Four days ago, we wondered if the Cleveland Cavaliers would sweep the East. After failing to get their game through customs, the Toronto Raptors have evened up the series at two games apiece and we're left wondering what's going on with the Cavs. These aren't the Cavs we've seen throughout the last month and a half. Their identity looks lost. Their resolve looks shaken. They look exhausted despite all of this rest they've had storming through the conference in the postseason.
Kyrie Irving is getting lit up by Kyle Lowry. Kevin Love is hesitant on offense and missing open looks. Channing Frye has gone from secret weapon, game-changer to overused role player. Tristan Thompson is getting beaten on the boards. And when the Cavs have cooled off from beyond the 3-point line, they don't seem to have a Plan B against their opponents. You credit the Raptors because they've continued to be aggressive, and for the most part have corrected the things that went wrong for them in the first two games in Cleveland.
However, the Cavs were looking like world-beaters prior to their trip up north. The Big Three clicked. The 3-point shooting was at a historic pace. And the defense was eliminating everything the Raptors wanted to do. Where is that team? Where is the team that started making people really wonder if LeBron James' squad should be the favorites even if the Golden State Warriors are their matchup in the Finals?
It starts with Irving and ends with LeBron on a lot of the defensive possessions in Game 4. Perhaps Kyrie is injured. It would explain why he's offering up a minimal amount of resistance on the defensive end the last two games against Lowry. The Raptors' All-Star point guard has terrorized the Cavs, and you're seeing him exploit every single mistake they make from a schematic standpoint. The Cavs went under the screen several times against Lowry. He buried them. When he blew by Irving on the perimeter, which was often, nobody rotated to protect the paint.
Thompson stayed close to Bismack Biyombo, who struggles to catch passes. Maybe that was to put a body on him early for a potential rebound because he hasn't had his usual advantages on the glass. Biyombo is just as physical as Thompson and it's throwing him for a loop. The flip side of that is LeBron was often the weak side defender, who needed to rotate to protect the rim, and seemed disinterested or confused regarding the process.
On one play, LeBron won't leave Biyombo at 12 feet from the hoop to stop a wide-open layup. On the other play, he won't leave Patrick Patterson at 22 feet. Granted, in that same play Biyombo is holding Thompson, but most defensive schemes would have the weak side man rotating and everybody else scrambling on a string. That didn't happen and it turned the restricted area into a buffet for the Raptors' guards.
It's so out of character for him to keep making this mistake, but that's where the Cavs were in this game. They just looked confused and out of place, both physically and mentally. This was the team that ended up as the best defense in the postseason a year ago. They'd been dominant enough on offense to allow a slight slippage in defense this postseason, but this simply looked like they were content with being able to hold serve on their home court.
The Cavs also shot just nine free throws in the game and six of them came from LeBron. You'll live with that a lot of nights. The second half saw the Cavs execute their offense pretty well and get dunk at the rim after dunk at the rim while the Raptors tried troubleshooting their defensive coverage with LeBron at the elbow and Frye spreading the floor. But considering the Cavs were so cold from 3-point range (started 3-of-19 from deep) to begin the game, at some point you have to find efficient alternatives to score.
This all could be overreacting to a tough loss. The Cavs battled back and nearly stole the game the Raptors controlled for most of the night. They also just seemed to be confused on what their identity could be in Toronto. Frye ended up playing too long, not being able to box out in key defensive possessions, and not being a rim protector. Love was nonexistent in the fourth quarter after leaving the game after stepping on an official's foot. And yet, Tyronn Lue claimed after that it would be unfair to put Love in the game in the fourth after being out for so long. That's been the theme of the last two games for their All-Star caliber big man.
It's not the end of the world. When the Cavs play their game, they've dominated the Raptors. The question is whether or not they can just flip the switch back in Northeast Ohio and look like the Cavs again. This series was supposed to be over after tonight. That's how it looked to be four days ago.
Now nothing looks the same for the Cavs.