Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors: Five things to watch ahead of Game 3
Injuries are part of the playoffs, and point guards are victims in this postseason. Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry sustained a sprained left ankle, was still in pain on Thursday and is questionable for Game 3 on Friday.
Already a bit behind the curve after missing a month following the All-Star break then stung by a bad back, Lowry’s contribution – or lack thereof – will go a long way in determining Toronto’s Game 3 productivity. It’s not his fault, but the Raptors need him close to his best if they want to extend this series beyond four or five games.
“Cory Joseph was a bright spot (Wednesday) night, the confidence he played with, the force he played with, the way he shot the three ball,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s huge. Because we need every one of them. But with (Lowry) questionable, that’s why you have 15 on the roster. All year long, we’ve always had the next man up mentality.”
Players sometimes play better at home, and DeRozan fits into that category. Regardless, he can’t shoot 2-for-11 from the field and score just five points as he did in Game 2.
DeRozan averaged 27.3 points during the regular season but has just 24 points in two games against Cleveland. With Lowry hobbled, DeRozan’s offensive responsibility increases beyond the heavy load he already carries.
The Raptors need their best players to produce, starting with DeRozan, who is struggling with J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert helping defend him.
Not only do the Cavs take a lot of threes (33.5 per game in the playoffs), they make a lot of threes (14.3 per game) at a high percentage (42.8%). The Raptors need to cut down on the threes and make it more difficult on Cleveland when it shoots from long distance.
“It’s about us,” Casey said. “Making sure we take away something. Right now, we’re not taking away very much on the defensive end. Right now, they are doing what they want to do to our defense, and that is unacceptable and we can do better. There is a level of defensive focus and intensity and physicality that we got to get to and can get to and will get to.”
Understand that DeMar DeRozan was joking when he offered anyone $100 if they could guard LeBron James, who is in the middle of a stellar playoff run. But among the players on Toronto’s $108 million roster, they need to slow James to some degree. If he’s going to score 30-plus points and continue his high-level efficiency, it won’t matter what the Raptors do offensively.
“Margin for error is very small because he makes you pay with his passing, now he’s shooting the three," Casey said. "We’ve got to make sure our attention to detail is there. They do some different things especially with him at the three, four, handling the basketball that’s different. Those things, you can’t make mistakes on them.”
The Raptors lost the first games of the series by a combined 33 points. Last season, they lost the first two games by a combined 50 points and managed to win Games 3 and 4 at home and even the series. They need to channel that same home-court edge Friday and Sunday.
“We’re coming home, let’s take care of home,” Casey said. “We’ve been in this situation before, and again, it’s not going to be easy. Just because we did it last year doesn’t mean we’re going to come in and do it this year. We’ve got to go out and physically and mentally do it.”