TORONTO, CANADA (WOIO) - Oh Canada!
A year ago, Air Canada Centre was the only road location where the Cavaliers stumbled on their journey to the NBA Finals, losing Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Raptors. They would regroup and take the next two, putting the Raptors away in 6, but as Kyrie admitted following the Game 2 blowout on Wednesday night, they weren't prepared for the atmosphere in Toronto last May. They are now. So, focus won't be an issue. But how else do they avoid making the same mistake?
Keep The Pedal Down
LeBron scored 24 points in their Game 3 loss in 2016, and Kyrie only 13. For LeBron, that's ten points fewer than he's been averaging in these playoffs. LBJ has taken his play to another level, matched only by his performance in Games 5/6/7 of the Finals last June. And he's almost perfected a new weapon, his 3-pt shot, hitting at a 48% rate. If James doesn't cool off (considering his ability to also drive to the rim at will), the Raptors, and any other team not named the Warriors, simply have no chance.
It's a bit ironic that J.R. led the Cavs in scoring in that Game 3 loss a year ago, dropping 22 on the Raptors, because through the first two games this year his role has been different. Sure, he can still bury the treys and break spirits, as he did in the first quarter the other night in Game 2, but...his ultimate contribution has come on defense, stifling DeMar DeRozan. Consider this: when J.R.'s not guarding the Raptors tremendous shooting guard, DeRozan has shot almost 56%. With Swish on him, that number has plummeted to 22%. Incredible.
Lowry, the Raptors point guard, was my key to their chances in this series, and he has delivered through the first two games. But he is also banged up again, continuing a painful season that included wrist surgery, a bad back and now, a sprained left ankle. He underwent more tests after missing Thursday's practice, and is a game-time decision. If he can't be effective, the Raptors can start packing for the offseason right now.
I arrived in Toronto on Thursday and immediately started taking the pulse of this great city and wonderful fans, and they are resigned to the fact that LeBron and the Cavs are just too good. It reminds me of the Jordan days in Chicago. The talent difference is so obvious, it forces fans to go from actually praying for an upset to simply appreciating greatness when they see it. That's where Raptors fans are now. They, like their team, don't believe they can win this series. I thought it would be a much tougher series. And maybe it will get tougher, if the Raptors win tonight. But I doubt it.