Jonas Valanciunas was a hero last round against the Wizards, but what can he do against a hungry LeBron James at the rim?
Game 1 Odds
Cleveland at Toronto
Time: 7 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: TOR -6.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Cleveland Cavaliers needed a Game 7 to bid adieu to the Indiana Pacers. The Toronto Raptors passed its first round test with flying colors. Which team will ultimately prevail in Round 2, the LeBron James-led Cavs or a deep Raptors team hitting the most crucial part of its most successful season in recent memory?
It is really a tough call and proposition, but NBA Oddsmakers at 5dimes set the line 6.5-points in favor of the Raptors in Game 1.
James needed all of his heroics to will the Cavaliers to a Game 7 win against the Pacers. Some say he even needed help from a dubious trio of officials, which seemingly gave the home team Cavs nearly every call. That type of nuanced “help” may not be available against Toronto, a team with a second unit nearly better than non-playoff teams’ first units. Toronto goes 12 deep at times, and every starter is backed by quality.
Can the wafer-thin Cavaliers keep up with that?
Will it decide the series?
Every time we seem prone to say these things, LBJ pulls out more heroics. It is pretty confounding, but let us take a look at a positional breakdown of the Cavaliers-Raptors series here in our series preview at Maddux Sports.
Backcourt: George Hill/Rodney Hood vs. Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan
The Cavaliers essentially replaced its starting backcourt at the trade deadline, and while it could be an effective duo eventually, it has not been thus far in the postseason. Rodney Hood is not performing at the same level he did in Utah, and it is really anyone’s guess as to why. George Hill seems to be in some early decline. Neither of them is good matchups against the All-Star tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
For all the knocks that Lowry and DeRozan have taken for their previous postseason flops, it likely will not happen again against this backcourt. The Cavaliers have been woeful defensively, and DeRozan has all the tricks in the bag to take full advantage of it. He is not a three-point shooter, but he has built one of the most effective slash/mid-range games in the Association, and while Hood is an average defender, the average will not quite cut it against a focused DeRozan.
Frontcourt: LeBron James/Jeff Green/Kevin Love/Ghost of Zyndrunas Ilgauskas vs. OG Anunoby/Serge Ibaka/Jonas Valanciunas
LeBron James gives any frontcourt an edge, but perhaps most especially while his defensive draw is a rookie, albeit a mature and effective one, in OG Anunoby. The rookie will now face the challenge of his life in slowing this generation’s most dominant talent, and plenty of Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas’ defensive efforts will be consumed in helping Anunoby with his no-win task.
That said, Ibaka is not the defender he once was, and Valanciunas could easily find himself in foul trouble if he gets too ambitious in his rotations. Fortunately for Toronto, he is backed up by a decent option in Jakob Poeltl, a center who has made tremendous strides in his second season. Pascal Siakem will also see plenty of minutes behind Ibaka, and he will undoubtedly try his hand at covering James, too. Really, this is a collective effort on Toronto’s part, because James has shown that he can win series single-handedly. Making that not happen is Toronto’s focus, and it has the defensive cogs to do it. As for whether James ultimately goes “next level” on Toronto’s collection of defenders, is an entirely different matter.
Whatsoever the case, King James gives the Cavs’ frontcourt an edge, even with Kevin Love performing well below capacity and Jeff Green being a fringe starter at best. That should say enough, no? Of course, if the ghost of “Big Z” comes out in this series, it could just get spooky.
Toronto has quality backups at every position. Delon Wright proved huge in Round 1, and from Siakem’s defense to CJ Miles’ marksmanship, the Raptors bring quality off the pine at every position. The Cavaliers do just the opposite. That could change, for the better, of course, but the disparity in quality at every position is readily apparent on paper. Cleveland needs Jordan Clarkson to really get aggressive and score some points, but that might not happen with plenty of great defenders to keep him from getting the quality looks that he needs.
Toronto being able to go so deep into its bench is probably the difference-maker in this series, but how many look at second units as the decisive factor in a series?
Well, I do.
The Bottom Line:
Homecourt advantage is probably a lot more monumental than most realize in this series. The teams are relatively closely matched, even if Toronto’s depth is colossally superior to what Tyronn Lue has for his second unit options. Between having more GOOD players, and homecourt advantage, it should be enough for Toronto to advance in this series. However, James is not going to just quietly bow out of the postseason either, and only due to him, does this go the entire distance.
Prediction: Raptors in 7