(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Tom Szczerbowski)
If Toronto fans thought LeBron James had tortured them enough prior to Game 3, they were wrong. After working their way back from a 15-point half-time deficit, the Raptors were devastated to see James’ buzzer beating banker drop in to give the Cavs a 105-103 win.
The victory now leaves Toronto staring down the barrel of a second round sweep after a season in which they won 59 games. If they lose this game, it will be the third year in succession in which they have lost at the hands of James and the Cavaliers.
Three keys to the game
DeRozan’s response- DeMar DeRozan had an extremely disappointing Game 3. He went 3-for-12 from the field for just eight points, and contributed so little else that coach Dwyane Casey left him on the bench for the last 14 minutes of the game. DeRozan was an all star this season and averaged 23 points and 5.2 assists, and naturally when he plays like he did in the last game, it’s tough for the Raptorss to get up. Whether or not he can bounce back with a big performance could dictate whether this series heads back to Toronto.
How to stop James? - So far, this has been a question the Raptors have been unable to answer. In Game 1 he was probably slightly too passive and looked a little fatigue, but still he managed 26 points, 11 boards and 13 assists. In Game 2 he exploded for 43 points and 14 assists, and of course Game 3 saw him put up 38 points, including the game winner. He is perfectly capable of willing the Cavs to victory on his own, and if the Raptors don’t find a way to slow him down, this series could come to a very rapid end.
Toronto’s memory - Just how much of a role the past plays in the present is debatable, but the Raptors must surely be feeling a sense of inevitability about the way this series is headed. It’s the third season in a row they’ve been faced with the Cavs in the playoffs, and so far they haven’t been able to advance. This season seemed their best shot, having been the far better team all season, and yet here they are facing a 0-3 deficit. Whether or not they truly face a mental barrier against the Cavs is up for debate, but all the signs in this series have been that they do.
Matchup to watch
LeBron James vs OG Anunoby - It seems repetitive to say it, but this will once again be comfortably the most important matchup of the game. Anunoby is a good young defender, but is probably traumatized by the image of LeBron banking the game winner over his head in Game 3 after he himself hit the match-tying 3-pointer just seconds earlier. Despite James’ stats this series, Anunoby has done all he can when he has been defending the best player in the game. Unfortunately, like most people, he simply isn’t big enough, strong enough or fast enough to stick with the King, and has been taught a few lessons along the way. As in previous games, he certainly won’t spend every minute guarding LeBron, but he will be the defender who spends the most time on him. Good luck, OG.
Cleveland Cavaliers predicted starting lineup
PG - George Hill | SG - Kyle Korver | SF - JR Smith | PF - LeBron James | C - Kevin Love
Toronto Raptors predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - Fred VanVleet | SF - DeMar DeRozan | PF - OG Anunoby | C - Jonas Valanciunas
To discuss someone other than LeBron for a moment, Love will be one player who could be primed for a big night in Game 4. After a relatively indifferent season, he appears to be gradually working his way into some form. He had 31 points and 11 boards in Game 2, before managing 21 points and 11 boards in the last game, to go with two assists, a steal, and a block.
Cleveland should be able to cover the line of 5.5 points. Toronto got closer than this in Game 3, but James’ bank shot effectively ended the series. The Raptors will fight hard, but as it becomes clear that the game is over they’ll inevitably drop off, and go down by more than five points.
Toronto will, for the third time in a row, be booted from the playoffs at the hands of the Cavs. The Raptors are the better team, but LeBron is the best player in the series by an extremely long way, particularly with DeRozan playing poorly, and he’s starting to get some valuable assistance from the likes of Love and Korver. Cleveland will sweep the east’s number one seed with a 109-101 win, and earn their way into the Conference Finals.
The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 8:30pm ET.