Cavaliers rout the Raptors, one win from NBA Finals: 5 things to know
Kevin Love led the Cavs to the pivotal win on Wednesday
The Cleveland Cavaliers remain undefeated everywhere except the Air Canada Centre in the 2016 playoffs. With a 116-78 evisceration of the Toronto Raptors in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Cavs are a win away from the NBA Finals.
Five things to know:
1. Kevin Love is back
If he had just made a few more open jumpers in Toronto, there wouldn't have been so much negative attention on Cleveland's star power forward. He missed and missed and missed, though, so his shortcomings on defense were put under the microscope, too. Just like the last two games, Love did not play a minute in the fourth quarter on Wednesday. This time, though, it was because garbage time started in the third.
Love got his confidence back early -- he scored on the first possession and made his first six shots, scoring 19 points in the first half. He finished with a game-high 25 points on 8-for-10 shooting, plus two rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in just 24 minutes. The game looked incredibly easy for him, and he is often a good barometer for how his team is doing offensively.
After joking about Love sitting again in the final frame, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said this was just "Kevin Love being Kevin Love." Lue also called him a top-10 player. This was a popular opinion two years ago, but not so much anymore. Since Love's flaws have received so much attention in Cleveland, it's nice to be reminded how special his skills are.
Here is one of Love's two misses:
I wouldn't exactly call that great defense.
2. The Cavs' offense is still scary
The Raptors will continue to target Love and Kyrie Irving on defense, and they might not be this accurate on Friday. When the Cavs are in rhythm, though, their firepower can be overwhelming. Cleveland does not necessarily need to be a top-tier defensive team when it is rolling like this.
In the first three quarters, the Cavs scored 100 points on 37-for-60 (61.7 percent) shooting, and seeing the ball go in the basket appeared to put a pep in their collective step. Cleveland was smart and aggressive on the other end, and it no longer let Bismack Biyombo be a bully on the glass.
Toronto played its best basketball of the season in Games 3 and 4, and it impressively held off the Cavs when they got hot in the fourth quarter on Monday. Cleveland helped the Raptors out, though, by failing to capitalize on its offensive opportunities. The make-or-miss-league cliche has gotten a lot of play this postseason, and the Cavs might be the best example of why people use it. While there are a ton of variables in every playoff game, Cleveland's shooting is going to dictate its success most of the time. When LeBron James or Irving has the ball in his hands, surrounded by shooters, the Cavs are going to shoot well much more often than not.
3. The home-court advantage here is extreme
In three conference finals games at Quicken Loans Arena, Toronto has been beaten by 88 points. In the regular season, the Cavs beat the Raptors there by 22 points. In Toronto, Cleveland has not been embarrassed the same way, but it has yet to win there in the regular season or the playoffs.
It's tough to beat good teams on the road, but this is crazy. For three out of the five games, the Raptors have not even looked like they even belong on this stage. It's not just that role players tend to shoot worse away from home -- their defense isn't traveling, either. They now have to hope that this trend continues for exactly one more game.
4. What happens to Toronto's mojo now?
James, Love and Irving combined for 71 points on 27-for-44 shooting. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 27 points on 7-for-20 shooting. This is terrible, terrible math for Toronto. Lowry and DeRozan needed to be superhuman for them to tie the series, and they looked ordinary two days later, even though they should have been ready for the trapping defense that awaited them.
DeRozan said the offense was stagnant and the Raptors' 19 turnovers hurt them. He seemed shocked that he'd only attempted eight shots.
"That's not me," DeRozan said.
During the Cavs' 17-3 run to close the first quarter, you could see the Raptors' confidence waning. They never stopped trying, but they never managed to recapture it.
"We did not play with force," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "They took us out of everything we wanted to do. Just physically pushed us around and took what they wanted. That was the bottom line."
The Raptors have proven that they can beat Cleveland at home. They have had to play almost mistake-free basketball in those games, though, and they've had to be the more physical, more amped-up team to make up for the talent disparity.
Now more than ever, Toronto needs to believe that it can extend this series to a seventh game. It would help if it could point to some positives from this one. Aside from Jonas Valanciunas looking more comfortable than expected in his return, there were not any.
5. Let's put the 'LeBron needs to do more' narrative away
This blowout should quiet those who thought James needed to start playing hero ball in order to will the Cavaliers to victory. This team was constructed precisely so that he wouldn't have to do that. James is one of the best passers in NBA history, and part of that is because he loves to get his teammates going. Further, Cleveland's front office has assembled a roster that demands he uses that skill.
In all five of these games, James has been brilliant, but the rest of the Cavs have been inconsistent. The solution was never to abandon everybody else. When Love and Irving started so strong, it was clear that the Raptors were in trouble. Lowry said that they couldn't afford to let all three stars score like that at the same time.
"We didn't get to this point in our season by me taking over every game," James said. "So I kind of laugh at it when I hear ... people saying, 'Take over the game.' My presence on the floor is much bigger than what numbers talk about. And when you have a young superstar like this guy [Irving], you have Kevin who's a superstar as well, they've helped us get to this point. So you don't just throw in the kitchen sink just because if you lose two games or we don't play as well as we did. There will be a time where I may have to have one of those big games, but until then, just relax."
James' stat line looks familiar: 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting, eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. He has yet to score 30 points all playoffs. Ideally, he will not even have to.
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