Toronto Raptors Roundtable: Can They Beat the Cavs?

May 15, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; General view of the seating before the game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs between the Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
May 15, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; General view of the seating before the game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs between the Miami Heat and the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Raptors first-ever Eastern Conference Finals appearance begins on Tuesday, so we decided to share our opinion on the series here at Tip of the Tower.

No this is not a typo, for the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors are in the Eastern Conference Finals. Welcome to unforeseen territory Raptors’ fans!

Related Story: Raptors Prove Themselves Before Taking on the King

Now the Raptors will take on LeBron James and the heavily favoured Cleveland Cavaliers. To help breakdown and preview the series, we brought in a few of our own writers from Tip of the Tower.

Sitting at the Table:

Chris Okrainetz (@chrisokrainetz)
Jake Middleton (@JakeMiddleton12)
Ryan Greco (@RyanGreco416)
Demar Grant (@demarjg)
David Morassutti (@d_morassutti)
Tristan Garnett (@_tgarnett)

What concerns you most about the Cavs?

Jake Middleton: LeBron James and their three point shooting. For as much as I detest LeBron James as a basketball player, he is without a doubt still one of the best players in the NBA and an all-time great who is capable of absolutely dominating when he wants to.

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LeBron has gone to five straight NBA Finals, and that is significant. He, by himself, might have more experience than the entire Toronto Raptors, and that is concerning for sure. You cannot let him get in the paint, you have to force him to be a jump shooter, something he isn’t great at.

The other major concern has to be the way the Cavs spread the floor and shoot the three ball. They have been hitting threes at a historic clip, and the raptors better force them off the three point line or this series could be short.

Ryan Greco: Besides the most well rested Lebron in playoff history? I would say Kyrie Irving’s 24.5 points per game and Toronto’s inability to defend the three all season, finishing No. 29 overall in opponents three point shooting percentage against at 37 percent. I doubt Cleveland will continue shooting the lights out like they did against Atlanta, but if they don’t let off, this will be a short series.

Chris Okrainetz: It’s hard to ignore the Cavs three point shooting during this postseason. Although I doubt they’ll hit 15 or more threes in four straight games like they did against the Hawks, I could see the Raptors poor perimeter defence being an issue in this series.

Aside from that, like Ryan was saying, it has to be a healthy and rested LeBron James. He’s still one of the best players in the league and for him to be at 100 percent for a Conference Finals matchup is a scary thought.

Demar Grant: The Cavs simply have more firepower than the Raptors do in this series. The Raptors were the second worst team at defending the three point shot during the regular season, and although it may seem like they have fixed that due to their opponent’s three point shooting percentage in the playoffs, it’s simply a symptom of those teams being unable to shoot the ball from range. Their shots have definitely been open though.

Tristan Garnett: Their recent success shooting from behind the arc. The Cavaliers have two of the best offensive talents in the league in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, both are capable of getting into the paint at will to either finish at the rim or create a play for an open teammate. Adding strong consistent three-point shooting makes Cleveland virtually unbeatable.

David Morassutti: The Raptors have struggled to defend the perimeter and seeing that the Cavaliers are the best three-point shooting team in the playoffs, the Raptors will have to tighten up in that area. Cleveland has done a good job moving the ball around and getting open looks so the Raptors will have to devise a plan against that which will be tough to do.

Who has the coaching advantage in this series? Dwane Casey and the Raptors? Or Tyronn Lue and the Cavs?

Ryan Greco:  Casey has caught flak for the “ride or die” mentality he has adopted with DeRozan and Lowry, but the Raptors have been undefeated after suffering a loss this postseason. Casey is working with two under performing stars, and without his starting center, and managed to make it this far. Tyronn Lue was literally appointed by LeBron James and has been a serviceable extension of Coach James’ grand design. As long as he continues to roll the substitutions as planned, all will be fine in Cleveland.

Tristan Garnett: Based on the talent on the two rosters, most would probably say Tyronn Lue, but I believe it’s Dwayne Casey. The Raptors’ coach has been with this core group of players for longer than Lue has been with the Cavaliers organization, and more importantly, Casey’s players respect his authority. On a LeBron James-led-team the head coach never quite has complete

Chris Okrainetz: I think Casey has the edge here. For as much as Raptors’ fans criticize Casey, he has done a great job of making adjustments throughout this postseason. Whether it be by playing Kyle Lowry and the reserves, benching Scola in favour of Patrick Patterson, or even finding ways to work Terrence Ross into the rotation, Casey has found a way to make things work. I don’t think either coach is great in late-game situations, but overall, I think Casey is a more complete and experienced coach.

Demar Grant: Believe it or not Dwane Casey is a good coach. All he really needs is an offensive co-ordinator to organize the offense and it would be humming *cough, cough* Jeff Hornacek *cough, cough*. Anyway, Casey has shown to me throughout the the playoffs that he is able and willing to make the necessary adjustments to put his team in the best position to win. Ty Lue doesn’t seem to be more than a figure head on the Cavs bench to me.

Jake Middleton: By far Dwane Casey. He’s an NBA champion and has led his team to three consecutive playoff appearances while improving every single year. For all the complaints about Casey at times, he’s a fantastic coach and easily has the advantage over Tyronn Lue, who is a glorified assistant posing as a head coach. LeBron James’ personal puppet shouldn’t have an effect on this series, we all know who runs the show in Cleveland and he wears No. 23.

How confident are you that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have resolved their shooting woes?

Jake Middleton: I think I’m getting closer to believing everything is back to normal, but you still want to see the consistency every night. I think for Kyle and DeMar they need to keep their confidence sky-high throughout this series for the Raptors to have a chance, because they become a much more lethal attack when their stars are taking up the defenses attention. Kyle I’m more confident in, because he was missing good shots, but still want to see a big game from DeMar.

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  • Tristan Garnett: I’m more inclined to believe that Kyle Lowry has regained his shooting touch more so than DeMar DeRozan. Lowry shot well in Game 6 and 7 of the series with the Heat, including 8-for-12 from the three-point line in that stretch. As oppose to differing to teammates in the beginning of that series, the Raptors point guard now appears to be shooting with total confidence. The key for DeRozan to get his shot back on track will be to take more efficient shots against Cleveland.

    David Morassutti: I am able to look past the slumps that Lowry and DeRozan went through in the first two rounds. Lowry more particularly because of the other contributions he was making even when he was not at his best offensively. Hopefully the issues they were going through are behind them because the last two games showed that Lowry and DeRozan are starting to get the ball rolling again offensively.

    Demar Grant: The shooting woes for Kyle are over, he’s back. Its probably gone unnoticed because he didn’t have a Steph Curry-like three point explosion, but in the past few games his shooting has been back to normal.

    As for DeRozan I really expect his shooting to take another hit in this series. The cavs have a lot of length on their team and from the past two series I’ve noticed that especially long  defenders give DeRozan trouble. He loves to pump fake but defenders that are taller than him, or have longer arms, are capable of defending his shot without jumping, thus redereing his pump fake useless. Along With DeRozan’s ability to only post up smaller defenders we might see DeRozan vs. Pacers 2.0 when it comes to his shooting percentage.

    Chris Okrainetz: I think both players are in a significantly better mental state heading into this series, but their health issues still concern me. Lowry should not have a problem scoring against Kyrie Irving, but DeMar DeRozan and his injured thumb could have a tough time with either Iman Shumpert, LeBron James or J.R. Smith guarding him. Shot selection is always a big part of DeRozan’s game, and I think it will be even more critical throughout this series if the Raptors are going to have a chance.

    Ryan Greco: Very. These two have taken more than half of the shots during this playoff run and will continue to do so moving forward. We lose nothing in having faith in them — it can’t get any worse than what we have seen — and gain everything in believing they have both finally turned a corner, shaking off the nerves that plagued them for 13 games.

    Aside from Lowry and DeRozan, who is the most important Raptors’ player in this series?

    Ryan Greco: DeMarre Carroll, hands down. He was signed by Masai Ujiri for the specific assignment of guarding a LeBron James, or Dwayne Wade, or Paul George. Containing LeBron and forcing the remainder of the Cavaliers to beat the Raptors will be the difference between a drawn out seven game slugfest, and a four game sweep.

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    Jake Middleton: Tie, between DeMarre Carroll and Bismack Biyombo. They’re guarding the two most important players on the floor in LeBron James and Kevin Love. If Carroll can hold LeBron to even average shooting where he isn’t free to facilitate the ball at will, the Raptors will have a chance.

    The most impressive part of Biyombo’s Game 7 performance was his defense against a small lineup. He was incredible on the Heat’s small lineup, absolutely torching them for nearly 20 rebounds. If he plays like he did in Game 7, he could be a significant mismatch for the Cavs.

    Chris Okrainetz: It’s DeMarre Carroll.

    Is this not the exact reason why the Raptors signed him in the offseason? To take on the likes of LeBron James and defend other long forwards that have given the Raptors trouble in the past? I don’t think anyone can stop LeBron over a seven game series, but I do think Carroll can at least do enough to somewhat slow him down.

    Plus, aside from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who has a better skill set to defend LeBron than DeMarre does?

    Tristan Garnett: Bismack Biyombo. With the status of Jonas Valanciunas uncertain for this series, Biyombo is once again the only true serviceable big man at the Raptors disposal. He will log long minutes just as he did in Game 7 against the Heat in hopes of protecting the rim and prying
    away rebounds from the best offensive rebounder remaining in the playoffs in Tristan Thompson.

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    Demar Grant:  Patrick Patterson has got some work to do in this series. Hes shot horribly from three for the entire Heat series. That can’t continue. He also has the job of guarding Kevin Love, which can prove interesting because K-Love is one of the best rebounders in the league, even if it isn’t represented empirically, and Patrick Patterson has never been known for his rebounding.

    David Morassutti: To me it has to be Cory Joseph. When Lowry and DeRozan were struggling it was Joseph that was stepping up and hopefully his past experience in the playoffs can help the Raptors, especially against an experienced Cavaliers team.

    The Raptors win this series if…

    Demar Grant: The only way I can see the Raptors winning this series is if JV comes back and punishes Cleveland down low like he is 2001 Shaq, or Kyle Lowry suddenly starts shooting the ball like Steph Curry. Realistically, LeBron would have to get injured for the rest of the series for the Raptors to have a chance but he hasn’t really been injured for extended durations of time at any period in his career, so even that is unlikely.

    Ryan Greco: Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry play their best basketball, Jonas Valanciunas returns and is a factor in the paint, and the Raptors are lights out from beyond the arc. All of those things have to happen for Toronto to shock the world.

    Jake Middleton: They defend the three point line and their offense from Game 7 shows up. Don’t get it twisted, the Heat are a good team, and on Sunday the Raptors completely dominated them in every aspect of the game. If they can get all-star performances out of the backcourt, and their balanced attack shines, the Raptors could beat this team. I mean, the Cavaliers are a great basketball team, but they’re not ’96 Bulls. With that said, a lot needs to go right for the Raptors to win this series, but we have finally seen what they’re capable of, and I think if they play like they did in Game 7, we could have the NBA Finals in Toronto for the first time ever.

    Tristan Garnett: If they play good perimeter defense, forcing the Cavaliers off of the three-point line in addition to winning the battle of the boards, limiting the amount of second chance opportunities for Cleveland’s dynamic offensive players to strike.

    Chris Okrainetz: Everything has to go right for the Raptors. They need to own the perimeter on both offence and defence, dominate the glass, and get four unbelievable games from Kyle Lowry and somebody else. It’s not impossible, but it is asking for a lot.

    David Morassutti: If Lowry and DeRozan can step up their game, especially late in games with a close score margin. If they can keep pace with the Cavaliers and their bench can give them a boost both offensively and dominate the backcourt then they could pull off the upset. If they are unable to defend the Cavaliers from beyond the arc then they will have a tough time winning games.

    Prediction time: who wins this series and why?

    Jake Middleton: Cavaliers in six. I originally wanted to go with the Cavs in 5, but something tells me the Raptors win one on the road early on. I don’t think they can beat the Cavaliers, but you never know. Cleveland is way too healthy and way too deep, if they maintain anywhere near the way they’ve been shooting the basketball lately it should be too much for the Raptors to handle. But there is still a lot to be happy about: a top 10 pick, conference final, and a legitimate star player in place, Toronto might just have an outside shot at one of the big fishes in the offseason (Batum, Durant, Beal, etc.).

    Tristan Garnett: The Cavaliers win the series in six games. The Raptors steal a victory at Cleveland, and then rally behind the overwhelming support of an entire nation to win another game in Toronto, but ultimately fall short to the superior talent of the reigning Eastern Conference champions.

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    Ryan Greco: Cleveland in seven. DeRozan and Lowry will have a series for the ages.

    Demar Grant: Cavs in five. The Raptors just don’t have enough offensive firepower to keep up with Cleveland and I also question Toronto’s ability to guard Cleveland when they trot out the K-Love at center and LeBron at power forward lineup. Sorry Raps’ fans!

    Chris Okrainetz: Cleveland in five. The Cavs are playing well at the right time and their talent will push them past the Raptors. Unfortunately, what the Raptors do well, the Cavs defend well, so I’d expect five competitive games, but ultimately the Cavs are too much for the Raptors.

    How do you think this series will turn out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.