After defeating the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors advanced to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the second consecutive season. They will play a best-of-seven series against the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year.
It was just last year when the Raptors took on the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, which was the first time the Raptors made an appearance on that stage. It was a hard-fought series that ultimately was decided in six games, as the Cavaliers went on to win and advance to the NBA Finals.
The Raptors and the Cavaliers are both ready to go back to the Eastern Conference Finals but only one can advance. Let's take a look at how it will be done.
What the Raptors need to do Advance to Eastern Conference Finals
Toronto will need to buckle down on defense to stop the Cavaliers' high-octane offense. During this year's postseason match-up against the Indiana Pacers, the Cavaliers are second out of the 16 teams, in total points average with 112.8 points a contest. That is a lot of points given up but fortunately for the Raptors, they are second in these playoffs in their defensive rating with 100.7.
However, even with a good defensive rating, what must not be forgotten is that the Cavaliers have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and that just about changes defensive schemes for any team. The Raptors are lucky once again because they have solid defensive stoppers who can limit James and Irving with the likes of Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, and Norman Powell.
What the Cavaliers need to do Advance to Eastern Conference Finals
It's safe to say that James and Irving are going to get their points, it's just a matter if the Raptors can stop them. However, the Cavaliers need to do only two things to send Toronto packing.
In the six-game series against the Bucks, Toronto was led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in every game of their four wins.
However, in the two games they lost, both Lowry and DeRozan struggled mightily. Lowry had only four points on 2-for-11 shooting in the 14-point Game 1 loss.
DeRozan, being the Raptors' primary scoring option, was held to eight points and was without a field-goal in the Game 3 loss. The result? A 27-point blowout victory for the Bucks.
So, what does this mean? If the Cavaliers can contain DeRozan and Lowry on offense, then that leaves the Raptors to go to their other options and they aren't strong options to say the least. Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and DeMarre Carroll are the 'other guys' for the Raptors and they must come prepared for when DeRozan and Lowry struggle. Ibaka is the only player from the 'other guys' who averages double-figures in points with 12.8 points per game. This will be a huge test for others to step-up.
Game 1 of the best-of-seven series between the two teams kicks off on Monday at 7:00 p.m. The Raptors playoff record for Game 1's has been very poor as they are 1-9. They lost Game 1 at home to the Bucks but now they will be starting the series in Cleveland with their backs are against the wall right from the tip.