Eight days ago, Wine & Gold were on the verge of a First Round collapse. When they wake up on Tuesday morning, they’ll be gearing up for their fourth straight showdown for the Eastern Conference crown.
The Cavaliers figured out four uniquely different ways to beat the East’s top regular season squad – including Monday night’s 36-point blowout in the deciding Game 4 at The Q to wrap up the Conference Semis and sweep the Raptors out of the Playoffs for the second straight season.
Cleveland made it 10 straight postseason wins over the Raptors – who must now head into the offseason searching for answers. Toronto dropped Game 1 without leading in regulation, lost Game 2 after shooting 54 percent from the field and fell on Saturday when LeBron James canned a game-winner at the buzzer after they’d erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit.
In Monday’s Game 4, the Cavaliers came out sharp, stumbled momentarily in the second quarter, hit the accelerator right before intermission and barely let the Raptors breathe the rest of the way.
Cleveland got balanced scoring in Monday’s elimination game – with all five starters notching double-figures in the win. As a team, the Cavaliers shot 60 percent from the floor, canned 12 triples to Toronto’s four and hit on 80 percent of their free throws.
The Cavaliers led by double-figures in the opening quarter, but Toronto fought back to take a two-point edge with eight minutes to play in the second period. But that was as good as it’d get for the Raptors – who saw Cleveland outscore them, 23-7, heading into the locker room. Dwane Casey’s squad didn’t get closer than two touchdowns the rest of the way.
”When we’re getting stops, can get out in transition and play with pace, we’re really good,” praised Tyronn Lue. “I think that in this series, we made shots. Guys made threes and a lot of different guys stepped up. Having four or five guys in double figures every single night is big for us. We still have to continue to keep getting better but I like where we’re at right now.”
LeBron James wrapped up another epic series – following up his dramatic game-winning performance on Saturday with a rock-solid performance in Game 4, leading both squads with 29 points, going 12-of-19 from the floor and 5-of-8 from the stripe. The four-time MVP – who averaged 34.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists in the series – also led both teams with 11 assists and eight boards, adding two steals and a blocked shot in 38 efficient minutes of work.
”Every game, from the seven-game series in the Indiana series to the four games here, we’re just trying to get more and more familiar with each other as a unit,” said James following the win. “I know Kev (Kevin Love), Kev knows me, and Tristan (Thompson) and JR (Smith) and Kyle (Korver), but everybody else, we want to continue to learn and see where we can be as productive as they can be to help us be successful as a team.”
Kevin Love stayed strong after struggling offensively in Game 1 – following up with 23 points, going 8-of-13 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from long-range, to go with six boards, a pair of steals and two blocked shots.
Cleveland’s dual sharpshooters – Kyle Korver and JR Smith – were nearly perfect in Game 4.
Korver finished with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting, including a 4-for-5 mark from deep, adding two assists and a steal. Smith bounced back from a scoreless Game 3 – adding 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, to go with three assists, two boards and a pair of steals.
George Hill notched half of his 12 points in the first quarter – going 3-for-3 in the period to set the tone early with a pair of fast break dunks. On the night, the 10-year veteran went 5-of-8 from the field to go with five assists.
The Raptors had another frustrating combined performance by their All-Star backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Lowry, who finished with a series-high 27 points in Game 3, was barely a factor on Wednesday night – tallying just five points on 2-for-7 shooting. He did manage to lead Toronto with 10 assists in the loss.
DeRozan sat in consecutive fourth quarters to end his season.
In Saturday night’s loss, the four-time All-Star – who struggled throughout the contest – was benched for the final 12 minutes. In Game 4, the officials gave DeRozan the final period off after he picked up a Flagrant-2 and was ejected for striking Jordan Clarkson in the head on a layup attempt. He’d posted 13 points, five boards and an assist in 33 minutes of work. He didn’t hit a single three-pointer in the series.
The Wine & Gold outran the Raptors on the break, 13-4, handed out 29 assists to 19 for Toronto and notched 64 points in the paint. Over the course of the series, the Cavaliers averaged just 8.0 turnovers per contest.
Turning Point — There was no doubt about Monday night’s turning point. And it began at almost the exact moment Toronto removed Jonas Valanciunas from the floor – after he and the Raptors erased Cleveland’s early 10-point edge.
The Raptors chipped away at the Cavs early advantage, tying the game at 36-apiece and taking a brief two-point lead before the affair was tied again at 40 with exactly seven minutes to play in the half.
The Cavaliers took immediate advantage of Valanciunas’ absence, running off seven straight points.
After OG Anunoby’s layup got Toronto back to within four, 51-47, with just over three minutes to play in the period, the Cavaliers poured it on – scoring the final 12 points of the first half, taking a 16-point edge into intermission and essentially putting the series on ice.
By the Numbers – 10-0 … Cavaliers all-time postseason mark when leading an opponent, 3-0, in the series – including each of their last two Playoff meetings against Toronto. Cleveland’s trip to the Eastern Conference Finals will be its fourth straight and eight occasion in franchise history.
Quotable – Kevin Love, on bouncing back over the final three games of the series …
”I said after Game 2, I didn’t forget how to play basketball. I just was ultra-aggressive. I found myself in spots and I found myself just missing little chippies, missing shots that were uncharacteristic for me to miss, but I continued to be aggressive, continued to put in the work every single day. So for me, it was just like I said, more than anything just being myself.”
Up Next — With the Sixers avoiding a Celtics sweep earlier in the evening on Monday, the Cavaliers must play the waiting game – and that will likely be just fine with them, considering the seven-game gauntlet against Indiana leading into the Conference Semis. If the Boston-Philly series goes seven games, the Cavaliers will travel to start the Eastern Conference next Tuesday. If that series does not go the distance, Game 1 will take place this Sunday – time TBD.