It's a tale of opposites in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers swept their first two playoff matchups while the Toronto Raptors went to Game 7 in their first two playoff matchups. This is the first time in the Raptors' 21-year history that they reach the Eastern Conference Finals. For the Cavs, it is a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference Finals after they swept the Atlanta Hawks last year. Tuesday's Game 1 between the Cavs and the Raptors will be their first ever playoff matchup.
What to See from the Cavs in Game 1
The Cavs are on fire from deep. No other team in the history of the NBA shot the way the Cavs did. In their series sweep against the Detroit Pistons, the Cavs made a total of 57 three-pointers while shooting over 40 percent. This trend was set to rise. In their series sweep against the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavs made a total of 77 three-pointers while shooting 50 percent. That was the most in any playoff series in six games or less. They also set a record for most three-pointers in a game with 25. Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Channing Frye were the Cavs sharpshooters who torched both the Pistons and Hawks from deep. Much of this has to be expected from the Cavs to take Game 1.
The Cavs Big 3, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will have to bring out their A-game as this matchup against the Raptors will be their first true test. We know what we can see from those three but it is all about consistency.
How the Raptors Look to Counterattack Cavs Three-point Shooting
With this hot shooting from the Cavs, this will come as a challenge when they take on the Raptors. This is because the Raptors' perimeter defenders are keen to lockdown three-point shooters. Players like DeMare Carroll, Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph and James Johnson are naturals when it comes to perimeter defense. This translates to the Raptors keeping the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat to poor three-point shooting. The Pacers shot 38 percent from deep and the Heat shot 30 percent from deep. The Raptors need to have their perimeter defense to hold in order to steal Game 1 from the Cavs.
What to See from the Visiting Raptors in Game 1
Defense, defense, defense. That is what Head Coach Dwane Casey and the Raptors preach. Although both playoff series the Raptors played went to seven games, their defense was at its best when they won. In their first round, the Raptors kept the Pacers to 44 percent shooting and held them to an average of 93 points per game. Both were a drop from the Pacers regular season. The second round was much of the same for the Raptors. They kept the Heat to 45 percent and held them to an average of 95 points per game. Bismack Biyombo, DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Terrence Ross and James Johnson are the catalyst of the Raptors defense and must bring their defensive intensity to Game 1 to stand a chance against the Cavs.
On the offensive end, the Raptors need their all-star guards in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to excel. With Jonas Valanciunas expected to miss Game's 1 and 2, they need to step up. At times in the playoffs, Lowry and DeRozan would go missing. Other than Game 5 and 7 in the Raptors-Heat series, it is either Lowry who has a big game or DeRozan. This cannot happen when playing the Cavs as they are playing tremendous basketball.
How the Cavs Can Stifle the Raptors Defense
Give the ball to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. That is all the Cavs can do. When those three play well and play to their season averages, the Cavs will be tough to stop. Also, with the Cavs historic shooting, the Cavs have many offensive weapons. Head Coach Tyronn Lue will have to figure out the Raptors defense in order to pick and choose what he wants to run on offense. A player like LeBron James can do everything for a team but relying on one guy is risky. The supporting cast for the Cavs must do the little things on offense and defense while James, Irving and Love take over.
If both teams play the way they did the past two playoff series, this Eastern Conference Finals should be a close one. The Raptors beat the Cavs in the regular season series 2 games to 1 but that doesn't translate to what happens in the playoffs. Game 1 will be on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio.