CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are no strangers to playing in front of hostile crowds, not especially after making back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals and winning the franchise’s first championship last summer.
And after last year’s experience in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers (2-0) are expecting a loud, raucous environment inside the Air Canada Centre when they take on the Toronto Raptors in Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals over the weekend.
“We understand it’s going to be tough, but we all understand that we are a different team as well,” Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving said. “Last year, I don’t think we had the right mindset going into Toronto for Games 3 and 4. They really handed it to us, got the crowd involved.
“It’s just really loud in there, and for us, we’ve just got to maintain our focus, maintain our wits about us, and then, we’ll be fine. We understand that it’s not going to be easy. Those guys are going to be ready to play, especially on their home floor. As you can see throughout the playoffs, when the home team is at home, it becomes different. The focus level’s got to be even higher.”
After winning the first two games of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals by a combined total of 50 points, the Cavaliers got blown out, 99-84, in Game 3 and struggled their way to a 105-99 loss in Game 4 before closing out the series with wins in Games 5 and 6.
But that Game 6 win came on the road at the Air Canada Centre. And since their loss in Game 4, when the Cavaliers have had much of their starting lineup on the court, they are undefeated against the Raptors.
Both teams held out their key players in the regular-season finale, which Toronto won in Cleveland last month.
“For one, keep our poise,” shooting guard J.R. Smith said. “It’s going to be extremely loud. They have a great fan base. They’ve got all of Canada pushing behind them, so we’ve just got to keep our poise, stay poised, keep running with pace, communicate on the defensive end despite how loud it’s going to be, then we’ll be fine.”
Much like Smith, shooting guard Iman Shumpert believes that for the Cavaliers to continue playing at a high level in the postseason, they need to “lock in” and do the little things necessary to close out the best-of-seven series.
“We know they’re a tough team, and we know they don’t back down from anything,” Shumpert said. “This series is not over. We know that. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but the preparation starts now to head to Toronto in hostile territory, and hopefully, we can come out with two wins.”