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Cavaliers eliminate Raptors. Again.

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LeBron James has destroyed team after team in the Eastern Conference.

Will the Raptors as we know them be next?

The Cavaliers eliminated Toronto for third straight season with a 128-93 shellacking in Game 4 of their second-round sweep Monday.

LeBron advances to his eighth straight Eastern Conference finals and the 10th of his career. He and the Cavs will face the winner of the Celtics-76ers series, which Boston leads 3-1.

Where the Raptors go from here is anyone’s guess.

Will they fire Dwane Casey? Trade DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry? Keep everyone together despite annual playoff flameouts?

Cleveland swept the Raptors last year and beat them in the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history the  year prior. But this season appeared as if it could be different.

Toronto won a franchise-record 59 games and secured the No. 1 seed in the East. The Raptors were better than the Cavs during the regular season in every major facet – offense, defense, starters, bench.

The Cavaliers played awful defense, bickered in the locker room and shuffled the roster at the trade deadline. They needed seven games just to beat the Pacers, the worst first-round showing ever for a LeBron team . By the end of the series, he said he felt “burnt.”

Then, he roasted the Raptors.

LeBron (29 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds) didn’t even appear to expend much energy tonight. He can dominate while coasting – especially when his teammates step up like they did.

Kevin Love (23 points on 13 shots), Kyle Korver (16 points on eight shots), J.R. Smith (15 points on six shots) and George Hill (12 points on eight shots) were all extremely efficient.

Toronto, on the other hand, looked desperate. C.J. Miles and Serge Ibaka started over Fred VanVleet and Jonas Valanciunas to spread the floor, but Cleveland scorched the compromised defense. Lucas Nogueira played his first meaningful minutes in the second quarter, and the Raptors immediately surrendered a 10-0 run with the sub-rotation player in. DeRozan, after getting benched for the fourth quarter of Game 3, got ejected for a flagrant foul in the third quarter:

DeRozan finished with 13 points on 11 shots in 33 minutes. Lowry (five points on 2-of-7 shooting) impacted the game even less as a scorer.

Toronto, especially its stars, aren’t good enough against LeBron. If we didn’t know that already, we sure do now.

What will the Raptors do about it? They’ll have a long offseason to figure it out.

Raptors’ ‘culture reset’ shines in Game 5 win over Wizards

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The Raptors promoted ball movement. They emphasized 3-point shooting. They empowered their reserves.

This was why.

Backups Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and starting center Jonas Valanciunas – who was benched in previous postseasons due to his old-fashioned style, but expanded his game beyond the arc this year – scored Toronto’s final 18 points in a 108-98 Game 5 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Stars DeMar DeRozan (0-for-4 from the field) and Kyle Lowry (0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-2 on free throws) struggled down the stretch, as the Raptors burst open what had been a one-point lead.

Though DeRozan (32 points) and Lowry (17 points and 10 assists) were good overall, they succumbed late in previous playoff games. Toronto didn’t want that duo stuck with the burden of creating so much in a stagnate offense.

Hence, Masai Ujiri’s famous “culture reset.”

The results have been mixed so far against a tougher-than-average-eight-seed Washington. But at least the Raptors – up 3-2 entering Friday’s Game 6 in Washington – are on the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

Serge Ibaka scores 23, Raptors win Game 1 against Wizards 114-106

Associated Press
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TORONTO (AP) — Serge Ibaka had 23 points and 12 rebounds, Delon Wright scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and the Toronto Raptors snapped a 10-game losing streak in playoff series openers by beating the Washington Wizards 114-106 on Saturday.

DeMar DeRozan added 17 points, C.J. Miles and OG Anunoby each had 12, and Kyle Lowry had 11 points and nine assists for the Raptors, whose only previous victory in the opening game of a playoff series came in the second round against Philadelphia in 2001.

Toronto entered having lost an NBA-worst 10 consecutive Game 1s since, including six at home.

The top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, Toronto made 16 of 30 3-point attempts, with Miles making four, and Ibaka and Wright each hitting three.

The Raptors host Game 2 on Tuesday.

John Wall had 23 points and 15 assists for the Wizards, while Markieff Morris had 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Bradley Beal scored 19 points for Washington, while Mike Scott had 14 and Marcin Gortat 12.

Washington led 91-88 when Scott was called for a flagrant foul after using his elbow to knock Lowry down early in the fourth. Lowry made both free throws and, on the ensuing possession, Wright gave Toronto the lead with a layup. After a missed shot by Morris, Miles hit a 3 to cap a 7-0 run that gave the Raptors a 95-91 lead with 9:26 left.

Kelly Oubre Jr. hit a 3 and Gortat made a dunk to put Washington back in front, but Wright and Miles each hit 3-pointers as Toronto used an 8-0 run to take a 103-96 lead with 6:27 left, and never trailed again.

Anunoby made his first two 3-pointers and led Toronto with eight points in the first as the Raptors led 28-23 after one. Wall scored nine points in the opening quarter.

Gortat and replacement Ian Mahinmi each had two fouls before the first quarter was half over. Gortat picked up his first when he fouled Jonas Valanciunas on the opening tip.

Beal scored seven points in the second, five of them in a 10-2 Wizards run that gave Washington a 42-41 lead with 6:20 left in the half. Scott had eight points in the quarter as the Wizards led 59-55 at halftime.

Toronto reclaimed the lead with an 11-2 spurt to start the third. DeRozan scored 12 points in the quarter as the Raptors took a slim 86-85 lead into the fourth.

The game was about five minutes late tipping off because of an apparent issue with moisture on the court along the baseline adjacent to Washington’s bench. Arena staffers continued to dry the area periodically throughout the game.

 

Marcus Morris scores 25, Jayson Tatum 24 as Celtics beat East-leading Raptors 110-99

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BOSTON (AP) — Marcus Morris had 25 points and nine rebounds before getting ejected in the closing seconds, and the Boston Celtics rallied to beat the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors 110-99 on Saturday night.

Jayson Tatum added 24 points, six rebounds and four assists as Boston posted its sixth straight win and moved within two games of Toronto for the top seed in the East.

Both teams have six games remaining. They meet for the final time on Wednesday in Toronto.

Things got heated in the final seconds when four technical fouls were assessed between the teams. Morris was hit with two and was tossed. Toronto’s C.J. Miles and Serge Ibaka received one each.

For Morris, it was his fourth straight game with at least 20 points.

DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 32 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Ibaka added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

After giving up 24 points in the paint in the first half, the Celtics mixed in some zone defensively in the second half to try to limit the Raptors’ opportunities.

It was effective late, and helped ignite a 10-0 Celtics run that gave them a 104-94 lead with 3:27 left on a layup by Tatum.

There were 15 ties and 20 lead changes.

 

Raptors’ reserves rolling, and they don’t plan to let playoffs stop them

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DETROIT – Fred VanVleet remembers sitting on the end of the Raptors bench with teammates like Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam last season. None held a permanent rotation spot, and they discussed what they would do better if they got an opportunity.

“If you’re made of anything, nobody likes sitting on the bench,” VanVleet said. “So, we’re all kind of pissed off.”

They’ve gotten a chance to channel that frustration into production, and they’ve sure capitalized. Those four and C.J. Miles, who signed with Toronto last summer, lead the NBA’s best bench and comprise one of the league’s top lineups.

“The question has been whether we’re going to keep them in, that group, during the playoffs,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said without even being asked about the postseason, a time most teams shrink their rotation. “And why not? Until they prove us wrong and prove that they can’t perform in the playoffs, that’s our plan.”

Toronto is outscoring opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions with mostly reserves in, one of the best marks in the last couple decades. Here are the top benches by net rating since 1997, as far back as NBA.com data goes (with offensive rating/defensive rating/net rating):

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Many productive benches ground overwhelmed opponents into submission with tough defense. The Raptors’ reserves excel offensively and defensively. Their 110.8 points per 100 possessions ranks third among benches since 1997 (behind only the 2012 Spurs and 2018 Rockets).

Other benches are propped up by staggered stars who carry backups. Not in Toronto. The all-reserve lineup of Wright, VanVleet, Miles, Siakam and Poeltl is outscoring opponents by 22.2 points per 100 possessions. Of 43 five-man units to play 200 minutes this season, only the Timberwolves’ Tyus Jones/Jimmy Butler/Andrew Wiggins/Taj Gibson/Karl-Anthony Towns lineup has fared better (+23.4).

Here are the top lineups with at least 200 minutes (with offensive rating/defensive rating/net rating):

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Casey said he has seen opponents juggle their rotations to play more starters against his bench. Yet, the reserves have held up. That’s a big reason he has so much faith in the group for the playoffs.

But Casey didn’t have much choice to entrust these recently deep reserves with bigger roles initially.

The Raptors lost DeMarre Carroll (traded to Nets), P.J. Tucker (signed with Rockets), Patrick Patterson (signed with Thunder) and Cory Joseph (traded to Pacers) last offseason. Shedding that depth was necessary to re-sign Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka and remain under the luxury-tax line.

Of course, Toronto knew it had developing players who might have been ready for larger roles. But the way everything has come together has been incredible.

These players mesh so well. They space the floor and pass willingly. Wright, Miles, Siakam and Poeltl all have the length and mobility to swarm defensively, allowing the pesky, but undersized, VanVleet to aggressively pressure the ball.

They’ve formed an identity without commonality, the outliers adapting to the group.

They like to talk about how they’re young players trying to prove themselves. Wright is 25, Siakam 24, VanVleet 24, Poeltl 22. But Miles is 30 years old and in his 13th season

“The exuberance they have and the way they play the game, it keeps me in it,” Miles said.

They bring how they’ve all been overlooked. Wright and Siakam were drafted in the 20s. Miles was a second-rounder. VanVleet went undrafted. But Poeltl was a top-10 pick.

“I feed a lot off my teammates’ energy, also,” Poeltl said. “I’m the type of guy that, if we all get fired up, I get dragged along with that. And then, at that point, I also bring a lot of energy to the table. That drags my teammates with me.”

Another trait contagious among the group: unselfishness.

Some emanates from Wright and VanVleet. Both essentially point guards, they were competing for a spot on the depth chart a year ago. Now, VanVleet is in a contract year, and Wright will be eligible for a contract extension this offseason. Both admitted some trepidation about playing together.

“It would be easy for me to be selfish going into my contract year,” VanVleet said. “It would be easy for Delon to try to make his mark going forward.”

Yet, they make it work. When VanVleet initiates the offense, Wright cuts. When Wright initiates the offense, VanVleet spots up.

“It was really our first stint of having a role on a team,” Wright said. “So, I don’t think there’s no time to be selfish when you’re just getting your opportunity.”

Of course, that attitude can’t last forever. The Raptors’ reserves are tasting success and hungering for more.

“People are asking why we’re so good. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” VanVleet said. “We’ve got good players.

“We know most of us, if not all of us, can start on other teams. And that’s something that we hold to our heart.”

VanVleet probably won’t overtake Lowry or DeMar DeRozan to start in Toronto’s backcourt. But as a restricted free agent this summer, he’ll have the first opportunity to seek a starting job elsewhere. Toronto faces a potential luxury-tax bill next season and might decide not pay VanVleet, especially with Wright there.

For now, the Raptor reserves are just gearing up for the playoffs and enjoying each other’s company.

“The camaraderie we have as a unit is unbelievable,” Miles said. “It’s non-stop laughter, not-stop joking.”

The newcomer, Miles saw that brewing when he arrived over the summer. He recognized a group of young players who bonded over their lack of playing time and thought back to his first few seasons, when he was in the same boat. He told his emerging younger bench-mates he wanted to be part of what they were doing, not an outsider.

Now, they’re dominating.

“It’s really special when you think about it,” Miles said.