The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday night at the Quicken Loans Arena. LeBron James established another impressive performance, finishing with 35 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block.
“That was the mystery coming in, how we would come out,” James said. “But the energy was phenomenal … it was a great start for us.”
The Cavaliers clashed with the Raptors for the second straight season in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Last season, the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference Finals but lost to the Cavaliers in Game 6. In the ongoing season, the Raptors managed to improve their roster with the acquisition of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker.
Cavs’ “Big Three” and their improved defense
Unfortunately, the reigning NBA champions prove to be too much to handle for the Raptors. In their Game 1 victory, the Cavaliers’ “Big Three” of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving combined for 77 points. They also showed a big improvement on the defensive end since the postseason started.
In the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Cavaliers somehow managed to limit the production of Indiana Pacers star Paul George. This helped them to easily advance to the second round and have more time to prepare and rest. In Game 1, it’s very noticeable that the Cavs’ defense mainly focused on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
“They gave DeRozan, and to a lesser extent Lowry, double-teams to try to keep him from getting momentum toward the rim. DeRozan managed 19 points but was just 7-of-16 from the field. Over the first three quarters, DeRozan was a horrifying minus-29 in plus/minus, a number that showed just how effective the Cavs’ strategy was. DeRozan finished a game-worst minus-32,” Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported.
Jonas Valanciunas becomes a nonfactor in Cavs-Raptors series
Last postseason, Jonas Valanciunas played a major role in helping the Toronto Raptors reach the Eastern Conference Finals. He established an impressive performance on both ends of the floor. If he didn’t suffer an injury, some people believe the Raptors could have a higher chance to beat the Cavaliers.
Unfortunately, Valanciunas struggled to replicate the same performance in the NBA Playoffs 2017. In the Raptors’ last three games in the first round, Valanciunas was removed from the starting lineup. In Game 1 against the Cavaliers, he returned to the starting lineup.
However, he only played 20 minutes and finished with six points, six rebounds, and one block. When he’s on the floor, LeBron James and the Cavaliers easily penetrated their defense and can do whatever they wanted on the offensive end. If the Raptors will use the same strategy they used to beat the Bucks, Valanciunas will be removed from the starting lineup once again.
Photo courtesy: Keith Allison/Flickr
Video courtesy: Youtube/Ximo Pierto