Once again, Toronto will finish its playoff run by playing for pride against the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James‘ team has a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference Semifinals after winning back-to-back road games to open the series. Now, the Raptors hit the road, down 0–2 in a series just about nobody believes they can win now and Cleveland is a 4.5-point home favorite to take a 3–0 lead.
When I say that nobody believes Toronto can win this series, I might even include the Raptors’ players themselves. The body language was downright sorry in the second half of Game 2 and after the game Dwayne Casey literally said that his team was playing for pride, just what he said after going down 3–0 in the same matchup last season.
There were more believers in Toronto this year than there were last year, or the year before that. The Raptors were better than they were last year; they had the home court advantage; and Cleveland had just been outscored by 40 points in its seven-game victory over the Pacers in Round 1.
That optimism is gone after the Raptors choked away Game 1 and Cleveland, sensing weakness, brought the Raptors to their knees once again in Game 2.
LeBron James, in his 15th season, is not only playing the best basketball of his career; he’s playing some of the best basketball the world has ever seen. He just about single-handedly beat the Pacers in Round 1 (no other Cavalier scored as many as 20 points in a single game of that series); and he scored 43 points with 14 assists in the latest win.
There was hope that rookie OG Anunoby could disrupt James, but it just hasn’t been the case. James didn’t shoot well in Game 1, which you can forget about. You can forget his 43 points in Game 2 because the most telling statistic is that he’s turned the ball over twice in two games. That confirms what everybody has seen in the first two games: that LeBron James is comfortable.
He’s is too good and too smart to beat himself. The only way you can throw a player as aggressive and as careful as James is to force the action, get into him defensively, and make him uncomfortable. OG Anunoby is long, and quick, and has some strength, but he isn’t good enough, nor confident enough to challenge LeBron James. If you don’t challenge the man, he will throttle you.
The scary part about Game 2 was that Kevin Love finally broke out; JR Smith and Kyle Korver continued to play better; and Cleveland’s supporting cast looked more confident. All of the new pieces from the trade deadline are still acclimating the playing with James, which means there’s still room for them to develop chemistry as they go along here.
I must have been mistaken above, for there apparently are still some who believe in Toronto getting back into this series. Cleveland is affordable at -190 and only giving away 4.5 in the spread. Based on Toronto having no answer for James and Cleveland’s secondary scorers gaining confidence, the Cavaliers should be heavier favorites than that.
I prefer the moneyline because I still don’t trust Cleveland to make this one a blowout, but I certainly like the Cavs, whether you get them straight-up or giving the points.
Free Pick: Cleveland -4.5