An uneducated (in terms of basketball) observer and I talked to one this morning over breakfast and coffee, wondered how any team with LeBron James on it could lose. I tried to explain, really couldn’t get my arms around it, so figured it was time to start writing.
The die was cast last night, in the Raptors’ 105-99 win over the Cavaliers, when Cleveland did not shoot well to open the game and then only 3 of 22 from 3 point range in the first half. They warmed up a bit, but it was too late, kind of like trying to walk up a down escalator. Toronto’s aces in the hole, lacking the star power of LBJ or Kevin Love (who looks lost), or Kyrie Irving, were the wonderfully alliterative DeMar DeRozan, the beefy (6’9” 245 lb.) Congolese Bismack Biyombo and the aforementioned Kyle Lowry.
Besides Cleveland’s early cold shooting, maybe there was another underlying factor as to why Toronto got to a 57-41 lead at the half. Toronto did not shoot a single foul shot in the first half (how can that be?) maybe indicating that the Cavs defense wasn’t challenging them, allowing them more open shots, whether from outside or in the paint. Hack-a-Raptor was definitely not being employed. Mr. Biyombo, who started his career after being discovered by a Spanish coach at a tournament in the basketball hotbed of Yemen, had 14 rebounds, to LeBron’s 9. Let’s just say Mr. B. is not out there for his offense. He is a big body, and he plays because he is very good at collecting missed shots, then intelligently and efficiently sending his team out on a break.
Lowry, a two-time NBA All-star and Philadelphia kid who played 2 years at Villanova (Go Cats!), had a supporting cast, though. DeRozan added 32 points of his own, to Lowry’s 35, and in fewer minutes, more than neutralizing the Cav’s Kyrie Irving’s 26 points added to James’ 29. Toronto was undoubtedly helped by their rabid fans, in full white-out mode. The Raptor faithful are known as being quite supportive and, in a building, the Air Canada Centre, with a basketball capacity of 19,800 fannies, 20,367 showed up to will their team to tie this playoff series.
They collect in Jurassic Park, outside the ACC before and during games to watch the matches on a big screen in all kinds of weather and scream ‘We The North’. Those extra attendees inside may have been there because the Maple Leafs were not on TV, and usually aren’t this time of year and tells you why the fan plaza outside is usually named Maple Leaf Square.
The Cavs and Raptors sat atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference this season, their records separated by a single game, maybe why this series is so compelling. Game 5 is Wednesday at 830pm Eastern, back in Cleveland at the Quicken Loans Arena and I am willing to believe that the Cavaliers will get it together with their shooting to push the series to a 3-2 edge in their favor.