If you listen to the Toronto Raptors long enough, regardless of who is talking, it is the same slow pitched whine about LeBron James, as if they didn’t realize LeBron James has been to six straight NBA Finals. Yes, he is extraordinary. LeBron has played in 25 straight playoff series. He has won 22 and lost 3. In those three losses, two were in six games (Mavericks, Warriors), one was in five games (Spurs). He has lost in the playoffs. But to beat him a great game plan was needed, so was fantastic coaching, versatile personnel, toughness in the paint and on the boards, exceptional shot making and confidence.
Confidence is in short supply in Toronto. The Raptors spend a lot of time moaning and groaning about their bleak situation and maybe that is all they have left. Inner denial, outward finger pointing.
Truthfully, the Raptors have taken a step back. At least last year they ripped off two games against the Cavs. Now it looks like the Cavs are toying with them. In Game 3, the Raptors were outrebounded by 25. Rebounding is all about effort, hustle and want to. The Raptors shot 11% from three. That was at home in a must win game when everything was on the line.
LeBron took 16 shots in game 3. The rest of the Cavs took 60 shots. The Raptors defense on the “others” was a version of the regular season fourth night of a five game road trip. Bored, blase, disinterested was the rule of the day. The rest of the Cavs not named LeBron shot 50%.
As for the Raptors, those not named DeMar DeRozan shot 40% in game 3. The bench scored 9 points, 21 points less than the Cavs bench. The margin of victory was 21 points.
Blame LeBron, blame Kyle Lowry’s injury, blame Dwane Casey, but the bottom line is this: the Cavs have made 45 threes in three games. They are shooting 50% from the perimeter. The Raptors have made 17 threes in three games, shooting 27%. The 28 more threes per game by the Cavaliers translates into 84 additional points, not to mention fast break buckets when those Raptors threes brick long.
The Cavaliers made more threes in game two (18) than the Raptors have made all series. None of this is reinventing the wheel. The Cavs were the second best three point shooting team in 2016-17, better than the Warriors who were third. The Cavs made the second most threes per game (13). Only the Rockets made more with 14.2 threes per game.
On the other hand, the Raptors made 8.7 threes per game in the regular season, which was in the bottom 20% of the league. They took 24 per game, also nearing rock bottom. Their 24 threes per game were 9 fewer than the Cavs and 16 fewer than the leader, the Rockets.
Because the Raptors have been a below average three point defense all year long, this was predictable. They are getting blistered.
The roster Masai Ujiri built didn’t have LeBron James in mind. Their best offensive player, DeMar DeRozan, doesn’t make threes. As great a scorer as DeRozan is, it is a huge hole in his game. His idol Kobe Bryant, who he watched and patterned his game after, wasn’t Ray Allen out there but in his seventh year Bryant made 124 threes. In this, his eighth year, DeRozan took 124 threes and made 33.
It puts the Raptors at a huge disadvantage whomever they play. They don’t have the ability to space the floor. Good defenses like the Cavs can guard DeRozan. They have the athleticism to stay in front of him and contest his shot. He is taking the shots the Cavs want him to take. He can’t pull up from three and jack a shot whenever he wants. The Cavs are taking full advantage of his weakness.
And so the Raptors are on their last gasp of oxygen. It is DeRozan or it is nothing since Lowry is out. But the Raptors weren’t going to beat the Cavs anyway. To do that you need scorers. Lots of them. It is how Dallas beat LeBron. And then San Antonio. And two years ago, Golden State.
Want to beat the Cavs Masai Ujiri? Load up on three point shot makers. Stop complaining about LeBron. (And fire Dwane Casey).
photo via llananba