The second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs is already underway as the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics kicked off their series on Monday night. The other series and perhaps the most intriguing, tips off today (8 PM ET Tuesday on TNT) as the Cleveland Cavaliers head to Canada to take on the Toronto Raptors.
In uncharacteristic fashion, Cleveland narrowly avoided a disaster by being eliminated in the first round by the Indiana Pacers. After losing two of the first three games of the series, the first of which came in decisive fashion, the Cavaliers rebounded to take a 3-2 series lead. A victory at this point seemed almost a forgone conclusion as LeBron James had never lost a game in his career where his team had the opportunity to win the series and advance.
Well, there’s a first time for everything and not only did the Cavaliers lose Game 6, but they lost by over 30 points. It was a completely one-sided affair and one that inspired confidence in Indiana that they could finally defeat Cleveland in postseason play. It wasn’t to be however as just like our preview’s prediction called, James took over Game 7 and Cleveland benefited from home court advantage. James had never lost in the first round before and that’s one stat that stood up after that intense first round series.
In Canada, the Raptors opened their postseason with a huge monkey on their backs. The team hadn’t won the first game of a playoff series in almost 17 years. Toronto was an NBA-worst 0-10 in their last 10 attempts, last winning an opener in the second round of the 2001 postseason. That losing streak must have been in the back of the Raptors’ minds, especially after the Washington Wizards outscored them 36 to 27 to take a four point lead at the half. From there, the Raptors played their best basketball, taking a one point lead after the third. The final score was 114-106.
With the win finally out of the way, the Raptors were able to play within themselves and play the way they had all season long en route to earning the East’s top seed. Toronto took a 2-0 series lead before losing back-to-back to the Wizards. The team regrouped themselves after that however and won Games 5 & 6, both by 10 points.
The Raptors showed glimpses of greatness in the first round whereas the Cavaliers showed moments of vulnerability. Is this finally the year and finally the team to prevent James from reaching yet another consecutive NBA Finals? Or will the Cavaliers once again reign as ‘Kings of the East?’
Toronto Wins If…
They can continue to have the best fourth quarter defense among playoff teams. In the first round, the Raptors allowed just 90.5 points in the game’s final quarter. Toronto bookended this with stellar first quarter defense as well, combining for a plus-44 efficiency rating in the game’s first and last quarters. This compared to a minus-30 in the second and third quarters. The Raptors, if they play this way, are able to get leads and regain them if they need to. Against the Cavaliers, who won each of their first round games by no more than four points, this could be the difference maker. Cleveland needed to come back with late game heroics more than once and if the Raptors can clamp down on defense, that likely wouldn’t be able to happen. Even with a guy like James, who is one of the best in the league at taking over a game when he needs to.
Toronto also wins if they can continue to shoot effectively. The Raptors’ starting five had an effective field goal percentage of 61 percent, which was the second best mark of the playoffs (of lineups that played at least 50 minutes together). The team also averaged the best mark of 103 possessions per 48 minutes. DeMar DeRozan led the way with 26.7 points but it’s a decent drop-off from first to second where Kyle Lowry sits, averaging 17.2 points in the first round.
Overall, four Raptors averaged in double figures. And while that’s not a lot of points being put on the board, the Raptors did well by not missing too many shots. The team had the fifth best overall field goal percentage, shooting over 47 percent as a unit. The Raptors also ranked second among all playoff teams in terms of three point percentage, where Toronto shot 41 percent.
Cleveland Wins If…
LeBron James Is at his Playoff-Best. Looking at the Cavaliers’ first-round statistics, it’s hard to see how they emerged victorious. Cleveland was outscored by Indiana, winning four games by 14 points and losing three by 54, they had the biggest drop-off in pace and offensive efficiency from the regular to the postseason, and only took 38 percent of their shots (a playoff low) in the paint. Simply put, the Pacers were the better overall team. They just didn’t have the best player, LeBron James. James led all players in points per game (34.4) and was the only player to score 40 or more points in three games. The Cavaliers needed every last point too as the team was 4-0 when he scored 30+ but 0-3 when he failed to hit that mark. He also led the first round with 11 free throw attempts per game where he shot 82 percent from the line.
Our Betting Preview’s Cavs vs Toronto Raptors Series & Game 1 Picks & Predictions
As the first round showed, the Cavaliers success 100 percent hinges on James. He showed in that series that at his best, even a mediocre team could look like real playoff contenders. Against a tougher and more balanced Raptors team, James might need to put the Cavaliers on his back in order to stave off elimination. Toronto will have to find a way to answer whatever James does, whether that is defensively or from long distance. If the Raptors can take leads into the fourth quarter, they should manage to keep games competitive and will have a real shot to win the series.
So we come to this preview’s Cavs vs Toronto Raptors predictions against the USA betting lines:
- James isn’t the King of the East for no reason. Pick the Cavaliers to advance in six including a victory in Game 1 where Toronto is currently favored at home by 6.5 points. Bet Cavs +6.5pts for Game 1 @ -110 with Bovada, Intertops, 5Dimes or Bookmaker.
- Look for the Game 1 total points to exceed 214.5 @ -110 with Intertops or 5Dimes.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.