Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
The Toronto Raptors will open up their second-round playoff series on Tuesday at the ACC against a familiar face in LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers avoided a bit of a scare Sunday afternoon when they defeated the Indiana Pacers 105-101 as the Pacers forced them to seven games in their first-round match up. Forcing them to seven games wasn’t enough to get the edge over them, as LeBron and the Cavs quieted the doubters about what could have been an early exit for The King and his team in this year’s NBA Playoffs.
With the NBA releasing the second-round schedule and other respective series already getting underway, the first four games go as followed for Toronto and Cleveland.
· GAME 1: Tuesday, May 1, 8 p.m. in Toronto
· GAME 2: Thursday, May 3, 6 p.m. in Toronto
· GAME 3: Saturday, May 5, Time TBD in Cleveland
· GAME 4: Monday, May 7, Time TBD in Cleveland
Games five, six and seven (not listed) having to be played if necessary. These games will be televised nationally in Canada and in the U.S. being on NBA TV, TNT, and ESPN. Although the Raptors are not new to being in the spotlight, most games against LeBron and the Cavs have been televised in the U.S.; dating back to this regular season and the 2017 playoff series between the two teams where the Cavs ultimately swept the Raptors.
Things are different now though, with a much better bench and the “new culture” this Toronto Raptors team has utilized. The Raptors “bench mob” averages nearly 40 points per game which is currently tied for fourth in the NBA. They also finished this season in the top five in multiple categories, those being assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage and rebounding.
After the recent six game series against the Washington Wizards, the Toronto bench averaged just over 39 points in the series. It's important to note that Fred VanVleet only played in two of those six games with a total of 21 minutes of work putting up and average of only 2.5 points per. But he’s back now and the bench mob is prepared for what’s to come.
The Cleveland Cavaliers bench averages just over 30 points per game in these 2018 playoffs. Although the Raptors can get a bit of an advantage on the Cavaliers bench, nobody can forget the fact that The King - LeBron James - will also be on the court for most amount of the time. In that seven round series vs the Pacers, James averaged 42 minutes played per game, leading his team in four out of the five big stats (Points, rebound, assists and blocks.). They don’t call him The King for nothing.
Dwane Casey and the Raptors will have a big task ahead of them come Tuesday. This series will all be about match-ups. Who will guard LeBron James? Will Jonas Valanciunas get minutes in the fourth quarter? That’s all to be decided. But let’s not forget about the season series between these two powerhouses. Earlier on in the regular season, the Raptors defeated the Cavaliers by a whopping 34 points in Toronto. In that game, James put up 26 points in 32 minutes. But that was all before the NBA trade deadline, when the likes of Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, and veteran and future Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade were on still on that team. Now they’re all gone, and they were all gone prior to the final two regular season meetings between these two teams where the outcome was much different.
In their second meeting, the Cavs defeated Toronto 132-129 in Cleveland. Cleveland had the new faces of George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, and the former Raptor Jose Calderon, in what was such a high scoring affair. The Raptors’ bench outscored the Cavaliers' bench 58 to 23. But the Cavaliers' starting unit outscored the Raptors’ 109 to 71 in what was a poor performance by Serge Ibaka - with six points - and OG Anunoby - with five points. The Raptors are going to need the "Playoff" version of Ibaka,, as well as Anunoby to produce defensively in this series if they want to defeat King James and the Cavaliers.
Cleveland then went on a few weeks later to take the third and final regular season meeting against the Raptors 112-106, with James nearly posting a triple-double in 37 minutes. But that was the regular season. This is the playoffs. Being the number one seed in the Raptors comes with responsibilities in defending home court. Toronto has only won four out of the previous ten meetings against the Cavaliers, only winning one out of those four games on the road. Taking care of home court will be huge for Toronto and if they do that, they can win this series and dethrone LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Are you ready, Toronto?
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