• Dennis Dow

Raptors Trying to Avoid Extinction in Game 2

April 30, 2018 - Source: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images North America

The Raptors have to win game two. They have to. Going down 0-2 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, heading to Cleveland for games three and four would almost guarantee that the Cavaliers are going to the Eastern Conference Finals. Watching game one showed that the Raptors had the game won, but were not able to hold off the Cavaliers in the 4th quarter. When the game went to overtime, you had to know that LeBron was going to win. By no means are the Raptors done. They had some great chances to win the game and I am looking for the Raptors to have a big game two.

LeBron James finished the game with a triple double, but struggled from the field shooting 12 of 30. While no one can guard LeBron James, OG Anunoby of the Raptors forced James into some difficult shots and made it difficult for LeBron to get to the basket.

Watching this clip, you can see that Anunoby does a great job getting around the screen and sticking with LeBron. LeBron is able to make a tough shot, but that is the type of shot you want him to take. The Raptors chose to allow the rookie to defend LeBron a great deal one on one with no help. That is an interesting strategy, but I agree with it 100%.

Choosing to double LeBron or give him open shooters is not ideal. Here you can see that Jonas Valanciunas is guarding Kevin Love on the weak side. When he spots Kyle Korver cutting to the basket he decides to help and LeBron immediately throws an amazing cross court pass that leads to an open JR Smith three. Smith misses, but giving those guys the chance to get open looks is what can derail the Raptors. They have to force LeBron to score and not allow guys like Love, Smith, and Korver to get going.

Defensively, the Raptors were able to hold tight while playing their two bigs. Valanciunas is not comfortable guarding out at the three point line and there were instances where he made some defensive mistakes that cost the Raptors buckets. This play below happened in the 1st quarter. You can see Valanciunas is used to not having to worry about his screener shooting from three. After Hill gets around the pick, Valanciunas goes back to Love leaving Hill wide open.

While Valanciunas did okay defensively, offensively he had a good game. The only improvement needed for him is that he has to be better in the paint. The big man shot 70% at the rim during the regular season. The number dips to 48% when shooting from 3-10 feet, but he has to do better than 7-19 as he did in game one. While I understand that some of those shots were tips, there were a great deal where he had good clean looks and just missed. He should be able to shoot over anyone that the Cavaliers throw at him and he has to be better if he is going to shoot 19 times. The clip below shows a great possession for JV. He gets to his spot with Thompson on his back and he front rims his jump hook. Those baskets could've been the difference in the game.

If Valanciunas is going to be the Raptors' best offensive player they will lose this series. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have to do more if the Raptors are going to win. Both players shot 50% from the field and combined for 40 points. However, DeRozan only scored two points in the fourth quarter. From watching DeRozan, he seems to be at his most effective when the Raptors can get him a headstart on his defender. Giving him the ball in space to go one on one was not effective. This play from the first quarter got DeRozan a nice path to get to his spot and hit a tough runner. Serge Ibaka and Jakob Poeltl set a stagger screen giving DeRozan a clear path to the paint.

I am looking forward to game two. It is a huge moment for this Raptors team. Can they fight off losing to LeBron for the third season in a row? Will this be the game that DeRozan brings some validity to those MVP chants that he gets during games? Based on Cleveland's postseason, I could see a Raptors blowout in game two. I don't like their chances if it is a close game. Enjoy the game.