The Toronto Raptors finished the season as the Number 1 seed and after seeing them win against some tough opponents, some thought that they turned the corner and were a different team this year. After LeBron and the Cavaliers fought through a 7 game series against the Pacers, Toronto looked to be in great position to win Game 1 after a strong 3 and a half quarters. They were able to get great shots in the paint with Jonas Valanciunas taking control, Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan looked to be well on their way to scoring 20 points each while shooting over 50%. On top of that, the bench was playing pretty well, rookie forward OG Anunoby was doing a pretty good job of containing LeBron and Kevin Love looked lost on both ends of the floor.
Had this been any other eastern conference playoff team, the game probably feels like its over and the Cavaliers probably go on to lose the game. But something about the Raptors just does not seem convincing. I know I am not the only that has believed in the Raptors in the past to at least make it a series against the Cavaliers. But this team is better than the past Raptors teams, and the Cavaliers are worse, so the same mistake of believing the Raptors was made. And just like the past few years, that belief was betrayed. The Raptors had everything going for them, yet they managed to go just 5 for 24 in the 4th and seemingly asked LeBron and the Cavaliers to take the game from them. Credit has to be given to LeBron for staying the course. And we can’t forget J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver, who shot a combined 10 of 18 from 3, Jeff Green who chipped in an efficient 16 points on just 4 shots and Tristan Thompson who ended up with 14 points and 12 rebounds. We also cannot talk about this game without mentioning the Kevin Love flagrant foul that the NBA admitted the refs missed; that probably would have allowed the Raptors to squeeze out a win. But even with all of this, the Raptors have nobody to blame but themselves. CJ Miles missed a wide open 3, and so did Kyle Lowry and Valanciunas missed a few easy ones, as did Poeltl. And those are just the ones I remember.
Through all of this, fans cannot help but wonder if LeBron is just in their heads at this point. Certain teams just struggle against certain players, especially the greats. Wether they consciously believe it or not, it certainly just seems like it at times. The Hawks had a similar problem with LeBron and it seemed like the Nuggets could never truly get past Kobe even when they had a formidable team. Is LeBron in the Raptors’ heads? Are the Raptors playing scared? Do the Cavaliers players in turn, gain confidence against the Raptors? Its hard to say for sure but there are definitely signs that the Raptors are never able to play their best when it matters against the Cavaliers.
And yet, here I am. Wanting to, scratch that, knowing that I should stop believing in the Raptors but I find myself picking them again. Toronto choked. They played scared and uninspired down the stretch. But they still are the better overall team, and even great teams have lost games before. So I am going with the Raptors tonight. When the Raptors ran a pick and roll with DeRozan and Lowry, the Cavaliers would switch and DeRozan would end up with George Hill on him and I think the Raptors look to exploit this matchup early and often. The Cavaliers seem intent on keeping Love the starting center so long as they win so I expect Valanciunas to have another good game.