Going into the Eastern Conference Finals, it was widely predicted, no, widely expected, that the Cleveland Cavaliers would be able to handily defeat the Toronto Raptors. This notion was even further strengthened by the Cavaliers’ two dominant home wins to open the series. At this point, the conversation wasn’t even about the series at hand, but more about if Cleveland could complete a clean sweep of the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. Then, things moved to Toronto.
The Raptors won game 3 behind a strong rebounding performance from Bismack Biyombo, but that did little to change the narrative of the series. Though they exposed some of the Cavaliers’ weaknesses, Toronto was still not expected by pundits to win another game in the series.
Well, well, well.
Game Four began exactly how Toronto needed it to; strong play by the likes of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan, and sturdy defense from Biyambo. Judging by Lowry’s 35 points, he managed to find time to “decompress” before the game instead of during it. Tyronn Lue had a bizarre approach to the game, giving big minutes to LeBron and throwing the rest of the team in confusion. It looked a lot like an overreaction to what happened the previous game, and it didn’t work. Not even close. In fact, the Raptors jumped out to a fairly quick 18-point lead in front of an energized crowd at the Air Canada Centre, and held an advantage until the waning minutes of the game. Sure, ESPN and other major outlets will talk about what the Cavaliers did wrong and how LeBron wasn’t put in a position to succeed, but here’s a thought: what if the Raptors just beat them?
Toronto’s Achilles heel all postseason has been their lack of consistency. It’s why their previous two series have gone to 7 games when they really could’ve been wrapped up sooner. Regardless of what Cleveland’s game plan was entering this game, the Raptors clearly had more energy, more determination, and more heart. The difference between Toronto’s first two series and this one, however, is that inconsistent play will not get them to a seventh game. Rather, they will need to play at a nearly perfect level the rest of the series. However, the way the game ended should give some pause to Toronto fans about how Game 5 will play out.
After making some halftime adjustments, the Cavaliers came out guns-blazing, including 6 three pointers in the third quarter to cut the Raptor lead to 9. Cleveland was even able to snag a lead with just over 5 minutes remaining in the game, following a stretch where they scored on 16 straight possessions. Kyrie Irving also got hot in the second half, finishing with 26 points. All of this was too little too late, however, as the Raptors were able to finish strong and thwart the comeback.
So, all of a sudden, the series that was an all but certain sweep is tied at 2-2, and Toronto will live to play another home game on Friday. Is it possible that we could see this thing go seven games? Absolutely. Cleveland will have a chance to get a grip on the series again tomorrow night, but the Raptors at home looked like an entirely different team. Additionally, if Kevin Love plays another game in this series like the one he played last night, the Cavaliers could be toast in the finals, if they even make it that far. Love was 4 for 14, finishing with just 10 points. On top of that, he appeared to injure his ankle in the fourth quarter, sitting out the remainder of the game. Lue said after the game that the injury isn’t a concern, but had love been on the floor for those final minutes, we could be looking at a 3-1 series.
Going forward for the Raptors, Kyle Lowry is going to be very important. As he heats up, so does the rest of the team. However, when he’s cold, as we saw in the first two games of this series, its bad news for Toronto. After the game, DeRozan said of Lowry “It’s a cakewalk for me when he gets going. It opens up everything.” It’s easy to forget what things were like a few games ago when things weren’t going so well for the Raptors. For the time being, all the pressure will be on Cleveland tomorrow night at the Quicken Loans Arena.