For the third straight season, the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers will square off in the NBA Playoffs. Will the Raptors finally be able to overcome their bogeyman?
The Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are all set for another meeting in the playoffs. While one of the beauties of the NBA conference structure is that it can breed bitter playoff rivalries, nobody is clamoring about Raptors-Cavs as a storied rivalry. Cleveland has dominated the two playoff matchups between these teams, winning a lopsided six game series in 2016 and then sweeping the Raptors last season. LeBron’s classic quote from a post-game press conference the 2016 Eastern Finals sums it all up in just a few words: “I’ve been a part of some very adverse situations. And I just didn’t believe that this was one of them.” In 2016 and 2017, the Cavs never took the Raptors seriously as a challenger to their throne in the East.
Matters are a bit different this time around though. Toronto is coming off the best season in franchise history after winning 59 games and taking a round one series against Washington in six games. The Raptors transformed their offense in the regular season, thanks in large part to a killer, pass-happy bench mob and DeMar DeRozan’s extended shooting range. The series against the Wizards wasn’t always pretty, and we saw some of the stagnancy of the old Raptors creep into the game. But this is a better Toronto team, and one that is without question more equipped to handle Cleveland.
The Cavaliers limped across the finish line against an impressive Pacers team, requiring a Herculean effort from LeBron to eek out a victory in seven games. We should however be slightly cautious about overreacting to the Indiana series. As bad as Cleveland looked in that series and as hapless as the Cavs seemed without LeBron on the floor, the Raptors always seem to struggle mightily against them. The last two regular season games between these teams went Cleveland’s way, and that might give them a slight mental edge heading into round two.
In any case, this is going to be an interesting series and should be much closer than the last playoff meetings between these teams. For the first time in these playoff matchups with Cleveland, Toronto has the better team. The Cavaliers still have the best player though. Here are five key factors to watch for as the series unfolds.