I have to admit I was a little worried about some of the matchups coming into this series with Toronto because of how the Cavs ended the regular season and their inability to dominate the Pacers in the first round. Yeah, they swept the Pacers, but all of the games were close. They also gave up well over 100 points in most of the games, and the Pacers star, Paul George, was able to put up numbers very similar to LeBron’s. I was not worried that the Cavs would lose the series to the Raptors, but I wondered if they would slip into some of their old patterns and lose some games that they shouldn’t. I also thought there was a good chance they could give up some monster games to Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, or Jonas Valanciunas.
Throughout the first three games of the series, the Cavs have squelched my fears about their ability to take their game to another level when they want to, and they have shown that they can play with more effort and tenacity on the defensive end of the floor. I am now back to the point where I believe the Cavs will be well rested and back at the top of their game when the NBA Finals roll around, and no team in the East will provide much resistance to them getting there.
Even though their defense has not looked perfect and they have only held an opponent under 100 once this postseason, the Cavs have shown an ability to make stops when they need to and build and keep big leads. Unlike the first series against the Pacers, the Cavs have been able to go on big runs but then sustain the margin the rest of the game without letting the Raptors feel like they can come back. In Game 3, they weren’t able to pull away until the fourth quarter, but when they did, they were still able to win by a very comfortable margin. The defense has gone through some rough stretches, but they have been able to do enough when they need to on the end of the floor.
For example, DeRozan scored 36 points through the first three quarters of Game 3, but then the Cavs held him to just one point over the final 12 minutes when they pulled away for their victory. The team has also been unable to stop Valanciunas for stretches of time in the post, but they have been able to exploit him on the other end of the floor by making him come outside to guard people. This has neutralized his affect on the game and even caused him to often be a liability to the Raptors when he’s in the game.
The Cavs have also shown the ability to be physical on the glass this series by winning the rebounding battle in each of the three games including 49-25 in Game 3. They have a unique situation in their ability to rebound well against most teams because they have such an advantage at the small forward position. LeBron’s ability to average about nine rebounds a game helps the team’s rebounding edge even if the other team’s post players are able to take advantage of their length in the inside matchups where Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love are generally considered to be undersized for their positions. They both rebound really well and have the ability to run the floor, and Love provides spacing on the other end that most power forwards can’t provide. If the other team decides to play with smaller lineups, the Cavs can crush them on the boards because they can still keep up but generally also have a size advantage with those lineups.
The Cavs have shown the ability to completely dominate the series through three games against a team that made roster moves to try to better compete with the Cavs after being disposed of in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors were without their starting point guard, Kyle Lowry, in the third game, but the Cavs actually did a better job of taking control of the games in which he played.
LeBron has continued to dominate by averaging about 35 points, 9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 2.4 steals per game while shooting over 56% from the field and 48% from beyond the arc. He’s making big plays on defense and doing pretty much anything he wants to on the offensive end.The Cavs have the opportunity to sweep through the first two rounds of the East for the second straight year with a victory north of the border on Sunday. Then they’ll probably have another week off to prepare for the Wizards or Celtics.
The scary thing for opponents is that LeBron is playing some of the best playoff basketball he has in his entire career, and Kyrie Irving and Love both haven’t really shot well so far in the playoffs. If those guys find their groove from long range to go along with Channing Frye and Kyle Korver, there may not be a team in the East that can stop the Cavs from sweeping their way back to the NBA Finals. They will definitely have more of a challenge once they get there, but the Cavs have already proven that when they give their best effort every night and get time to rest, they can play at a whole different level than they did in the regular season.