Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
The Cavaliers raced out to 19-9 start and were an offensive force early — they hit their first eight shots from three and shot 71 percent as a team in the first quarter, which earned them an offensive rating of 148 (points per 100 possessions). Toronto was missing shots and those were becoming transition buckets for the Cavaliers going the other way.
Cleveland also played focused defense, like trapping DeMar DeRozan hard and forcing him into a 2-of-11 shooting night with five points for the game. Meanwhile, LeBron James was getting whatever he wanted on his way to 39 points on 10-of-14 shooting, attacking the rim and getting to the line 21 times. All of this led to Cleveland being up 62-48 at halftime, which was identical to the halftime score of Game 1.
The rest of the game felt like Game 1, too, as the Cavaliers cruised to a 125-103 win where most of the fourth quarter was garbage time.
Cleveland now leads the series 2-0 as it heads to Toronto for Game 3 on Friday night.
“We’re not a complacent team,” LeBron said postgame, which might run counter to some of the malaise we saw from the team during the regular season, but this is the playoffs and the Cavs have looked sharper this series. “We know that their home court can be very dangerous, we found that out last year, we had a 2-0 lead and dropped two in a row on their floor, so we’ve got to learn from that experience and get better going into this year.”
After watching the first two games, it’s hard to see how Toronto makes a serious comeback without a lot of help from Cleveland. Yes, this is what happened a year ago — two blowout wins by the Cavaliers at home, then Toronto won on their home court — but that series never really felt in doubt either. Toronto has to defend better and that’s in the paint, at the arc, and in their rotations. Everything has to be crisper and at a new level to win a game at home.
“We should be embarrassed, we should be angry, we should be pissed off, mad,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame.
The Cavs offense has been spectacular — Cleveland had 18 threes in the game, but a lot of those were fairly well contested — and their defense is improved this round.
The Cavaliers are taking what the defense gives them, and that was getting inside and getting fouled in Game 2 (LeBron had more free throw attempts, 21, than the entire Raptors team, 19, which speaks far more to aggressiveness than officiating).
For the Raptors, DeRozan has to get going at home Friday. He is 9-of-27 shooting through two games, and he is too crucial to their offense not to have him making a bigger impact.
“No, we can’t. To be honest with you, we can’t (win if DeRozan doesn’t get his usual number of points),” Casey said. “They’re into him, bodying him, and he’s got to vault up and make his shots, I’ve got to do a better job of getting him open looks.”
Casey tried to shake things up starting Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell again, going smaller, but it didn’t have a huge impact. Toronto did get a boost from Jonas Valanciunas is punishing the Cavs second unit inside — at one point he had 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting, and he finished the game with 23 points. However, his inability to guard on the perimeter allowed to the Cavaliers get some buckets as well, there was a tradeoff.
There just aren’t a lot of good answers for the Raptors if LeBron is on his game and the Cavaliers care about defense. That’s what happened through two games in Cleveland, we’ll see if the dynamic changes in Toronto.