Raptors: Chess Match Between Casey, Lue Will Decide Series

May 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey reacts to a call on the court during the second quarter in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
May 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey reacts to a call on the court during the second quarter in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

With the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers deadlocked at two games each, the adjustments made by Dwane Casey and Tyronn Lue will ultimately decide the series.

Both the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers have defended their home court during the Eastern Conference Finals. Now with the series being minimized to a best of three, the adjustments each coach makes will play a pivotal role in the outcome.

On one side of the floor, you have a defensive mind in Dwane Casey. On the other side of the floor, you have an offensive mind in Tyronn Lue that wants to push the pace and move the ball.

The chess match between these two will be very interesting over the next two, possibly even three, games.

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With that in mind, here’s a look at a few areas each coach might make adjustments in during the back half of this series.


Setting screens is an underrated aspect of any offence, but during this series, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo have been excellent for the Raptors. Toronto had 12 screen assists in Game 4 and have visibly punished the Cavs in high screen-and-roll situations, particularly when they get Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love up high.

Throughout this series we’ve seen Biyombo set a high screen and then dive off it and attack the rim, which has led to easy buckets or rebounds. Biyombo has kind of become the Raptors version of DeAndre Jordan or Tyson Chandler, and it’s been a thorn in the Cavs side.

Without a true rim protector, the Raptors will likely continue to attack the Cavs when they have Love or Frye on Biyombo. If they can get pick-and-roll situations involving Love and Kyrie, expect the Raptors to continue to relentlessly attack them.

There are a number of ways Lue can counter the Raptors screen game, like hiding Love or Kyrie off the ball, but eventually he will need one of them to step up.

Defensive Matchups:

Watching both teams attack each other has been fun. We’ve seen Kyle Lowry and Kyrie Irving exchange buckets, we’ve seen DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James guard each other, and we’ve seen Bismack Biyombo defend the likes of Kevin Love and Channing Frye.

Each matchup has created compelling results. In Games 3 and 4, the Lowry-Irving matchup has played a pivotal role. In man-to-man situations, Lowry has consistnetly beat Irving. The Raptors are essentially putting the ball in Lowry’s hands and challenging Kyrie to not only defend Lowry, but force him to make decisions he doesn’t want to make.

Kyrie’s struggles with Lowry have a domino affect, however. DeMar DeRozan has been a force this series and he can thank Irving’s defensive struggles for a small part of his success.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no denying that DeRozan has played well. He’s getting to the hoop, he’s shooting the ball well, and he’s even going at LeBron James. Even his post-up game has been ideal for the Raptors, especially against J.R. Smith.

But when Lowry is continuously beating his man, usually Kyrie, it has forced LeBron to peel off his defender and help out. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it forces LeBron to work a lot harder and essentially try to make up for the errors of others.

Casey has also ran a lot of baseline screens on LeBron to allow DeRozan to get open when he is guarding him, which has helped DeRozan regularly get to his spot. It’s not a flashy part of the game, but it’s an adjustment that has helped the Raptors a ton.

If you’re Lue and the Cavs, how do you defend Lowry and DeRozan? LeBron can only defend one player, so somebody else has to step up. Maybe it will be J.R. Smith on DeRozan, which we’ve seen frequently in this series, or Kyrie on Lowry, or perhaps both. Either way, the Cavs need one of these players to step up and make a difference on defence.

Off-ball Movement:

In Games 1 and 2 the Cavs destroyed the Raptors off the ball, particularly on the weak side of the court. The Raptors really ramped up their effort in Games 3 and 4 and it showed.

One lineup that continues to give Toronto trouble, however, is the LeBron and the reserves lineup. The group of LeBron, Delladova, Shumpert, Jefferson and Frye has been lethal and creates great spacing. They opened the fourth quarter in Game 4 by making 11 consecutive shots and have combined to shoot 54.8 percent from three during this postseason. I’d expect to see a lot more of this lineup going forward.

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Earlier in this series we saw the Cavs win a lot of one-on-one battles in off-ball situations, which forced the Raptors into stagnant sets on offence, or defensive breakdowns on defence. On defence, the Cavs relentlessly trapped the Raptors and wreaked havoc. We seldom saw this in Games 3 and 4, and it spoke to the level of intensity the Cavs played with as a defensive unit.


Kudos to Dwane Casey for shortening his rotation this series and — for the most part — sticking with a five of Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Patterson and Biyombo. This five propelled the Raptors to back-to-back victories in Toronto and has posted a plus/minus of plus 1.8 during this series, which is more than suffice.

Meanwhile, the Cavs rotation has been a mess. Neither Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson has been effective in crunch time. Thompson has played 22 seconds, while Love has played zero seconds over the past two fourth quarters. With both players combining to make over $30 million, you certainly expect more from them.

We’ve seen Thunder head coach Billy Donovan make the adjustment of limiting Enes Kanter in their series against the Warriors, and it’s paid major dividends. The difference between Kanter and Love is obviously stark, but it’s clear Lue isn’t afraid to make similar adjustments.

The only problem is that the Cavs need Love, where the Thunder don’t necessarily need Kanter. During the first two rounds, we saw the trio of Love, Frye and LeBron look borderline unstoppable. Perhaps Lue puts that trio back together?

Will the Cavs go Small?

Ever since Lue took over as the Cavs head coach, he’s preached playing fast and trusting the pass. So far this postseason the Cavs are averaging 91 possessions per game, which is four less than what they averaged during the regular season.

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The Cavs aren’t going to play at a Warriors or Thunder type pace, but they can easily play faster. One way they could do this is by deploying a smaller lineup. Late in Game 4 we saw Lue send out a smaller lineup that was built around LeBron and Frye. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lineup consisting of LeBron, Kyrie, J.R., Frye, and either Delladova or Jefferson in Game 5.

The Cavs would be sacrificing size, but there spacing would likely improve. On the contrary, having LeBron facilitate their offence would basically allow the Raptors to continue to challenge LeBron to shoot threes.

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Over the past two games we’ve seen the Raptors literally back off LeBron when he’s out on the perimeter and essentially dare him to shoot a three. The Cavs spacing and transition offence would improve with a smaller lineup, but like most things surrounding the Cavs, it would all be contingent on the decisions LeBron makes with the ball.