After winning a franchise-record 59 games during the regular season, this was finally supposed to be The Year for the Raptors - the year they silenced the American pundits, who Toronto fans feel never give their team enough love; the year they finally earned the respect the franchise has sought since joining the National Basketball Association in 1995; the year they finally shook off their shaky playoff history and vanquished LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers.
Toronto has made five straight playoff appearances.
The script was all too familiar: a great regular season eclipsed, for the third year in a row, with a loss to LeBron and the Cavs in the playoffs.
The Cavs went 2-1 against the Celtics and 2-2 against the Sixers in the regular season, but their prospects look a lot rosier than they did a week ago. James noted that it was just their ninth game in the postseason together, but in some ways it was just the ninth game ever for this iteration of the Cavs.
In four games against the Raptors, LeBron averaged 34 points, 8.3 rebounds and 11.3 assists on 55 percent shooting from the field.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for 138 points on 53-of-108 shooting, 30 rebounds, and 46 assists. This team is the best that the franchise has seen in its history. CJ Miles notched 13 points, Serge Ibaka added 12 and Delon Wright tallied 10. Boston leads that series 3-1. DeRozan found himself on the bench for the last 14 minutes of Game 3 as he watched his team go on a run, almost getting them back in the series.
But even his most frequent detractor, commentator Skip Bayless, seemed to understand that taking things easy for a little while and letting the other Cavs do the heavy lifting made sense for the 33-year-old.
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Meanwhile, it sounds like the Cavaliers' tactics were simple - their coach Tyronn Lue said on Sunday: "You just get the ball to Bron at the end of the game". Players are inspired to play better defense when they know they'll be contributing on the offensive end.
There's a chance James is playing out West next season, and even though the Celtics and 76ers will continue to get better for the foreseeable future, the East will be more open with the best player on the other side of the bracket. The team did not bring Raptors president Masai Ujiri or head coach Dwane Casey to meet the media on Tuesday, but they're expected to do so later this week.
"We weren't ready to be as physical as we needed to be", Lowry said. "It's a matchup nightmare for anybody". "When we're getting stops, we're able to get out in transition and able to get pace, we're really good. Having four or five guys in double figures every night is big for us".
"It came down to: "Right, we have to stop them from scoring". The Raptors had a double-digit lead in the second quarter and James wasn't dominating the floor. The officials reviewed the play and changed the foul call to a flagrant-2 foul, which comes with immediate ejection.
James took an inbound pass and drove the length of the court, cut to the left and sank the running one-handed dagger off the backboard to stun the Raptors' bench.
Toronto tied the score at 40 on a layup by Miles with seven minutes remaining in the second quarter before Cleveland concluded the half with a 23-7 burst.
It looks like his matchup with IN is going to be his toughest of his run to the Finals, unless Boston can pull some unforeseen magic out of nowhere.