The Toronto Raptors handed the Cleveland Cavaliers their first playoff loss in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals, returning home in epic fashion with a 99-84 win. Toronto ends a 10 game winning streak for Cleveland in this postseason, supported by the well-rounded play on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
The Raptors suffered two lopsided losses against a hot Cleveland team in the first two games of the series, as the Cavaliers stormed to massive double digit wins in both meetings. Toronto, however, came out confident and willed themselves to a wire-to-wire victory on their home court.
Toronto's Defense Key Throughout
Toronto had not won a single quarter in the series coming into this game, but that did not hinder the confidence of a team that has brought the greatest level of success to the franchise above the Canadian border. The Raptors started the game well behind DeMar DeRozan's continued strong play, as he scored 12 points to lead the Raptors in the first quarter. Kyle Lowry, who has struggled greatly in this series, found his stroke early, scoring eight points which included two 3-point makes. The Cavaliers struggled to find an offensive flow, shooting 36 percent in the first quarter. J.R. Smith led the team with 12 points, and LeBron James added eight, but no other player hit more than one shot.
The Raptors continued their impressive play in the second quarter, holding Cleveland below 40 percent from the field again while outscoring them 33-23. DeRozan continued to roll, ending the first half with 21 points, and Lowry ended the half with 11. Toronto additionally improved their 3-point shooting, which was a significant factor in their early lead as they hit nine of 18 3-point attempts in the first half. The Cavaliers, however, continued to struggle as James ended the half with 14, while Smith and Kyrie Irving scored 11 each. Cleveland still struggled to find the mark, which shows in their 60-47 deficit to end the second quarter.
Little changed in the second half of the game, as the Raptors held a steady double-digit lead throughout the majority of the third and fourth quarters. Smith and James continued their strong play for Cleveland, but no other player besides Channing Frye off the bench was able to provide any sort of contribution throughout the game, resulting in a mediocre 35 percent shooting on the night from a Cavaliers team that had founds its rhythm and posed a significant scoring threat from all places on the court.
James led the team with 24 points and Smith added 22, while the remainder of the team went 12 of 47 from the field. The Raptors, on the other hand, maintained steady pacing throughout the entire game, leading to great shot opportunities from all over the floor while also taking the Cavaliers out of their rhythm. DeRozan led the team with 32 points and Lowry, who finally found a groove, added 20. Bismack Biyombo was tremendous for Toronto, grabbing 26 rebounds and blocking four of Cleveland’s shot. Biyombo’s energy and defensive presence made Cleveland’s nightmarish night even worse.
The Cavaliers have been led by the magnificent play of their big three in these playoffs, as James, Irving, and Kevin Love’s tremendous play led Cleveland to a 10 game win-streak to start the post season. Unfortunately, Irving and Love dropped off significantly in this game, struggling to hit shots or provide any significant contribution. Irving has led Cleveland in scoring in these playoffs, but went three for 19 from the field in this game. Love’s struggles were no better, as he only hit one of his nine field goal attempts. For Cleveland to bounce back in game four, both of these players must show up ready to play.
The 3-point shooting of Cleveland was another factor of their game that had been reliable throughout the post season but saw a significant drop-off in this game. The three ball had been the biggest factor in Cleveland’s outstanding play, as it has become a staple in their play style in these playoffs. The team, however, shot 14 of 41 in game three, ultimately shooting significantly more than they should have on a night where the shots were not falling. Little penetration and attacking the basket, which Toronto succeeded greatly with in this game, hurt Cleveland’s ability to mount a comeback against the Raptors.
Toronto should look to maintain the steady pacing that helped secure their first postseason win against Cleveland. Continued well balanced play in addition to their avid fan following could give the Raptors a significant chance to show Cleveland a challenge that they have not yet seen in the playoffs.
Game four will be played in Toronto on Monday, May 23.