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Cavs' pick-your-poison play puts scare into Raptors crowd

Cleveland scores on 14 straight second-half possessions but defense comes up short in 105-99 Game 4 loss to Toronto

POSTED: May 24, 2016 4:06 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann


Cavaliers vs. Raptors: Game 4

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan address the media after defeating the Cavaliers in Game 4.

— The Cleveland Cavaliers found something that worked and the Toronto Raptors couldn't stop it. Then they did stop it, the Cavs gave up on it, and they lost Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

LeBron James is a threat, attacking the basket, in the post, or even as high-post passer-and-roll man like a Marc Gasol. That was the magic that the Cavs found early in the fourth quarter of their 105-99 loss in Game 4 on Monday night, with James playing center (or point guard, or both) in an offensive set that the Raptors were helpless against.

On seven possessions in the fourth, the Cavs ran the same play. And it worked in six different ways.

James would catch the ball at the right elbow. Matthew Dellavedova would set a back-screen for Richard Jefferson on the other side of the paint and then circle around James and take a hand-off. James would roll to the basket as Channing Frye circled from the left corner to the left wing.

It's the ultimate pick-your-poison play, with James at the center of it.

Raptors Tie Series

Head coach Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan address the media after defeating the Cavaliers to tie the series at 2-2.

The first time the Cavs ran it, Patrick Patterson tried to help on James' roll and gave Frye just too much space behind the arc on the weak side, where Dellavedova found him with a brilliant, cross-court pass. The second time, Bismack Biyombo helped off Frye because James found Jefferson open under the basket off the back-screen. Jefferson then turned and found Frye for a corner 3.

On the next possession, Biyombo stayed at home on Frye when James rolled the basket after the hand-off. The result was an easy dunk for James and a "What am I supposed to do?" look on Biyombo's face.

After a James drive past Patterson in transition, the Cavs ran the play again. The Raptors switched the back-screen, so James just lobbed the ball to Jefferson, who laid it in over Kyle Lowry. The next time down the floor, Patterson sank back after the hand-off so James couldn't run free to the basket. And that just allowed Dellavedova to stroll in for a short runner.

The Raptors kept making minor adjustments to how they defend the play, and the Cavs just kept finding different ways to score with it. Dellavedova, Frye, James and Jefferson all got easy buckets out of the same play and what was an 11-point game near the end of the third quarter became a back-and-forth affair midway through the fourth. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the bench, James and the reserves were scaring the **** out of the Toronto crowd.

But the Cavs couldn't get enough stops on the other end of the floor to put the home team away. After a timeout, they mixed things up a little, running straight pick-and-rolls with Dellavedova and James that resulted in two more dunks, which sandwiched a pair of James free throws off a Toronto turnover.

I definitely thought we had finally got over the curve of how we want to play here in this building. But you've still got to get stops.

– Cavaliers forward LeBron James

The Cavs went more than nine minutes without missing a shot, scoring on 14 straight possessions, the last two of the third quarter and the first 12 of the fourth. But they were still up only two points.

And then ... the Raptors finally got a stop. The Cavs went back to the high-post hand-off play, with Irving in Dellavedova's role. But this time, Kyle Lowry blew it up ... three times in 11 seconds. He sagged off Irving to keep Jefferson away from the basket, he forced his way between James and Irving so they couldn't execute the hand-off, and he contested a Frye corner 3 after Biyombo switched onto Irving on a weak-side pick-and-pop.

"We got one stop on it," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, "which was big."

That was the end of the Cavs' run and their usage of the play that had all of Toronto in a panic. After scoring 14 straight times (making 13 straight shots from the field), Cleveland got only one bucket on its final nine possessions. Toronto ended the game on an 11-3 run, tying the series at two games apiece with a 105-99 victory.

"We came back and tried to run something similar," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "We went to the handoff and tried to go back-door and we turned the basketball over. And it kind of seemed to get the momentum going the other way."

Cavaliers Drop Game 4

Cavaliers head back to Cleveland with the series tied at 2-2.

The ball movement stopped. The scoring stopped. The Cavs got Lowry switched onto James in the low post on three straight possessions late, but James let him off the hook all three times by passing out of it. And the other end of the floor continued to be a problem.

"I definitely thought we had finally got over the curve of how we want to play here in this building," James said. "But you've still got to get stops."

The Cavs didn't. Ultimately, the story of Games 3 and 4 is about how bad their defense has looked. The Raptors don't have the same offensive threats or pick-your-poison sets that the Cavs do, but they've had little problem exposing the Cleveland defense over the last two games.

So the series goes back to Cleveland, where we'll surely see more of the play that the Raptors may or may not be able to defend better going forward.

"That was something they fell into," Casey said. "They just started running the options off of it. It's something we will figure out."

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

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