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Raptors' star guards find their groove in Game 4 home win

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combine for 67 points to square series, but will they continue their hot shooting in Cleveland?

POSTED: May 24, 2016 4:04 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Raptors Tie Up Series

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

— This home court business is fine for what it is, having dialed up both the strategizing and the watchability of the Eastern Conference finals through four everybody-holds-serve games.

Sooner or later, though, something's going to have to give, and that something is going to have to come from the Toronto Raptors.

However cranky the Cleveland Cavaliers might be in the wake of their 105-99 loss at Air Canada Centre Monday night, a 2-2 tie in a series many figured would be over by now, they can stick with the pattern of fab at home, flawed on the road and still get where they're going. It might not be what they had in mind after sweeping past the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks, but there's undeniable security in knowing they could lose their passports, not show up at all for Game 6 and still get back to The Finals thanks to 96 more minutes of basketball at Quicken Loans Arena, if needed.

DeRozan Goes for 32

DeMar DeRozan scores 32 points in the Raptors Game 4 win over the Cavaliers.

The Raptors have no such cushion. Either they go down to Cleveland and immediately resume messing in Game 5 Wednesday with LeBron James and the rest of the Cavs the way they did over the Canadian holiday weekend (Victoria Day), or they're going to have to do it in the stifling atmosphere of a Game 7. If they even get the chance.

The swings in performance so far in this series have been as surprising as they've been dramatic. Cleveland dominated Games 1 and 2 at home by 50 points, turned its 3-point prowess into a marvelous decoy and rose to favorite status to win the NBA championship solely on the quality and thoroughness of its play.

Then the Cavs couldn't get out of their own way to start Games 3 and 4. They fell behind by 13 and 16 points by halftime and now the skeptics are back, poking at this (what hole has Kevin Love fallen down?) and prodding at that (coach Tyronn Lue sure looked peeved late Monday).

The Raptors have owned the flip side. In Cleveland, they looked like one of the worst conference finals participants in recent memory. In Toronto, their No. 2 seeding, so quickly tarnished on the road, was showing some luster again.

Bismack Biyombo was partly responsible for that, thanks to his raw, irrepressible work on the boards and on defense. He's a backup big man with a spotty resume who just completed a breakthrough weekend, fans both inside and outside the Raptors' building letting him hear the giddy "M-V-P! M-V-P!" chant. There's a good chance "Bismack" soon could be trending as a popular name for newborns in the Six.

Kyle [Lowry], he's a little pit bull. You question him, that's when he rises to the occasion. I've seen it so many times.

– Raptors coach Dwane Casey

Others have had their moments as well, notably coach Dwane Casey and reserves Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph. But most of the credit for Toronto's turnaround -- that is to say, blame turned inside out -- goes to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors' All-Star backcourt looked out of its collective depth on the Cavaliers' court. At home, they have clomped around in the big kids' clothes and grown into them.

The 67 points they scored in Game 4 -- 35 by Lowry, 32 by DeRozan -- were the highest combined output they've ever had, regular season or playoffs. More than that, the pair became the first starting backcourt to each score 30 in a conference finals game since Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter did it for Portland (Game 2, West finals) back in 1992.

After sputtering along in the series' first two games -- 25-for-63, 39.7 percent shooting -- they hit 47 of their 80 attempts, good for 58.8 percent, while evening the series. Casey constantly had them in sets that had Cleveland switching its defenders -- often getting James out of the equation when he otherwise locked in on DeRozan -- and they tormented the Cavs both inside and out (Lowry's game-high four 3-pointers, DeRozan's confounding touch on mid-range floaters).

Nightly Notable: Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry records 35 points, five rebounds and five assists to lead the Raptors over the Cavaliers in Game 4 and even the series.

They were there early, they were there late. DeRozan shouldered the responsibility late in the fourth, late in the clock, his team clinging to a 101-99 lead that earlier had been a fat 18 points. The Raptors' shooting guard missed from the left baseline but when Patterson took advantage of Channing Frye's and Richard Jefferson's attention to Biyombo for the offensive rebound, he instantly fed the ball back to DeRozan. This time, the 6-foot-7 scorer hit a floater.

After J.R. Smith launched an ill-advised 3-pointer over Biyombo that the big man got a piece of, Lowry missed at the other end -- only to see Biyombo grab the 13th of his 14 rebounds. Casey called timeout and drew up the play that iced the game: Lowry dribbled out top until DeMarre Carroll curled out to set a pick on Iman Shumpert, putting only Smith between the Raptors' point guard and the basket.

Let's just say that Smith's budding legend as a defensive stopper for his face-guarding work against Atlanta's Kyle Korver took a hit. Lowry blew by him to make it 105-99.

"Kyle, he's a little pit bull," Casey said. "You question him, that's when he rises to the occasion. I've seen it so many times. Throughout the playoffs, everybody second-guessed him and he's always bounced back. He's done that his whole life, through college, through high school, through the first few years of the NBA, and that's made him the All-Star he is."

Said DeRozan: "It's a cake walk for me once he gets going."

We know what kind of energy we have to play with and we can't rely on our fans.

– Toronto Raptors' DeMarre Carroll

Again, though, it's one thing to flex and mug at home. It's something altogether different to bring that same swagger, the hit-first mentality that both teams have craved through four games, into the other guys' gym.

So the question was put to Lowry: Is this series going to keep swinging according to home court or are the Raptors four games deep into learning something about the Cavaliers that neither Detroit nor Atlanta lasted long enough to test?

"I think we're four games deep into learning," Lowry said. "I'm sure they've figured out some things that we've done and we've figured out some things that they've done. ... You've got to tweak things. You've got to see things. You've got to watch the film and see where you can get better at, see where you can get an open shot at, see the things that we are executing."

Raptors-Cavaliers Game 5 Preview

Matt, Isiah and Brent recap Game 4 and look ahead to Game 5 on Wednesday at 8:30p EST on ESPN.

James, in his postgame session, looked cool in shades and confident as the series shifts to northeast Ohio. The crowd that had the Raptors' backs won't be there for Game 5. It will be just them, the Cavaliers, Clevelanders and a change to flip this script.

"I think now we know what it takes," Carroll said. "We know what kind of energy we have to play with and we can't rely on our fans. ... I think they really got us over the edge when they started making their run [Monday] but we have to learn how to get energy and fight from each other."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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