The Cleveland Cavaliers still need to win two more games to reach the 2016 NBA Finals, but at this point, that’s just a formality. LeBron James and Co. will have no trouble making short work of the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals, and their playoff dominance should continue in Game 3 on Saturday night.
An old adage in sports suggests that a postseason series doesn’t truly start until a team loses at home, and the Raptors play their first home game of the series this weekend. But everything surrounding Toronto's 0-2 series hole suggests that their season is just about over.
After barely making it through the first two rounds of the playoffs, needing seven games to defeat the No.7 seed Indiana Pacers and another seven games to get by the Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat, the Raptors haven’t shown any signs of life against the Cavs. Toronto was blown out by 31 points in Game 1, followed by a 19-point loss in Game 2.
In both games, the Raptors didn’t come close to mounting a comeback. After falling behind by 22 points at halftime of Game 1, Toronto never pulled within less than 15. Two nights later, Cleveland built a 14-point lead at the half, and the Raptors trailed by double-digits for the rest of the game.
Toronto’s loss was highlighted by Kyle Lowry’s early first-half exit, in which he left the bench and headed for the locker room before the second quarter ended. The point guard later told reporters that he needed to “decompress” and “relax my body and relax my mind,” but what was apparent to much of the basketball world before the series started seems to have dawned on Toronto's best player—the Raptors have little chance of beating Cleveland in a seven-game series.
The Raptors have 0 chance to win a single game man. Sorry
— Evan Fournier (@EvanFourmizz) May 18, 2016
Oddsmakers understand this fact better than anyone, giving the Raptors astronomical odds to mount a comeback and win the series. Bovada.lv lists Toronto's odds to win the NBA Finals at +25000, and they are such longshots to beat the Cavs that their odds to win the series are no longer available. Prior to the start of Game 2, the Cavs were -5000 favorites to advance.
It’s certainly not impossible for the Raptors to steal a game from the Cavs as they return home. Cleveland is just a five-point favorite in Game 3, via VegasInsider.com, and the over/under has been set at 198 points. The Raptors won just one fewer game than the Cavs in the regular season, and they even beat them twice in three tries. But the Cavs are playing at a level that no other team in the East is capable of reaching, and the Raptors have no answers for the team that’s gone a perfect 10-0 in the postseason.
Lowry’s frustration is understandable, considering he’s been the biggest disappointment for Toronto. He was the best point guard in the East this season, and the top player on the conference’s No.2 team. But he’s been badly outplayed by Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, and Lowry’s struggles have stretched over the course of the entire postseason.
Averaging 21.2 points per game in the regular season, Lowry shot 4-of-14 in both Game 1 and Game 2, totaling just 18 points. He’s shot 25.2 percent from three-point range in the playoffs, shooting less than 40 percent from the field in 13 of 16 playoff games.
Irving has been Cleveland’s top scorer this series, averaging 26.5 points per game on 59 percent shooting. James is averaging 23.5 points per game, and he played the role of facilitator on Thursday, dishing out 11 assists for his NBA-record 13th career playoff triple-double.
Perhaps most troubling for Toronto is the fact that Cleveland hasn’t even shot well from three-point range. The Cavs are just 14-of-41 from behind the arc, and they’ve still managed to dismantle the Raptors with ease. Through their first eight playoff games, Cleveland was able to breeze through the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks by making three-pointers at an historic rate. But Cleveland has had their way in the paint so much so that their three-point prowess hasn’t been a factor.
The absence of Jonas Valanciunas has weakened Toronto’s frontcourt, and Cleveland has taken full advantage. The center is doubtful for Game 3, and if the Cavs shoot from three-point range like they did in the first two rounds, it’s going to be another long night for the Raptors.
Despite a 57-25 record, the Cavs had plenty of issues in the regular season. There was turmoil within the team that led to the firing of head coach David Blatt, and many believed that Kevin Love wasn’t being utilized to maximize the full potential of the team’s “Big 3.” The Cavs have effectively shut out all those problems and have looked like a thoroughly cohesive unit.
Maybe the Raptors will keep Game 3 close, getting a boost from their home crowd. But now that Cleveland is firing on all cylinders, Toronto is playing on borrowed time.
Prediction: Cleveland over Toronto, 104-92