(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/John E. Sokolowski)
The Cleveland Cavaliers did it again. They continued to haunt the Toronto Raptors as they came from behind to get the Game 1 win, 113-112, in overtime. Surpisingly, they did so with LeBron James not quite at his best. Despite another triple-double of 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, he shot just 12-of-30 from the field and 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Instead, the King finally got some help from his supporting cast. JR Smith and Kyle Korver were both brilliant as they combined for 39 points and ten 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Jeff Green (16 points) and Tristan Thompson (14 points, 12 boards) made significant impacts off the bench.
As for the Raptors, they will be ruing the way that they choked Game 1 away. They got solid games from their backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan (22 points, seven rebounds, five assists) and Kyle Lowry (18 points, ten assists). Meanwhile, Jonas Valanciunas was brilliant with 21 points and 21 boards as he bested the Cavs' big men.
However, they simply couldn’t put the Cavs away in the fourth quarter. Valanciunas, in particular, missed several bunnies from point blank range. Their vaunted bench also didn’t make that much of an impact. Fred VanVleet still doesn’t look like he’s at his best due to his shoulder injury and missed two 3-pointers which could’ve won them the game.
Three keys to the game
Cavs shooters - Cleveland had arguably their best offensive performance of the playoffs thus far, and unsurprisingly, it was because their shooters started hitting shots. Smith, in particular, had his best game of the postseason with 20 points and five 3s. LeBron just trusts him and Korver a lot more than the likes of Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson, so they must continue to knock those shots down.
Raptors defense - At the same time, James had one of his least efficient games of the playoffs. Anunoby played him excellently as he made life difficult for the King. But while they were able to slow James down, the Raptors offense will need to do a better job keeping their supporting cast quiet.
Bench battle - The Cavs surprisingly won the bench battle over Toronto as Green and Thompson were huge positives for Cleveland. Thompson, in particular, has been terrific ever since being recalled to the Cavs rotation in Game 7 against the Pacers. If the Cavs can once again win that big battle for a second game in a row, they should be in great shape.
Matchup to watch
Tristan Thompson vs Jonas Valanciunas - With Kevin Love still struggling mightily and the Raptors playing big, Thompson will likely continue to have a major part to play in this series. He’s had back-to-back double-doubles and has brought some much-needed energy and toughness. Valanciunas played an awesome game in Game 1 apart from the fourth quarter, and the Raptors will need him to continue holding his own in the battle down low with Thompson.
Cavs projected starting lineup
PG - George Hill | SG - Kyle Korver | SF - J.R. Smith | PF - LeBron James | C - Kevin Love
Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | SF - OG Anunoby | PF - Serge Ibaka | C - Jonas Valanciunas
With Thompson getting minutes and back to racking up double-doubles, he’s suddenly the Cavs’ most reliable fantasy option behind LeBron. Korver and Smith are likely the two other options aside from them, but Smith is a bigger risk since he hasn’t really shown up in the postseason prior to Game 1.
As for the Raps, Valanciunas figures to rack up some big numbers with the Cavs playing bigger. But apart from him and the All-Star backcourt, it’s tough to see another reliable fantasy contributor. Ibaka has been slumping for five consecutive games now. Delon Wright could be an intriguing play, but he’s basically a lottery ticket.
As weird as it may seem, Game 2 is a must-win situation for the Raptors. They obviously can’t afford to go back to Cleveland down 0-2. To their credit, they played well for much of Game 1 and showed they can hang with Cleveland. And with more sense of urgency, they likely won’t make the same mistakes they made late in Game 1. The Cavs still keep it close, though, and cover the 6.5-point spread as road underdogs.
The Raptors tie up the series as they take Game 2, 103-98.
This game will be broadcast on ESPN. Tip-off is at 6:00 pm Eastern.