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Raptors offense lags badly in Eastern Conference finals

A top-five offensive team during the regular season, Toronto has bogged down when it matters most

POSTED: May 20, 2016 12:00 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Raptors vs. Cavaliers: Game 2

LeBron James scores 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Cavaliers defeat the Raptors 108-89 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.

— If the Toronto Raptors are to have any hope in the Eastern Conference finals (they don't, but just play along here), they need to match the Cleveland Cavaliers offensively.

Like the Cavs, the Raptors were a top-five offensive team in the regular season. But while Cleveland has taken their offense to a new level in the playoffs, Toronto has mostly slogged through two series and the first two games of this one. Through 16 games, the Raptors rank 12th offensively in the postseason, having scored less than a point per possession.

Unable to keep up with the Cavs, Toronto suffered its second straight blowout in Game 2 on Thursday, a 108-89 Cleveland victory that looked a lot like Game 1, despite some defensive adjustments from Toronto.

Early in Game 1, LeBron James posted up DeMarre Carroll on the right side of the floor. He spun baseline, Bismack Biyombo was on the opposite side of the lane, and there was nobody to meet James at the rim as he laid the ball in.

Early in Game 2, James posted up Carroll on the right side of the floor. This time, Biyombo slid over to the strong side to help Carroll. But that meant that Luis Scola had to leave Kevin Love on the left wing in order to help on Biyombo's man -- Tristan Thompson -- in the paint. James saw the adjustment and zipped a pass to Love for an open 3-pointer.

Toronto Reacts To A Game 2 Loss

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry address the media following a game 2 loss to Cleveland.

The Raptors picked a different poison on Thursday and it didn't matter. James hasn't made a shot from outside the paint in the first two games and it hasn't mattered. The Cavs have too many weapons, too many ways of scoring, and too much LeBron James for the Raptors to have anything more than modest success defensively in this series.

But they could certainly have more success on offense as they head home for Games 3 and 4. They've been able to hang around early on thus far, scoring 28 points in the first quarter of each game, with DeMar DeRozan totaling 22 on 10-for-17 shooting (8-for-12 from mid-range) in those 24 minutes.

Things have fallen apart after that, though. The Raptors have shot 37 percent (8-for-36 from 3-point range) over the second, third and fourth quarters. The Cavs have given DeRozan less space, jumpers have stopped falling, and Toronto's inability to get to the basket and to the free throw line has made things worse.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after Thursday's loss that his team's 33 3-point attempts was "probably too many."

"There are some alleys we can take to get to the paint and then kick it out for 3s," Casey said. "But we're settling a little bit too much, which is not good for us."

The absence of Jonas Valanciunas is a factor. Though he had two quiet offensive games against Cleveland in the regular season, he did hurt the Cavs on the glass and was playing his best basketball before spraining his ankle in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. He would give Toronto a go-to offensive option and would make Cleveland think twice about playing its most potent lineups with either Kevin Love or Channing Frye at center.

GameTime: Raptors-Cavaliers Game 2 Analysis

Steve Smith and Vince Carter take a look at how Cleveland dominated Toronto in a game 2 victory.

But it appears doubtful that Valanciunas will play in this series and Kyle Lowry's struggles have hurt even more. The Raptors scored 111 points per 100 possessions (better than all but four of the Cavs' opponents) against Cleveland in the regular season, in part because Lowry averaged 31.0 points on 66 percent shooting over the three games.

In the first two games of this series though, Lowry is 3 for 21 from outside the paint. And unlike James, he hasn't been able to make up for it with his playmaking, attacks of the basket or trips to the free throw line.

"I'm missing some shots," Lowry said after the Game 2 loss. "Give credit to their defense. They're showing hard, they're rotating, and they're being active. But I'm getting some good looks that I've missed, and I don't think I'll be missing many more of those."

Lowry vows he'll be better in Game 3, but the Raptors will still need more than a big game from their point guard to keep up with the Cavs. And without Valanciunas, Toronto doesn't have a clear candidate to make Cleveland pay for the attention it's paying to the Raptors' All-Star backcourt. Terrence Ross did for a bit in Game 2, but foul trouble limited his minutes.

Ugly offense has been the story with the Raptors for the last month. But Indiana and Miami were better defensive teams than the one the Raptors are facing now. There have been opportunities for the Raptors to break through offensively in Cleveland, but the shots haven't fallen.

If they don't start falling on Saturday, this series will be over quickly.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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