Five things to know about the Cavaliers' 115-84 demolition of the Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals ...
1. The Cavaliers left no doubt. The Raptors went up by seven early in the first quarter. Then the Cavs showed up. Then it was over. The Cavaliers absolutely ran roughshod over Toronto between the first and third quarters. From the six-minute mark of the first quarter until halftime, the Cavaliers outscored the Raptors 53-27. The Cavaliers got scoring from nine of their players in that span, while the Raptors shot 35 percent from the field.
That was pretty much it.
The Cavaliers have dominated these playoffs and just put on another top-level performance. They just continued to do what they've done in the postseason, completely breaking teams apart and punishing them for whatever decision they make in trying to take away part of the Cavs' attack.
What won't get enough credit is how great the Cavaliers defense was. They stymied everything and with Kyle Lowry shooting 4 for 14, even on a night where DeMar DeRozan managed to shoot better, the Raptors had nowhere near enough efficiency. If the Cavs defense is going to play like this, they're going to be near impossible for the Raptors to stop.
2. The Raptors have been here before. The good news is that it's only one game, and it counts the same as a two-point loss. The Raptors have lost every Game 1 they've played in these playoffs, and yet won the prior two rounds. They are the fourth team in NBA history to lose three Game 1's, and only the second to lose three in the 8-playoff-seeds era. The other team was the Memphis Grizzlies in 2013, who were swept by the Spurs in the conference finals.
The Thunder were blown out by the Spurs in Game 1 and adjusted. The Spurs aren't the Cavs and the Raptors aren't the Thunder, but there's still no reason to panic. Toronto just has to play better in Game 2. There are certain things they won't be able to solve, but if they can hit shots and do anything to stem the rebounding wound (they were out-rebounded 53-33, which is just nuts), they'll have a chance.
3. Toronto missed Jonas Valanciunas badly. Valanciunas wouldn't have won this game for Toronto, but he helps in key areas. He's a better, more aware rim protector, and a better rebounder than Bismack Biyombo. He could have created points on offensive rebounds and attacked Tristan Thompson in the post. His absence looms large.
The smallball lineups for the Cavs were also problematic, with Channing Frye tearing them up from the perimeter. But Valanciunas might have kept those lineups off the floor and helped the Raptors keep the lineups in more comfortable territory. They need to get him back on the floor. Valanciunas is a gametime decision for Game 2.
4. LeBron brought the hammer. LeBron James finished with 24 points, six rebounds, and four assists. And he did almost all of it at the rim. James shot 11 for 12 in the restricted area, missing the only shot he took outside of the paint. It was ruthless efficiency. The Raptors were determined to try and take the Cavs' perimeter attack away (the Cavs still got seven 3-pointers) and so the Cavs made them pay.
There are games where James still goes out and is simply superior to every other player on the floor, and this was one of them. Athletically, physically, mentally, skill-wise, everything. James was an onslaught Toronto had no answer for. Honestly, when he plays like this, there are maybe only two teams in the league that have answers for him.
James showed once again why he's such a special player, not just in today's game, but NBA history.
5. Throw out the gameplan. The Raptors need to totally re-evaluate their rotations. Norman Powell needs minutes. Luis Scola might need to get some run. They have to throw everything on the table in Game 2. Going down 0-2 to the Cavs is a hole the Raptors might not have the shovels to dig out from. And as dangerous as it is -- just ask the Hawks -- the Raptors are going to have to send help on Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. The Raptors dared them to go off and they did. Toronto has got to find a balance between guarding the perimeter and the interior.
How difficult that is might sum up the challenges Toronto faces in this series.