For three quarters Friday night, Toronto was playing their best ball of the playoffs and hanging with the Cavaliers.
DeMar DeRozan was aggressive and getting buckets, Norman Powell was playing solid defense on LeBron James and forcing him into tough shots, Jonas Valanciunas was using his size to score, and as a team the Raptors were attacking the Cavaliers in smarter ways. It was a two-point game entering the fourth, even with Kyle Lowry sidelined.
Then Cleveland found another gear — specifically, LeBron found another gear, but as a team the Cavs shot 11-of-14 and 4-of-5 from three in the fourth.
“We got stops and Kyle (Korver) got hot,” was how LeBron explained the fourth quarter.
The Raptors started the fourth 1-of-12 from the field. For the quarter they were 0-4 from three, for the game they were 2-of-18 from deep. That was their fatal flaw.
The result was was Cleveland pulling away for a 115-94 victory.
The Cavaliers are now up 3-0 in the series and can close it out Sunday. They are 7-0 in these playoffs, 10-0 in the postseason dating back to the Finals last season.
“I liked our fight. I loved the way our guys competed,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “There was no back down. That stretch, right at the beginning of the fourth quarter, is what got us.”
DeRozan tried to carry the Raptors, he had 37 points for the game on 12-of-23 shooting. He did a fantastic job throughout the game of drawing out the trap and being more patient on offense. But he had just one in the fourth as he wore down.
“(DeRozan) having to play 40 minutes, go one-on-one, I thought he just got tired,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of DeRozan.
“Production from our bench, (it) has to come in and give us a boost, and for whatever reason they couldn’t get started,” Casey said. “We had to give DeMar and Jonas some kind of blow.”
Cleveland got bench production — it was the LeBron plus the bench unit that helped Cleveland pull away at the start of the fourth. Kyle Korver had his best playoff game for Cleveland with 14 points shooting 4-of-6 from three, plus even getting a block. However, it was LeBron who dominated the start of the fourth, and this shot later in the quarter may have been the dagger.
The problem for the Raptors is that even when playing their best ball of the series for three quarters, they were basically even with the Cavs. Toronto needs to be at its peak for 48 minutes to have a chance, the Cavaliers only need to find a higher gear for a quarter or so.
Cory Joseph started in place of Lowry and was 2-of-12 shooting overall and 0-of-6 on uncontested looks (via NBA.com). Powell was 6-of-19 shooting and 1-of-9 on uncontested looks. The Raptors moved the ball well at times only to miss the shot.