventh in rebounds (1,993) and 19th in blocks (216).
The Pacers left Bojan Bogdanovic to cover James for much of the series without help and Casey thought it was a good move.
"I thought it was good for Indiana because it took them to seven games," Casey said. "You are not going to take away everything from anybody whether it's Cleveland or Boston or Philadelphia. You are going to give up something and you have to decide what that is on that particular play or that particular night that you are trying to take away.
"That is what the chess match is in a playoff series. What you are trying to take away and what you are going to digest and live with?"
James did get some help in Game 7 against Indiana from Toronto-native Tristan Thompson, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"We started the game with a unit that we knew," James said Sunday. "All five of us, we knew what we could get out of each other. We've been in situations before, we've played in big games before, so that's a comfort to start the game."
"I just think with it being Game 7, just go with the guys that have been here and been through it all," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue. "They know what it takes."
"I've been telling (Thompson) all series long to just wait his turn until his name is called, and when it's called, be that spark," said Cavaliers guard George Hill, who had a strong fourth quarter. "From the jump, he was that spark that we needed, and I think he just had a phenomenal game -- probably the best I've seen him play in a while."
James praised Hill and Thompson. "Half a game ball should go to Tristan and half to G Hill," he said.
The Raptors do not believe James will be tired when Game 1 comes around.
"You believe he's tired? I don't believe it," Casey said Monday. "I'll believe it when I see him sitting over on the bench, and I haven't seen that very much because he's playing at such a high level. It's amazing the type of condition he's in. We're not banking on that."
"I don't believe it, I bet he'll be ready to go (Tuesday)," Lowry said.
The Raptors do intend to make James work hard.
"He's on a mission," Casey said. "But there's certain things we want to do to make him expend some more energy and there's a variety of ways we can do that. ... I don't want to sit up here and give away our game plan, what we want to do, how we want to do it, what we want to take away, what we want to give them, that wouldn't be prudent on my part."
Updated April 30, 2018