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For the third straight season, the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers are meeting in the playoffs. Once again, it’s hard to predict what will happen.
Two years ago, there was a sense that the Raptors had achieved their goal by just making it to Cleveland. Beating the Miami Heat in seven games was an amazing achievement, if not ugly in execution. The two home games against Cleveland were more an out-of-body experience than anything. The Raptors are in the Eastern Conference Finals… and there’s hope??? Last year felt like a horror show in comparison. Toronto was supposed to learn from their 2016 experience, but a mismatched and struggling supporting cast got exposed by a three-point barrage from Cleveland. The sweep was unmemorable and, eventually, unavoidable.
So yeah, it’s hard to use any of that as a predictor. Kyrie Irving is gone and this Cavaliers team more resembles the 2015 squad that LeBron dragged to the finals in Irving’s absence. There’s James, occasionally Kevin Love, and seven massive question marks. Forget the regular season too — the Cavs overhauled their roster at the trade deadline, and will likely play different lineups than they did when they beat Toronto twice in the last month of the regular season.
I have this inherent need to explain basketball through numbers, though; to make it easy to understand and predict worrying series such as this one. The thing is, basketball is susceptible to truly wild stuff when a generational talent is involved. On paper, these Raptors have the depth and ability to beat a Cleveland team that struggles on defence and lacks a reliable supporting cast. But still, LeBron James looms.
LeBron was indomitable in Cleveland’s Game 7 win over Indiana on Sunday. Scoring 45 points was one thing, but the public pronunciation of “I’m playing the whole game” before cramping up for a short stretch was just another reminder of his greatness. This is a player who, for 15 seasons, has been able to summon will and drag his team to the finish line. He did it on Sunday, expect it to happen again at least once in this second round series.
I’m sure I’m not alone as a Raptors fan, feeling a strange mix of confidence and fear going into this third matchup with the Cavs. It’s a hard series to predict, but undoubtedly one where Toronto should be favoured — they are deeper, have more ways to win, and a roster that can thwart a lot of Cleveland’s pet offence (save one guy).