Article Written by Jacob Pacheco (@JacobPacheco6)
It was a rough night for the Raptors as well as the city of Toronto and everyone who supports the Raptors once again last night.
It's being called a disappointing and heartbreaking second round series for this “new cultured” Raptors team and organization. They just do not have an answer for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers who daggered the hearts of the Raptors and their fan base with a buzzer beating shot from The King himself, LeBron James. This led to a Cavs win - 105-103 - and Cleveland taking a 3-0 strangle hold on this second round series.
If history continues to repeat itself, it certainly doesn’t look good for Toronto. Teams who go down 0-3 in a playoff series and succeed to come back in seven games to win the series are a total 0-127 in NBA history. Unfortunately, the Raptors are going down that rough path of yet another team falling victim to this one piece of history.
It’s no doubt that LeBron James is one of the best players in NBA history. The Toronto Raptors and Dwane Casey have yet to find an answer to stop The King. With the Raptors falling to the Cavs nine straight times in the post-season and who lost their first two games of this series at home, Casey finally knew it was time for a change to the lineup ahead of Game 3. Catching everybody off guard last night, Casey went with Fred VanVleet in the starting lineup. This meant Serge Ibaka would not start and OG Anunoby would slide down to the power forward position to guard LeBron James.
That lineup change did not help. Cleveland came out firing in Game 3 in the opening minutes as Toronto were not looking sharp at all. Cleveland came out on a 16-4 run to start the game. From there, Casey knew that the aforementioned lineup change wasn’t working and had to immediately switch things up. None of this mattered until the final quarter. The Raptors battled back to tie the game late, but ultimately fell in a gut-wrenching buzzer beater from James that has now sent the Cavs to lead the series up 3-0.
So, what’s next for Toronto? Game 3 featured a total of zero minutes for Jakob Poeltl and no fourth quarter minutes for all-star DeMar DeRozan - who finished with a total of eight points in 27 minutes shooting 3 of 12 in the game. What’s the game plan for Game 4? Another switch in the lineup could be in the works, in hopes that they play the same defense as last night. If so, Toronto has a great chance as stealing one in Cleveland and having some life coming back to Toronto for a possible Game 5.
The Raptors are going to need DeRozan to step up, and in a big way. Eight points just won’t cut it. Fred VanVleet's eight points in 33 minutes shooting two of nine from the field won’t cut it either. Raptors fans could see another possible lineup change with Delon Wright taking the spot over Fred VanVleet or even CJ Miles who had a game with 13 points on five of nine shooting and some big threes including a huge four-point play. But another lineup change is imminent for Casey and his squad for Game 4.
The defense was great. Although LeBron had 38 points and that buzzer beater that left all of Toronto in awe, this is what Raptors fans have been asking for all series. To let James have his way and to not fall for the deep dribble penetration for easy and wide open three balls. The Cavs shot a total nine of 25 from three. 36%. This saw JR Smith find his way to zero points, but gave Kyle Korver his way to carry the load putting up 18 points on six of eight shooting. The Raptors did not play bad, they just did not play well enough and didn’t execute on what was a very winnable game for them.
This is the Raptors team that faced so much hype and expectation this season and going into the playoffs despite the playoff bracket and ultimate meet up with LeBron currently in the second round. The city was in a buzz after the franchise’s best regular season and everything was looking up for Toronto and the eyes on a championship was in sight. Arguably the best bench in the NBA, with a great coaching staff and youth, this was the team. This was the year. Until now.
Despite a game two blowout, the Raptors have lost to Cavs in Games One and Three by a total of three points. It can easily be a 2-1 series for the Cavs. Or a 2-1 series lead for the Raptors, but it’s not, and Toronto has to scrap and claw to keep their season alive on Monday for Game 4 in Cleveland.
If the season does come to an end Monday night in Cleveland, it should be an interesting off-season with many questions to ask. What’s next? Everyone thought this was the year. An NBA championship was finally going to come to Toronto, until the future Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever play the game - LeBron James - had something to say about it. Which leads one to ask, where will LeBron go? Will he stay in Cleveland, or move on to a bigger and better market in the Los Angeles Lakers?
Nonetheless, with many questions yet to be asked, the season isn’t over and the Raptors’ won’t give up easy. With the common theme at the end of games being “this is our game seven” or “we’re going to take it one game at a time.” It all comes down to Game Four. Will the Raptors season continue? Or will LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers sweep the Toronto Raptors once again?
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