"Oh, you won't go quietly? Wait here one moment."
The Cavaliers didn’t honor the aggression of a cornered animal and have a hole in their ass to prove it. Playing before a rabid home crowd, the Raptors played perhaps their best half of basketball, opening up a lead the Cavaliers didn’t have the firepower to close, falling 99-84.
Down 2-0 already, Toronto knew they had to win Game 3 or make summer plans. Cleveland knew this too and expected a fight, but maybe only believed it in their head not their heart.
“We knew. We just didn’t match the energy,” said Tristan Thompson afterwards. “They brought that physicality. We expected that. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to match it.”
After ten straight playoff wins, perhaps some complacency had settled in. That’s one guess as to why they were a step slow on rotations much of the night, and struggled to effectively close out shooters, the one thing the Cavs want to do.
“Our main objective is to run guys off the three-point line and make them take in-between twos, contested twos, and when they get to the basket, Tristan, Kevin and Channing have to be there to protect,” said Coach Tyronn Lue during the pregame presser. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job on the teams we’re playing, taking away the best thing that they do.”
The Cavaliers continued to take away the best thing Toronto does (shoot free throws, were 3rd in NBA in free throw rate), giving up only 13 free throw attempts (FTAs). Unfortunately, after getting 70 FTAs in Cleveland, the home cooking in Toronto wasn’t nearly so favorable, yielding just 16 free throws.
(It didn't stop Toronto Coach Dwayne Casey from whining most of his postgame presser about the refs and the Raptors not getting any FTAs in the fourth quarter. The Cavs had 8 in the second half, the Raptors 7. Can you say "disingenuous"?)
Yet if the Cavs main objective is to chase guys off the three-point line, they largely failed, allowing the Raptors make 12 (of 31, 39%), half in the second quarter when the Cavaliers lost the thread and, for most intents and purposes, the game, allowing 33 points. (The Raptors would only score 39 in the entire second half, but then the Wine and Gold could only managed 37.)
The transition defense, the team’s true Achilles heel, was in desperate need of tough-acting Tinactin, because the effort just wasn’t there.
The Cavs did tighten up the defense. The Raptors only shot 3-13 from 3 in the second half and 42% from the field overall. Unfortunately the Cavs shot even worse (12-36) in the half including 6-21 from 3. (Yes, 21 3s and 15 2s in the second half. Hmmmmm.) Cleveland also made 8 second half turnovers, but Toronto only had 1 second half steal, suggesting a lot of unforced errors, bad passes, etc.
“They did a great job of penetrating the basketball collapsing and getting it out to shooters,” said Lue. “We weren’t able to knock down shots tonight, but I thought we got the shots we wanted.”
Richard Jefferson echoed that thought, suggesting that it wasn’t necessarily anything that Toronto did, so much as them doing it better.
“There are things we need to do better and there were some mistakes that we made and they capitalized on them, as a good team will do,” said Jefferson. “They played the exact same defense. We had some great looks. Ky and had an uncharacteristic night [shooting] but for us it was always about just trying to get better tonight. There are some things we needed to go back and learn, but it’s not back to the drawing board. It’s not putting our heads down.”
It’d be hard to exaggerate how bad the shooting nights of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were. Kyrie was 3-19. Love was 1-9, and sat the entire fourth quarter. The stories of those shots were very different. Seven of Love’s shots were uncontested, mostly threes, as he may have settled a bit on shots, and not brought enough intensity on defense.
“I need to match that and be just as aggressive [as the Raptor defenders]. Tonight I felt I wasn’t,” Love admitted. “I was a little bit passive. I need to come out Monday and have that kind of mentality and do better at that end.”
For Kyrie it was a matter of missing jumpers and then maybe forcing it a little to get things going. Give credit to Toronto. They blitzed the pick-and-roll, and sent guys at Irving all night long, particularly at the rim. Sixteen of Irving’s 19 shots were contested and he made two of them. (For the year, Kyrie shot 48% on closely contested shots – probably mostly at the rim – and 43% on contested shots.)
Toronto Coach Dwayne Casey acknowledged it wasn’t any tweaks or changes, just better execution. Cory Joseph received a lot of plaudits from Casey.
“We just did a better job of things,” he said. “We did a better job of being up, being into the ball making him feel us. He’s a tough guy to play against because every time he pushes off, that off-arm is coming off, so that’s tough to play against.” [More referee gamesmanship
The Cavs shot 35% for the game, but take away those two, and they're 24-51 (47%). The problem is that when you take those two away, not enough scoring remains.
“When two of our big guns are shooting like that it’s going to be difficult for us although even with us shooting in the 30s it was a five-point game at one point in the third quarter,” James said. “We didn’t play our game and they made us pay for it… We didn’t start the game as physical as we should’ve at the point of attack and we lost track of some of our keys that we came into the game – it allowed us to kind of get sidetracked through the course of the game.”
There will be a lot of talk about how Kyle Lowry stepped up for the first time in the playoffs and scored twenty points. But the point guard they should be talking about is Toronto native Cory Joseph. He had 14 and a team second-best +15 in +/-, right behind Patrick Patterson.
We single out Joseph because he carried the team in the first half as Lowry battled foul trouble. He held the line for the final five of the first quarter preserving a 19-16 lead, as the first quarter ended 27-24 Toronto. Not only did he provide ballhandling, he offered nine first half points, and a huge 3 at the end of the third and sapped the Cavs' momentum. His defense was also key.
“I thought Cory, once Kyle got in foul trouble did a good job of handling their defensive pressure and switching, making sure he had the right person involved in the pick-and-roll,” Casey said. “Most of all I thought he did a terrific job with his defensive presence in the pick-and-roll situations.”
J.R. Smith and LeBron James started off well, going 7-12 in the first quarter. The rest of the team was 1-10. It was that kind of a night, where no matter what happens, Griffin Dunne’s not making it back to his apartment tonight
With Lowry sitting for an extra long time, it seemed like something to be scared of, and he did hit a three early in the second, but his time was somewhat uneventful. When he left with eight left, Joseph took over, and it seemed like Cavaliers lost some of their focus. The lead was 38-32, and Frye immediately hit a three to cut the lead to 3.
Things went quickly south from there and the Cavs were not able to recover as the Raptors outscored the Wine and Gold 16-2 over the next 4:10. It began with a defensive three-second call on James. The Raptors proceeded to hit five of their next six shots including threes by Patterson, Joseph and Demarre Carroll.
“Our second quarter lineup didn’t do a great job of paying attention to detail, and they were able to bust that game open,” said James.
“We just have to do a better job of closing out to shooters, making them put it down on the floor, and be active on our weak side,” said Irving.
The Raptors also got a huge spark from Bismack Biyombo who went Full-Rodman
(okay, no feather boa, so maybe Half-Rodman), grabbing 26 rebounds, including eight offensive, and blocking four shots.
He had 16 rebounds in the first half. The 16-2 run also corresponded with his re-entry. He made a beautiful block on a Kyrie Irving layup (though it looked at least close to a foul), and grabbed almost every defensive rebound during the run, limiting Cleveland's second chance opportunities.
“He had the ‘see ball, get ball’ mentality,” said a miffed Thompson. “It definitely pissed me off, but I just got to take it to another level on Monday.”
The Cavaliers closed it to 70-65 with 4:20 left in the third quarter on J.R. Smith’s fifth and sixth 3s. However, he’d only score once more.
The Cavaliers shot 6-22 the rest of the way, and were outrebounded 19-12, while the Raptors shot 11-25. They just shot better and were more physically imposing on the Cavs. Up and down the roster, they got hard fought performances and no regrets effort. (Patrick Patterson was a big part of this throwing his body around much intently than the first two games.)
“They were def. trying to push us off our spots, make it tough for us. Tough for our catches try and make us uncomfortable,” said Thompson, who was involved in one of our favorite plays, early in the game. Cavaliers used TT in a clever pick-and-roll play to free LeBron for a baseline slam.
In the fourth as the Cavaliers tried to fight their way back into it, Lue sat Thompson and Love, trying a small lineup with LeBron at the PF and Channing Frye at C. It is part of the reason the Cavaliers were outrebounded. Then to add insult to injury, Biyombo scored three consecutive times, exploiting the smaller defenders in PnR, putting Biyombo in a position to succeed despite his limited offensive arsenal.
In the first one, J.R. Smith ends up the help guy because James wound up guarding DeRozan (since Smith could do absolutely nothing with him). In the second DeRozan leads the defense away to throw to the backside where Biyombo has rolled unguarded directly below the basket.
But as much as the Cavaliers struggled in the first half, they did a pretty good job of stopping the Raptors for long stretches of the second half. Unfortunately, Toronto was equally apt at steering the Cavaliers into 1-on-1 mismatches that they failed to capitalize on, slowing the offense and hampering its continuity at times.
“We could’ve moved the ball better,” said Lue. “We could’ve moved the ball side to side a little better. They switched some pick and rolls which made us stagnant. They went under a few times.”
However Lue also said the Cavaliers offense missed a lot of shots they’d still take and usually make. We would mostly agree, and the fact that they were able to largely shut Toronto down in the second is encouraging. We like the Cavs' ability to improve their offense more than the Raptors likelihood of improving their defense.
(As an aside, we needed to note the oddity that the Cavaliers had eight deflections as well as seven steals, while the Raptors had one deflection and one steal. In the entire game there was just one loose ball, which the Cavaliers got, according to stats.nba.com
. That kind of defensive energy is usually rewarded, but the Cavs didn’t shoot well, didn’t draw fouls and didn’t respond by taking it to the hole with greater authority. Maybe next time.)
Finally there was a bunch of postgame bullshit about the way Biyombo waves his finger. The whole thing about guys showing other guys up is tiresome. Do we have time to worry about whether someone else might feel disrespected when we don’t even know all the unwritten rules, and really, shouldn’t they want to beat their opponent whether or not the guy's a little obnoxious?
We’re pretty sure teams in the Conference Finals don’t need motivation to try their hardest. It’s not high school. Anyway wag or break his finger, it really is small potatoes to what the Wine and Gold have on their plate, and in their mind.
In the end, it’s a lot better to have your bad shooting/overconfident/poor intensity game on someone else’s court when you’re up 2-0. Indeed, every time we were asked we suggested the Cavs would win in five. We thought the Raptors would come out with pride and energy in Game 3 and win a game.
Now it’s time for LeBron to win a road game. He’s won a road game in his last 24 series, and we believe this game was a timely wake-up call for the team. We think they may have overestimated the power of showing up on the court. Apparently, the Raptors weren’t impressed.
Neither are the Cavaliers. “They won a game at home. That’s fine,” said Thompson. “We have to come out and play better.”
We like the chance for the Cavaliers to look inside and find another level. It’s a final reminder that the playoffs must be played hard, for 48 minutes. The Cavaliers have had some regression on that count, and last night it reached Tom Hanks in Big
. It’s certainly timely. The Cavaliers only have at most 11 games left, and probably no more than nine.
That seems like a good time to crank it into overdrive.
“Sometimes it’s good to be kicked in the teeth,” said Kevin Love, without regard for his modeling career. “Toronto did that do us tonight. For Game 4 we need to have better intensity and more sense of purpose.”
As we were just noting, these guys know what’s at stake. They got socked in the mouth. That’s fine, it’s Toronto and they’ve got a couple very good players, but the Cavaliers need only look in the mirror this morning to know what need be done.
“It’s adversity, but I wouldn’t really call it adversity,” said Jefferson, dropping science like Mr. Wizard. “We look at it from the perspective, what can we do to tighten up and get better? But we have to understand is that as the playoffs progress it gets harder and more intensive. Tonight we didn’t meet that challenge, but everybody is still in good spirits.”
It’s not necessary to rip a phonebook in half, though we understand how the media loves a spectacle. Quiet focus and matter of purpose isn’t as click-worthy, but it’s what we’re looking for in Game 4. That is, in addition to increasingly physical play. That’s also how playoffs tend to go.
We weren't able to finish our article on training before we had to leave for Toronto. We'll try to knock that out for tonight for tomorrow morning. Tomorrow night we'll be at the Air Canada Center for Game 4. We'll be posting video, analysis and snark. Follow along on Twitter @CRS_1ne
and read our postgame analysis here on the Scene & Heard blog.