Toronto Raptors: Missed opportunity to silence critics against LeBron James


LeBron James put up another strong performance against the Toronto Raptors at home, in what should be seen as a missed opportunity and not a reason to panic.

History was not on the Toronto Raptors’ side as they went into Wednesday’s night game 1-7 on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers over the past three seasons.

Win or lose, there was not much the team could do to silence critics who aren’t ready to crown the Raptors as the best team in the Eastern Conference. They did not do themselves any favours, losing 132-129 while seeing their nine-game winning streak on the road come to an end.

Like Russell Westbrook did against Toronto a couple of games ago, LeBron James carried his team to victory despite having a depleted lineup. With 35 points and 17 assists, the King once again showed he can take over a game offensively even though he was a ghost defensively.

The real story was how poorly Toronto played defensively against James, who registered zero turnovers. Maybe fatigue was a factor, with the team playing the night before in Orlando and their fifth game in the past seven days.

After scoring 79 points in the first half, the team could not find their three-point shooting which allowed the Cavaliers to claw their way back. No matter who the Raptors would throw out to guard James, they had their struggles.

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As Eric Koreen of The Athletic wrote, OG Anunoby was no match for the King which was disappointing and Pascal Siakam had a good start, but James made the proper adjustments.

It was concerning to see Serge Ibaka struggle offensively, missing all four three-point attempts and two-for-eight from the field. At least Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet were able to make shots from beyond the arc in a high paced offensive game.

This loss should not be blown out of proportion though if you’re a Raptors fan. Sure giving up 132 points is not ideal but Toronto also scored 129, this was not a game Cleveland dominated like they have in the past.

Sure Kevin Love and George Hill made the most of their chances especially from the field, where they went a combined 18-for-26. The Raptors were also missing a key component of their bench scoring in C.J. Miles, who was out with an illness.

What will be frustrating is the fact this will be adding fuel to the fire for the U.S. media, who have been overly critical about the Raptors’ chances in the postseason. There is a valid argument LeBron will be able to carry his team with his play, that was evident on Wednesday night.

Unfortunately, the Raptors missed a chance to show they can get past Cleveland with James playing at his best especially in Cleveland. Luckily, they will have home-court advantage in any playoff series against the Cavs.

While it would be ideal to avoid playing against Cleveland in the postseason, what better way to prove you are worthy of being the team to come out of the East than to eliminate the King.

"“Defensively I think we’ve gotten loose with our principles, our communication,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey to Sportsnet‘s Michael Grange before the game. “OKC sliced and diced us with their pick-and-roll and exposed us on some areas we have to tighten area … It’s slipped.”"

Unless Toronto can continue to keep up with the Cavaliers offensively, they will have to figure out how to make the small tweaks defensively; there is no way to stop LeBron, but make the players around him less effective. Take away the other weapons and hope that it limits the damage he can do.

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The Toronto Raptors will get another chance to play in Cleveland before the playoffs on Apr. 3. Maybe they can find their defensive rhythm at that time.