Eastern Conference Semifinals: 3 Keys to Cleveland's Game 1 Victory, Can they beat Raptors?

By Michael Vesci
May. 02, 2018

The Cleveland Cavaliers stormed back against the Toronto Raptors to beat them in overtime by a final of 113-112. The Raptors controlled for most of the game and the Cavs did not get their first lead until overtime. But that would be enough to steal the Game 1 victory at the Air Canada Centre. Cleveland was working on short rest following a grueling seven game series against the Indiana Pacers, but LeBron James finally got help from the supporting cast in Game 1. This was something Cleveland lacked during their first series. Now that the Cavaliers have taken Game 1, can they continue their momentum and take down the Raptors on their quest for an NBA Championship?

Three Keys to Success in Game 1

Help from Supporting Cast

On a night where LeBron James admitted he did not have his best game, the rest of the Cavaliers around him stepped up their game. James finished with a triple-double scoring 26 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and adding 13 assists. He shot 12-30 from the field and 1-8 from beyond the arc. But five players from Cleveland scored in double figures in Game 1 alongside LeBron as Kyle Korver, JR Smith, Jeff Green, and Tristan Thompson all chipped in more than 10 points. To put that in comparison to the Pacers series, only two players averaged more than 10 point a game. LeBron James averaged 34.4 points per game while Kevin Love averaged 11.4 points per game in that series, everyone else averaged nine points or less. If Cleveland wants to beat Toronto in a seven game series, they will have to continue to get the kind of production they did in Game 1 from the supporting cast.

Better Defense and Offense

Tell me if you heard this one before. I mentioned in my article after Game 1 of the Pacers series that the Cavaliers defense was key to them advancing in the playoffs. After another slow start which saw the Cavs fall down 33-19 after the first, the Cleveland defense improved as the game went on and the offense caught up. They chipped the Raptors lead down to three by halftime and gave themselves a chance to win the game. On top of that, the defense forced 14 turnovers while the offense committed just six. This translated to the Cavaliers scoring 21 points off turnovers while the Raptors had just 4 points off turnovers. Winning the turnover battle and making the most of those extra possessions helped Cleveland stay in the game and eventually pull out the win.

LeBron James

Yes, I talked about how he got a tremendous boost from his supporting cast in this game, but LeBron James was key to this victory regardless. In the final 1:40 of regulation, James hit two key shots that helped Cleveland tie the score and send it to overtime. It is plain and simple, without LeBron the Cavaliers were not winning this game. James struggled to start the fourth quarter and did not score until he hit a three pointer with 4:48 left in the game, he had seven points, two rebounds, two assists, a block, and a foul in the fourth. However, his presence and leadership on the floor alone help out the Cavaliers even if it does not show up on the stat sheet. As mentioned earlier, he had a triple-double in this game despite a poor shooting night. He can only get better from his performance in Game 1 which will only further benefit Cleveland moving forward.

Can the Cavaliers Beat Raptors?

Hot Shooting Duo

Everything would have to continue to go right for the Cavaliers in order for them to take the series. They just do not have enough this year for another NBA Finals run or to beat Toronto in a seven game series. Cleveland shot an impressive 40% from beyond the arc in Game 1 going 14-35. JR Smith and Kyle Korver scored a combined 39 points and shot 10-18 from three point range which does not seem sustainable for an entire series. Especially from a duo in which both scored double-digit points in the same game just once in the first round, a Game 4 victory for the Cavs.

Terrific Tristan

Another factor in this series would be Tristan Thompson who struggled in the first round of the playoffs, but seemed to find his groove in Game 7 and in the opening game of this series. Thompson recorded a double-double in Game 1 with 14 points and 12 rebounds. In order for the Cavaliers to have a shot against the Toronto Raptors he would have to continue this level of production down low for Cleveland. While it is certainly possible that he can, Toronto is likely to try limiting his presence inside to avoid a repeat of Game 1.

Fourth Quarter Collapse

The odds of the Raptors repeating their fourth quarter performance again are slim to none. Toronto missed 11 straight shots in the last four- minutes of regulation, some of which were wide open shots or easy putback attempts. Down the stretch, Jonas Valanciunas missed six shots at point-blank range in the final seven minutes, he finished the game with 21 points. The drought that Toronto had at the end of the game allowed the Cavaliers the opportunity to get back in the game and they took it. Per @ESPNStatsInfo on Twitter, the image below shows the Raptors shot 3-18 from the floor and were 0-5 from three point range in the final four minutes of regulation and overtime.

The Raptors are too good of a team to have another stretch like this to finish a game. In their series against the Wizards, Toronto outscored Washington by an average of eight points in their four wins of the First Round series and scored more than 25 points in each of those fourth quarters. While those games were close down the stretch, it was the Raptors who were hitting the shots to pull away and the Wizards who were going cold from the field. In addition to being outscored by five in the final quarter, the Raptors were cold down the stretch like their opponent in the First Round, and only put up 18 fourth quarter points. Expect Toronto to come out firing in Game 2 and produce in the fourth quarter like they did in the First Round. The Cavaliers had a valiant effort down the stretch aided by the Raptors cold shooting in the fourth to steal Game 1. While they have the services of LeBron James who has dominated this postseason and led the team, they do not have enough to take the series from Toronto this year.

Prediction: Toronto Raptors in 6 Games

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