In 2016, the Toronto Raptors lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 4–2 in the Eastern Conference finals. Last year, Canada’s best and only NBA team swung and missed at LeBron James and the Cavs a second time, this time getting swept in the Eastern Conference semis.
After those two playoff beatdowns, the Raptors and their coach Dwane Casey changed their entire offensive approach, installing a new motion offense that made Toronto less dependent on its stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Thanks to that new system and an amazing collection of bench players, the Raptors secured the No. 1 seed in the East for the first time, and advanced stats pegged them as overwhelming favorites to make the NBA Finals. This time, it was going to be different.
The Cavs, meanwhile, struggled so much in the regular season that they traded pretty much everyone on their team who isn’t either LeBron James or Ante Žižić. (Ante Žižić is untouchable.) Cleveland then barely survived its first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, getting outscored by 40 points over seven games. The Cavs were, per FiveThirtyEight, “the least-convincing winner of any playoff series in modern history.” And after playing almost every minute of every game against Indiana, LeBron was, in his words, “burnt.”
That brings us to Tuesday’s Game 1 in Toronto, a contest the Cavaliers won 113–112 in overtime despite never having the lead in regulation. It’s not unprecedented for a team to lose a playoff game in which it didn’t grab the lead until overtime; the Oklahoma City Thunder did it seven years ago. But still: not that common!
In the fourth quarter and overtime, Toronto … wasn’t good:
For visual learners:
So not only did the Raptors lose Game 1, they also lost several different games of tic-tac-toe.
The good news for the Raptors is:
• This was just the first game of a best-of-seven series. They still have plenty of opportunities to win (and also to lose, but we’re focusing on the good news here).
• The Cavs still aren’t very good.
• They were winning the whole game, which is pretty much the same as winning the game.
The bad news for the Raptors is:
• LeBron James, who was burnt, scored a mere (for him) 26 points on 12-for-30 shooting and missed a bunch of shots down the stretch. He will likely be less burnt in Game 2.
• They are still somehow finding new ways to lose to the Cavs despite the fact that they’ve already lost to the Cavs so, so many times.
• Drake is extremely mad at Kendrick Perkins, which doesn’t really fit into this bulleted list, but it’s still reflective of the fact that all of Toronto is very on edge right now.
Game 2 is Thursday night. Pray for Canada.