2017 Playoffs: Game 1 Preview - Raptors at Cavaliers
The Toronto Raptors are in Cleveland to take on the Cavs in Round 2 after winning their first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks 4-2. After a roller-coaster close out Game 6 in Milwaukee, the Raptors had the weekend to prepare for the next challenge.
Tip-off: 7:00 P.M. ET
Broadcast info: TSN, TNT / TSN1050
Although this year's Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup will be a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, both teams have a few new faces on their rosters. The Cavaliers have added Kyle Korver and Deron Williams while the Raptors brought in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker.
Despite the new additions, both teams remain similar with respect to their systems and star players. The Raptors All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan remains unchanged, as does Cleveland's big three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. That familiarity remains, even with a few new faces and wrinkles added to the playbook.
"They're the same as far as their philosophy," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. "They're two different teams, one with Channing Frye in [the game], one with [Tristan] Thompson in [the game]. We understand that. We understand LeBron James is a quasi-point guard. We understand that. We understand exactly what we need to do in certain situations. The experience of last year's playoffs is a help from that standpoint, but they're a different team with Korver added, Deron Williams added. And we're a different team. So personnel-wise, it's different. But schematically and philosophically what they're trying to do, they're the same."
One of the most important things when facing the Cavaliers is the ability to make quick decisions. LeBron James is one of the best playmakers in the league and Cleveland's roster of shooters is built around him, along with dynamic point guard Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and relentless big man Tristan Thompson. It is crucial to be able to think and react quickly when playing the Cavaliers. James will make you pay for the wrong decision — or even a delayed one — nearly every time.
"When you help on LeBron, he makes the right decisions," Lowry said. "When you help on Kyrie, they make the right decisions. Even on Kevin Love, you help on him, he makes the right decisions. Sometimes they're on the floor with five shooters. It changes the game. You've got nobody in the paint. Somebody drives, you gotta help, sink, fill, kick, swing, swing. you have to move with them."
With more shooters added to the roster, there are even more options for James when it comes to creating for his teammates. While Cleveland's defence has been up and down following the All-Star break, Dwane Casey isn't planning on underestimating what James and the rest of the Cavaliers can do on both ends of the floor.
"They're a high-octane offensive team right now," Dwane Casey said. "They're going to try to outscore you more than anything else. They're still very capable defensively just because of James and the way he reads the floor and reads situations, helps his teammates. I don't buy into a lot of the numbers. I really think they're a very capable defensive team."
New Raptors providing boost
Since their first game in Raptors uniforms following trade deadline deals that brought them to Toronto, P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka have been making an impact. Brough in to bring toughness and depth, as well as to improve the defence, the duo have done all of that and then some.
In Toronto's second-round series against the Cavaliers, the Raptors expect Tucker and Ibaka to continue having an impact.
"I think whoever we had to beat, I thought Serge and PJ were great acquisitions for us to build a playoff-style team," Dwane Casey said. "Whether you're gonna beat Cleveland, whether you're gonna beat Boston, whoever you're gonna beat to get out of the East. That was a great move for this organization to have. Because they're the prototypical three-man, the prototypical four-man, the versatility with both of them. I don't think you wake up dreaming we gotta make every move to beat Cleveland. But to play playoff basketball, you have to have guys like that."
Bringing in Tucker and Ibaka immediately made the Raptors a deeper team. Casey also believes the moves made them better equipped for challenges they faced a season ago.
"In think personnel wise, we are, because now we have someone to stay in front of Love and to watch Love," Casey said. "You're not gonna stop a LeBron James one-on-one but we have some extra bodies that can stay in front of him and watch him. So a better match up, better equipped, like I said, better equipped for playoff basketball with those two additions."
Though the two teams met in the conference finals a season ago, this season's semifinals matchup will be every bit as difficult. Facing the defending champions means facing the defending champions regardless of the round.
"To win, you've gotta go through the champs," Casey said. "They're the reigning champions. We understand. Again, they are who we think they are. We understand that. To win the East, you have to go through them. Right now, they're our challenge first because we haven't got to the next round yet. Golden State and Cleveland have been the prohibitive favourites the entire year, I think. They're who you have to go through to get to where you want to go."